About to graduate in June, Dana Houston Jackson is very stylish woman who wears many hats. Being a non-traditional college student is only one small hat that she manages to wear. This high achieving woman also home-schools her 9-year-old son, tutors students, runs a website and household, and is managing to take at least 17 credits a quarter. She also engages in many hobbies, including dabbling in creative writing and even painting. “If I had more time I’d make more progress on the beautiful paint-by-numbers kit my husband bought me over spring break. I’ve never painted anything in my life and wanted to see what it would be like. Now I close my eyes at night and drift off to little shapes with numbers calling out for #15 green and #7 yellow.” Jackson has published two poems in our very own Northwest Passage and is patiently waiting to hear back from other magazines about three fictional and non-fictional stories she recently submitted for publication.
Her journey to reach this point has not been an easy one. Having dropped out of high school very early on, she immediately entered the workforce, performing an assortment of jobs, working 17 years for a Peace Corp-like church group. While building new and renovating existing churches, Jackson fell in love with electrical project work. “My strongest skills were with project management, instruction, and organizational methods. After a severe back injury I came out of the field and went into alternative energy engineering. I needed more education to do what I wanted to do. For the first time, I had reason to pursue college. I got my GED and enrolled,” she said. A few years into an all-out pursuit for her engineering degree she went on to have her son and changed her path for his education and care. She didn’t stop her own education, she only proceeded more slowly, deciding to take classes that interested her, classes that she felt she needed to enrich folds of her expanding life.
She is completing a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with concentrations in Business and Humanities after 13 years of chipping away at the degree, moving from college to college as she moved cities. She graduates Summa Cum Laude. “I chose B.S. instead of a B.A. because in this day and age, with job uncertainty and stories of philosophy majors and M.F.A.s flipping burgers, I wanted a stronger math, computer and science background intermixed with business senses and but flavored with my current hobby and hopefully future career—writing.”
Jackson plans to teach and publish, hoping to integrate and educate even teachers about the uses and importance of technology as the world is transitioning to a primarily technological world. Ambitiously stated, “I graduate with my B.S. on June 14 and start graduate school here at WOU on June 16. I’m seeking a Master of Education in Information Technology, which probably should be renamed to ‘Instructional Design and e-Learning.’ It’s a new century and newer world. It requires a joint partnership between educational and technology to continue cultivating knowledge.” She already runs youthmuse.com, a website intended to enrich and reach out to children, parents, and teachers alike.
Her view on education is backed by great passion and experience. She’s glad that she didn’t go straight into college. She knew she wasn’t ready back then, and therefore, she wouldn’t have gotten as much for her knowledge-seeking as she does now. “You miss out on 85 percent of what you could learn in college if you go into it without really wanting to be there and learn everything a professor is willing to teach you. No matter what route you chose to physically arrive to college, you still have to have a goal for each of your classes. Otherwise, don’t spend the money because you won’t really spend the time to get what is available. Have you ever tried to skate through a course, didn’t read the textbook, ‘cause you just wanted the grade and then get the heck out of there? Just think, all that money, time and effort that was spent but you failed to get the full breadth of knowledge from it. For my science requirements, I picked earth science; I’m a national parks girl and I wanted to learn more about them. You know what I did? I went to Chemeketa before WOU for my AAOT; It was cheaper. I found a professor I loved and took all three of her classes to satisfy my curiosity and my science requirements. Her three classes were a general earth science, a general science in geology, and a specific earthquakes and volcanoes geology class. By taking all of classes I loved, as opposed to those I had no current interest in, I was able to really enrich that subject and thus deeply learn it. My first short story up for publication took place in an Oregon national park. I could write it, because I could understand the setting.”
Jackson’s passions fuel her every day and she is a living testament to what college should be all about: education and learning, particularly in a subject you are passionate about. That’s how you really get the most out of your education. Her struggle and goal has been a long time running, but she’s finally hitting that next mile marker to propel her further into her ambitious and bright future.
By Erika Fitzpatrick