Before John Jackson came to U-M, he was an associate professor at both Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania. But it was at Michigan that he felt something truly special.
“I saw almost immediately how important a great public university is to its students and the community,” Jackson says. “It is really the equalizing part of our society.”
John’s wife, Gretchen, had been an organist and choir director before the couple moved to Ann Arbor, but once here, she began a new career in fundraising. She, too, found herself inspired by U-M and by her new home town. It is because of the Jacksons’ successful careers and the connections they have made that they have decided to give back to the university that they love.
Gretchen, who worked in several fundraising units on campus before her position in development at the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance (SMTD), recently established the Gretchen Neal Jackson Scholarship Fund. The scholarship will support students in SMTD to ensure that they have access to the very best opportunities regardless of their financial situations.
“I have always been blessed to have sufficient funds to pursue the lifestyle and opportunities I wanted to pursue,” says Gretchen. “I appreciate the chance to help others do the same.”
Gretchen’s experience in development led her to encourage John to give back, too. She advised John to find what truly inspired him, which turned out to be fellow faculty and students in the Department of Political Science. Upon his arrival at U-M, John had been thrilled to find that his new colleagues were open to collaboration and teamwork, even outside of his own department. For one long-running project, he found scholars willing to work with him to study the connections between the economies of post–Berlin Wall Poland and Michigan, which might have been difficult at other institutions.
“The environment at Michigan is barrier free,” says Jackson. “If you have a good idea, you can find intellectual and administrative support somewhere. Intellectual opportunities are unparalleled.”
Now, John hopes to continue to foster this faculty excellence through the John E. Jackson Assistant Research Professorship Fund in the Department of Political Science in LSA. The Jackson Fund will support young faculty at a critical juncture in their careers. It will give junior faculty members a second semester of paid leave from teaching in addition to the one that the department provides, allowing them a full year of “nurturing time” to achieve tenured positions.
“Junior faculty are an incredibly important piece of the intellectual environment of a department,” says John. “They have the most recent educational experiences, immense energy and are a tremendous source of new ideas.”
John believes that by providing more opportunities for early-career faculty to focus on research, the department will continue to draw the world’s best minds in political science—ensuring their growth as academics and the program’s continued influence and prestige in the field.
John has also designated any extra support not used for junior faculty to go to graduate student researchers working with faculty. Although his own initial experience as a research assistant was as an undergraduate student, he stresses how influential it was on his future career path.
“When I was an undergraduate, I worked with a professor on his research as part of a scholarship I received,” he says. “It turned out to be a transformative experience—one that convinced me to go into academics.”
These are the same type of transformative experiences that John and Gretchen Jackson hope to provide for students and faculty far into the future.