Single mother of three headlines Oregon Tech class of 2022
With four boxes of clothes and toys, Pamela Jackson left Kentucky aboard an Amtrak train with her three young children in pursuit of education from the Oregon Institute of Technology.
Six years later, Jackson is among the 125 students who graduated from the university's Portland-Metro campus in Wilsonville on Sunday, June 12, and she was selected as the graduating speaker to address her peers during the rainy yet joyous commencement ceremony.
"Great things take time. Worthwhile change takes time," Jackson said to the audience of classmates, faculty and families during her speech. She recalled feeling nervous beforehand, but, upon standing before the community she was so closely involved in during her studies and various leadership roles around campus, it felt like she "was just talking to my friends."
During her tenure at Oregon Tech from 2017 to 2022 as a full-time undergraduate and graduate school student while raising her boys, Jackson also served as clubs officer of the student government body, peer consultant, graduate assistant, library assistant and member of the Electrical Engineering and Renewable Energy Industry Council.
She additionally held officer positions in the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, interned at the battery lab XNRGI and mentored high school and middle school students in Math, Engineering, Science and Achievement (MESA).
"When I first got there, I was really interested in helping people and I got involved with peer consulting so that I could help tutor students, and then MESA — that's where we would go out to high schools and middle schools and work with students on engineering projects," Jackson said. "Those were both really fun and a good way to start getting involved in the school, and from there I just tried to be around as much as I can."
While at Oregon Tech, Jackson also served as an officer of the student-led club Hyperion International, which helped the nonprofit SolarHOPE design and install a solar panel system for a maternity ward in The Gambia, Africa.
During the 2020 presidential election, Jackson founded Students for Change, a student organization promoting education, discussion and action regarding political issues such as voting and climate change strikes.
"We just got students together to talk about politics; we were concerned about the climate strikes going on and we just really wanted to get information out to students and encourage them to vote," she said. "We got together for debate watch parties, and just (tried) to make it not a subject to stay away from, but something that we would discuss on campus."
In August 2021, following the university's April 2021 faculty strike in demand of higher wages, more secure health benefits and clearer workload parameters, Jackson said she was motivated to run for student government.
"Our students are really supportive of our faculty, and I worked with our student government; we've been working really hard to voice concerns of the students," Jackson said.
She said that upon returning to in-person classes following virtual sessions due to COVID-19, students worked hard to rebuild campus culture, during which time she relaunched the school's Society of Women Engineers.
"I think it is a really important club to have on campus," Jackson said. "We were able to participate in outreach events for future students and younger students such as at MESA Day to promote STEM, particularly for women."
Balancing her studies and many other endeavors as a single mother of three, Jackson said accessing affordable daycare during hours compatible with her schedule has been one of the most challenging aspects, and added that schools can help support mothers and parents of young children by offering low-cost child care services.
"Classes are at all different times, including evenings when daycares aren't open, mostly," Jackson said. "I think something that colleges can do is offer child care for students and preferably low cost because it's extremely expensive. And then just being supportive if we need to miss class because our kids are sick, or need to attend remotely for any reason."
Jackson graduated summa sum laude with a bachelor and master of science in renewable energy engineering, adding to her certifications including a bachelor of science in discrete math/operations research from the University of Nevada, Reno, and a master of business administration in information technology management from Devry University.
During her commencement speech, Jackson recalled knowing nobody in Oregon and having never used public transportation before boarding the train from Kentucky. She took jobs at Amazon and a post office while taking classes at Portland Community College after arriving.
"My story is not unique. People from across the country and around the world come here to attend Oregon Tech who have a passion for their programs," Jackson said at the ceremony, thanking the faculty and families who helped students through their collegiate journeys.
"We have all types of people here with their own struggles," she continued. "We have the parents who miss class to tend to a sick child, or start homework at night after getting the kids to sleep, or maybe never sleep because they have a newborn."
"We have those who've come back later in life and maybe have to accept a lower income and learn how to do school again; then there are those who got their first degree and realized it wasn't good enough so they're back; we have veterans, students whose first language is not English, and it's not easy for those straight out of high school either who maybe don't have an income," she added.
Jackson said she is encouraged to see STEM fields becoming more diverse, and that her advice to young girls and people from marginalized communities is to "find what you like, and then don't be discouraged — go for it, because everyone has the potential."
Following graduation, Jackson said she would love to work in a national energy lab researching energy solutions that help solve the global climate crisis.
"When something is important and we are determined, each of us have the ability to see it through," Jackson said during her speech "So now is the time for us to go out and find the best way we can personally improve the world."
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