New college leader Jerlando F. L. Jackson plans to anchor strengths, optimize opportunities
By Lauren Knapp
Shortly after Jerlando F. L. Jackson was named dean of the Michigan State University College of Education, he received an unexpected call.
It was a college alum who was calling to congratulate Jackson on the appointment. For nearly an hour, the two talked about MSU, the college, and the Spartan educators and kinesiology professionals prepared to make a difference in their communities.
The call was one of many ways Jackson was struck by the connectedness of the college and the greater university, which he plans to nurture and grow in his new leadership position.
Jackson became the ninth dean of the College of Education on July 1, 2022. He is the first person of color to serve as the college’s dean.
“A prolific scholar and national leader in higher education, Dr. Jackson brings with him an impressive history of garnering significant sponsored research,” said MSU Provost Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D. “His academic excellence and commitment to advancing the field of education will create momentum within and for our College of Education, and in support of broader university aspirations.”
Jackson assumed the deanship from Robert E. Floden, who retired from the university after 45 years of service (see page 38). Ann E. Austin served as interim dean for a year before being selected as MSU’s interim associate provost and associate vice president for faculty and academic staff affairs.
Jackson also became the college’s second MSU Foundation Professor, a title previously only held by Kenneth Frank. The prestigious title denotes a faculty member who is exceptionally accomplished in their career and is a recognized leader in their discipline.
Dr. Jackson stood out amongst a distinguished group of applicants through his academic achievements, strong administrative background, and his engaging and thoughtful approach to leadership.Phil Duxbury, dean of the College of Natural Science and
co-chair of the Dean’s Search committee
Jackson comes to MSU from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was the Rupple-Bascom Professor of Education and the Vilas Distinguished Professor of Higher Education. He joined UW in 2000 as the first African American faculty member in his department.
Fueled by more than 125 publications and over $13 million in grant funding, Jackson’s research focuses on career mobility, and workforce diversity and discrimination. Among his research and outreach, he has developed the Beyond the Game program and the National Study of Intercollegiate Athletics. Both projects examine the experiences of student-athletes and athletics staff in higher education.
He is credited with coining the term organizational disparities, or the conditions under which organizations promote disparities with a keen eye toward disruption of status quo practices. He has authored or edited six books, including “Measuring Glass Ceiling Effects: Opportunities and Challenges” (Jossey-Bass, 2014) and “Ethnic and Racial Administrative Diversity: Understanding Work Life Realities and Experiences in Higher Education” (Jossey-Bass, 2009).
“Michigan State University has hired one of the nation’s top higher education scholars, who I believe will add tremendous value to the institution,” said James L. Moore III in an article from Diverse: Issues In Higher Education.* Moore is the head of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources, and a close friend and colleague of Jackson. “Trust me, [he] will help take MSU’s College of Education to the next level. … He is a winner.”
THE MAKING OF A TRAILBLAZER
Jackson marches to the beat of his own drum, literally.
Raised in Georgia as the son of a drill sergeant, Jackson was the first in his family to attend college. He joined the University of Southern Mississippi as a music education major, specializing in jazz percussion. He had dreams of playing music with globally renowned orchestras and bands—and he did, touring the country as part of the Southwind drum and bugle corps.**
But the dream shifted one day when Jackson overheard a conversation: An instructor of his was returning to graduate school to pursue a degree in higher education. That sounds interesting, Jackson thought.
The good news, his advisor would later tell him: There were programs that aligned with Jackson’s newfound interest. The great news: His GPA was high enough to start graduate school immediately. He attended undergraduate and graduate classes concurrently.
He first graduated with a B.A. in Music Education (1996) and then with an M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from Auburn University in 1997.
Interested in both administrative and research centric roles, Jackson took inspiration from those around him as he continued to shape his career trajectory. One note, on a final paper from a professor who rarely gave good grades, stood out as a light for the future: “One day, you will make a significant contribution to the study of education.”
