Lakeisha Jackson leads by example, debunking myths about traditional models

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Young, energetic and driven, Lakeisha Jackson is shaping the future of Seattle by investing in what is arguably its greatest asset—young professionals. Throughout her career, she has helped underrepresented college students transition to success in their own careers. It’s a personal mission for Jackson, who models the very success she hopes her students will achieve.

“I know through my life experience that equity, access and opportunity are greatly needed for students—particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds—in their college and career discernment process,” Jackson says.

An assistant director at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, Jackson has a résumé that connotes civic stature. In 2014, she earned her master’s degree in Student Development Administration from Seattle University’s College of Education while working in Student Development at Seattle U. She worked more than five years at the College Success Foundation helping low-income youth on the path to college and beyond.

Jackson understands the challenges for underrepresented students, who represent the city’s socioeconomic and cultural diversity. Many of them are the first in their families to attend college and come from limited financial means. Though they made their way to college and have learned to navigate that environment, they might struggle to see themselves taking their place among professionals from more privileged backgrounds.

“They deal with a different type of imposter syndrome,” Jackson said. “They don’t think their experience is valid or will be noteworthy if they don’t fit the demographic they see. I work with students to realize all of the different aspects of who they are and what they have to offer. It’s very powerful.”

Jackson moves easily in civic circles. Presently a member of the City of Seattle Women’s Commission, she has served on the College Success Foundation Board of Directors and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle’s Young Professionals Executive Team.

Networking is important to Jackson, who has 803 contacts on LinkedIn. It’s one tool Jackson taps to help her students. “I relish the opportunity to connect a 20-year-old student to wide-reaching professional networks,” she says.

Even with Jackson providing tactical direction, many students struggle with self-doubt. They have trouble recognizing what they have to offer because it doesn’t fit a traditional model and become limited by the idea that there is one right path to success.

Jackson does her best to debunk those ideas. “I tell them, ‘Don’t get married to your major. What’s more important are your skills and the network you build. There are many paths to a desired career outcome.’”

In navigating her own career, Jackson sought out Seattle University’s nationally recognized graduate program in Student Development Administration. She was attracted to the university’s Jesuit Catholic mission to educate the whole person, its intimate urban campus and its commitment to service and diversity. While there, she joined more than 1,000 of her fellow students in community volunteerism, a campus hallmark. (The university ranks among the top 25 schools in the nation for community service.)

As a campus leader, Jackson helped to facilitate student groups that encouraged dialogue around identity and inclusion – not so different from the conversations she has with her students today.

The most transformative experience for Jackson while at Seattle U was a five-day silent retreat in the tradition of the St. Ignatius spiritual exercises.

Being silent was revolutionary for Jackson, who is gregarious and extroverted by nature. Not only did she learn something about herself but also she developed an appreciation of the quieter side of learning and self-discovery in others.

The lesson has stuck with her. These days when a student is wrestling with “imposter syndrome” or anxiety about their next professional step, Jackson resists the impulse to provide a ready answer. She respects the silence in the room and gives her students the space to discover for themselves what they have to offer.

“I have learned that many powerful conversations have a lot to do with listening,” she says.

Seattle University is celebrating 125 years of Jesuit education, high-powered academics and empowering leaders to do the greatest good locally and globally. Learn more at SU125.com.