Meet Jamel Jackson, the SIU poster child

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Meet Jamel Jackson, the SIU poster child

November 05, 2014, Katja Sonkeng

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Jamel Jackson, Accounting '98, MBA '00.

Meet Jamel Jackson, the SIU poster child

The current senior manager of strategic pricing at Tyson Foods in Chicago is a proud two-time SIU graduate and living proof of Saluki pride.

Like fire and water, Chicago and Carbondale couldn’t be any more different. To begin with, an Amtrak ride of roughly six hours is lying between the “Concrete Jungle” and the idyllic small college town in southern Illinois. Yet the Windy City and the home of Southern Illinois University have one thing in common: former and current SIU students who are dedicated and loyal.

Jamel Jackson is one of the current 34,000 SIU alumni residing in the greater Chicago area. A native of Chicago himself, the current senior manager for strategic pricing at Tyson Foods, based in downtown Chicago, is a true SIU poster child.

“I always wear some kind of Saluki paraphernalia sweatshirt and T-shirt at the gym,” Jackson said. “And I will continue to represent SIU in a high fashion.”

Following the advice of his brother Jaton Jackson, who played football at SIU, and his aunt Robbie Jackson, who attended SIU, Class of 1980, Jackson visited campus and immediately was smitten by the beauty of the university.

“Once I got there, I loved the campus,” he said. “It was so spacious, and I loved the park scenery.”

Jackson first earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1998, then returned in 2000 for his MBA. Armed with these degrees, he worked five years for Northrop Grumman Corp before transferring to Computer Sciences Corp. as a consultant. It was from there that he transitioned to his current position.

His accounting degree was the door opener, Jackson said.

“I always liked math, but I wanted a more advanced business and math skillset, so accounting was it,” he said. “It afforded me the opportunities I have today with the companies I have been with and some of the success I have had. I would not trade it for the world.

“Making my way to SIU is probably the best thing I have ever done. In the neighborhood where I was born and raised, only a few have had the opportunity to attend college, let alone graduate. I am proud to have achieved a lot of things that I didn’t see a lot of my friends growing up do.”

Jackson said he wouldn’t have accomplished all of this without the constant support from his academic advisors and professors, including:

  • Joe Pineau, advisor.
  • Michael Haywood, director of minority affairs.
  • Ike Mathur, retired finance professor.
  • Mike Michalisin, retired management professor.

But Jackson said the best part of graduating with his first degree was knowing – and seeing – how proud his family was of him.

“I got them all to join me in Carbondale for my graduation ceremony,” he said. “I remember it clearly because I was so nervous. At the time, I had an advanced accounting class and the professor would post the grades outside of the classroom. I knew I was a fairly good student, but my nerves got so much of me that I literally camped outside of the professor’s office to wait for him to post the scores and to see it for myself. And I remember seeing the scores and going back to my dorm and calling my mother to say, ‘It’s official, they are going to give me a degree.’ ”

Jamel’s SIU experience goes beyond obtaining a good education, however. His most cherished memory of being a Saluki is “the dorm atmosphere.”

“I really liked spending time there,” he said.

As a former resident of Neely Hall, he remembers sitting outside, just talking, and also walking together with fellow Salukis to cross the bridge to go to class. While Jackson spent most of his studying time at the library, his favorite hangout spot on campus was the student center.

“I was a really big fan of the student center,” he said. “I loved that place. It’s a place to relax, particularly the second level with the piano.”

Another place where he spent time was the Student Recreation Center.

“Whether it was to play basketball, go swimming, or play table tennis, I found myself spending countless hours there burning calories and or allowing my brain to relax,” Jackson said.

On his ventures off campus, he usually would stop for a bite to eat at his favorite restaurant, Quatro’s Deep Pan Pizza, and spend the rest of the night at Sidetracks Bar & Grill on the Strip.

More than 14 years later, nothing much has changed for him regarding that tradition.

“Every time I come down to Carbondale, that’s my first or second spot to stop,” Jackson said with a laugh.

His next trip to southern Illinois is already planned for the upcoming summer.

“In graduate school, I was a treasurer of the BGSA, the Black Graduate Student Association, so I would come back every two years for the black alumni reunion and to check out the new scenery,” Jackson said.

In the meantime, the big football and basketball fan is part of several Saluki alumni networks in Chicago through which he keeps informed about SIU sports teams, new buildings and developments at SIU.

“I keep in touch with a lot of people,” he said. “Facebook helps a lot. And there is always something going on, from food and clothes drives to summer gatherings on behalf of SIU.”

In fact, it was on one of those alumni reunions that Jackson met his wife, Andrea Jackson, a Saluki alumna, with whom he now has a daughter, Aubrey Jackson.

“Once she is old enough, we will bring her down and give her a tour of the campus,” Jackson said, adding that a trip to nearby Giant City State Park probably will be on the family’s sightseeing agenda, too.

“That is what I miss most about my Carbondale days,” he said. “In Chicago, I don’t have the beautiful scenery. I am in a concrete jungle.”

His advice for future Salukis is this: “Take advantage of the open-door policy. I would tell every student, make them tired of you. When I finally realized the importance of that, I was in graduate school and I thought they would get tired of me, but particularly my professor Dr. Steven Karau was extremely helpful and patient with me.”

Jackson said that he received the following advice from a professor: “You already have an A; all you have to do is to maintain an A.” Decades later, he’s still maintaining his “A” game as a successful professional, and as a husband and father.

But above all, Jackson considers himself “a Saluki for life, because I achieved it and worked hard for it.”