Jackson then earned a Ph.D. in Higher Education from Iowa State University (2000). His dissertation, a hint to the future, studied academic deans, particularly education deans, and structuring of colleges of education. From this foundation, he built a legacy of leadership throughout his career. He established multiple renowned initiatives and organizations, serving as:
- Founding executive director of the Center for African American Research and Policy (2005);
- Founding co-director of the Asa G. Hilliard III and Barbara A. Sizemore Research Course on African Americans and Education, held at the American Educational Research Association Conference since 2007;
- Founding director and chief research scientist of Wisconsin’s Equity and Inclusion Laboratory (2010);
- Co-founder of the International Colloquium on Black Males in Education (2011); and
- Chair of the Department of Education Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2018-2022)
In addition to other roles (such as serving as faculty representative on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Board from 2007-2015), Jackson is also a sought-after speaker. He has delivered more than 250 research papers and keynote addresses globally.
He has received notable awards, such as the Alumni Achievement Award from the College of Human Sciences at Iowa State University and the Distinguished Scholar Award from the Committee on Scholars of Color at the American Educational Research Association. He is a member of the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Honor Society and an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Now, Jackson has reached the pinnacle of his career goals—a dream 25 years in the making—to serve as dean of a college of education.
Supporting others is the central focus of Jackson’s academic and scholarly history.
“Colleges of education in the United States are now challenged, perhaps like never before, with the task of figuring out how to remain fiscally vibrant, research-engaged and competitive at the highest levels, while at the same time remaining accessible and accountable to local, state and federal interests,” said Jackson. “Colleges of education at research land-grant universities occupy a unique place in the landscape of higher education to address these challenges head on. Leading the MSU College of Education is a wonderful opportunity to confront and to meet these challenges in a creative and innovative environment that has a shared commitment to inclusion in education.”
Jackson can already see the environment he envisioned is one of reality. Here, he has found a community of individuals who are in pursuit of change, of betterment, of improving the world for all.
“What has stood out so far is the ethos of hard work,” Jackson said, who will lead the new Organizational Disparities Laboratory affiliated with the College of Education. “The work ethic in the College of Education is second to none. [A term] that has me in deep reflection of the work before me is the notion of Spartans Will—especially the version of uncommon will.”
Uncommon will sets Spartans apart with the drive and imagination to create a better world for all.
Spartans, Jackson says, “are filled with the DNA of perseverance.”
Dr. Jackson’s commitment and passion for education were clear throughout his interviews and I am excited for the future of the College of Education with him.Emily Bouck, interim associate dean for research and
co-chair of the Dean’s Search committee
It is echoed through conversations and realizations he has had with individuals across the college, who have continued to not only perform their assigned duties, but go above and beyond, even during a pandemic. In fiscal years 2020 and 2021, the college’s Office of Research Administration supported more research grant proposals than they had in years prior. Moreover, faculty in the college are receiving record-setting grants, redesigning and enhancing programs and distributing resources impacting K-12 education, and health and well-being.
The college is renowned for its innovative and impactful programming and the caliber of its scholars. During the interview process, Jackson discovered something else that cemented his belief in the institution, and the collaborative future he will lead.
“[The college community] talked mostly about the quality of their in-classroom instruction, the purposeful pathways they create for students and the projects they have embedded in the communities and counties across the state,” Jackson explained to Diverse: Issues In Higher Education.* “I walked away thinking: ‘This group understands that the only rankings that matter is the one in the hearts and minds of citizens when they think of who to look to when they need help with educational, health and well-being challenges. It was clear I was, and am, in the right place.”
**Jackson is now retired … but may “shake off the dust” to perform with Against School Violence, the college’s band, which includes illustrious members such as Dean Emeritus Robert Floden and Associate Dean Emeritus Michael Sedlak.
ORDER OF OPERATIONS
“The first 12 months for me is focused on listening, learning and leading—and in that particular order,” Jackson said. In addition to understanding the community, customs and structures of the College of Education, Jackson also hopes to finalize and disseminate the college’s new strategic plan within the 2022-2023 academic year.
The plan, which began with leadership from Dean Emeritus Robert Floden and continued by Interim Dean Ann Austin, includes core pillars of scholarship, as well as guiding principles related to the college’s mission and the university’s strategic plan.
Learn more: strategicplan.msu.edu