Shawon Jackson '15

University Park, Ill.

Shawon Jackson has a passion for reforming the quality of public education that is rooted in his own experience. He grew up in a relatively poor neighborhood south of Chicago and attended an urban high school where resources were scarce and the quality of teaching was substandard, he says. In his sophomore year, he transferred to a boarding school about an hour north in Aurora, Ill. The difference, he says, was dramatic.

“Thinking about that disparity in education, and how my outcome could have been completely different had I stayed in my home school, inspired me to think what we can do on a national level with education policy to help students like me who might be from a poor and minority background,” he says.

At Princeton, Jackson has immersed himself in courses and experiences in education policy. In his first year, he joined Students for Education Reform, a national organization founded a few years ago by two Princeton undergraduates dedicated to raising college students’ commitment to education policy reform. In short order, Jackson became a project manager for the organization’s College 101 program, which brings primarily low-income high school students to Princeton for a short, inspirational visit.

He took a freshman seminar called "The Dreamkeepers: Education Reform and the Urban Teaching Experience," which examined the problems of public education through the lens of teachers. The course allowed Jackson to do research on teacher retention at a nearby charter school and later to make policy recommendations about teacher workload to the school’s administration.

Another seminar, "Liberating Literacy," exposed Jackson to the impact of the civil rights movement on education policy. The course was co-taught by Tera Hunter, professor of history and African American studies, and visiting fellow Robert Moses, a prominent civil rights leader who was the primary force behind the historic 1964 Freedom Summer, which sought to register African American voters in Mississippi. As part of the course, Jackson and his classmates were able to attend a three-day conference in Jackson, Miss., to hear presentations by the U.S. Department of Justice and civil rights activists on the civil rights movement and education policy.

Jackson has been balancing his interest in education policy with his own forays into student government. He was elected president of the Undergraduate Student Government as a sophomore, a role traditionally reserved for juniors and seniors. The work, he says, is satisfying and intense. “I spend about 25 or so hours a week on USG business,” he says. “The president’s role is to connect with administrators and to be the face of the organization.”

His other academic interest is Spanish language. He spent a month in Toledo, Spain, with the Princeton in Spain program studying Spanish art and culture. In the same summer, he also spent two months in El Progreso, Honduras, working for the nonprofit Organization for Youth Empowerment, where he researched a local nongovernmental organization’s strategies for reducing youth violence.

Jackson is majoring in the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs. “I want to become a politician one day and focus on education policy from the federal standpoint.”