story by Claire Miller
In Spring 2018, Justina Jackson walked across the stage in Georgia State University’s Speaker’s Auditorium, prepared to shake hands with College of Education & Human Development Dean Paul Alberto and receive her graduate student award.
She was not prepared for her six-year-old to follow her on stage and try to take a photo of her during her recognition.
“There were some laughs and cheers from the crowd, and it was a great moment that captured in a nutshell what it’s like earning a Ph.D. while being a parent,” Jackson said. “Our kids tag along on our journey and they have a unique vantage point into our lives as graduate students.”
Jackson is graduating this spring with a doctorate in research, measurement and statistics, which she earned while juggling life as a wife, a mother and a co-owner of CrossFit EX, a group fitness business in Smyrna, Ga.
Though there were times when she felt pulled in several different directions, Jackson was committed to completing her degree and taking steps toward a career in educational research.
“There are many challenges to finding out who you are as an academic, especially when you are the first in your family to complete a doctorate,” she said. “I am especially thankful to my doctoral advisor, Dr. Jennifer Esposito, for helping me navigate through these challenging times. The reward has been knowing that I was able to complete something that I thought was impossible at times.”
Esposito, who serves as chair of the college’s Department of Educational Policy Studies, commends Jackson for effectively balancing her professional and personal lives and finding ways to support her fellow doctoral students.
“Justina is hardworking and passionate about learning,” Esposito said. “She was the backbone of my Ph.D. advising group and always showed up to support and cheer on her colleagues as they navigated the Ph.D. process.”
With her degree in hand, Jackson has accepted a research faculty position at a University System of Georgia school and hopes to continue learning how to improve the education system so that it can better support all students.
“It is a tough time for many, and I am thankful to be able to support my family doing what I love,” she said. “When it is safe again, I look forward to celebrating in person with my advisor, family and friends.”