As the eighth oldest institution for higher learning in the United States, Rutgers is celebrating its 250th anniversary on November 10, 2016. To celebrate this monumental milestone, I Am Rutgers will be featuring Rutgers’ most involved and accomplished students in a new series, “250 for 250.” This year-long series will serve as a reflection of Rutgers’ diverse student body and status as a premier national research university.
Five years ago, Kayla Jackson was well on her way to becoming a professional golfer. Having played golf since the age of three, Kayla played on the varsity golf team for Rutgers Preparatory School and received offers from numerous D1 colleges and universities on the west coast. Faced with the opportunity to play collegiate golf and pursue a career in professional golf, Kayla instead decided to stay close to home, attend Rutgers, and work towards a career in journalism, media, and entrepreneurship. While Kayla’s decision to pursue journalism and entrepreneurship came as a surprise to many, Kayla developed a passion for communications while in high school and created her own publication as an outlet for creative expression:
I started a magazine in high school that was for the empowerment of young girls of color called Nubian Beauty and I ran that for a year and I grew it pretty much on my own. I eventually sold it, but I still sit on their board and I give them as much advice as possible about the creative vision of the magazine.”
Upon coming to Rutgers, Kayla became involved with Black Voice Carta Latina, a magazine that is rooted in the minority community at Rutgers and geared towards uplifting the Black and Latina communities. She was an editor at Black Voice Carta Latina for her freshman and sophomore years, helping her to gain additional experience in the field of journalism.
Although Kayla decided to pursue a career in communications and entrepreneurship, golf has continued to exist as an important influence and has helped shape her college experience. Coming into her first year at Rutgers, Kayla interned with the Golf Channel as a Digital Product Coordinator to facilitate the successful live streaming of major golf tournaments on the Golf Channel’s mobile apps. She also continues to play golf as part of Rutgers’ club golf team during her free time. Kayla’s involvement with Girl’s Golf in FORE!, a youth organization that instills life skills and core values through the game of golf to high school girls, has enabled her to become a mentor to high school girl golfers and provide some perspective knowing what it was like to be in their shoes just a few years ago.
With Girl’s Golf in FORE!, we take our mentees to various LPGA tournaments, do SAT Prep with them, have different executives come in and talk about the business side of golf, and make them aware of scholarship opportunities. The goal of the program is female empowerment. In a predominantly male space, we try to foster passion for golf and the golf industry as a whole. We’ve been able to touch the lives of ~325 students over the course of 6 years and we have grown a lot along the way.”
Kayla’s impressive accomplishments do not stop there; her college career has been characterized by a series of impressive experiences and accolades. After interning for the Golf Channel, she became a digital product coordinator for True VGD. Kayla is currently a junior and considering various internship offers at large corporations for the summer. Kayla was previously chosen to participate in the Disney Dreamers Academy when she was 17 years old, an annual national mentorship program where 100 students are selected from an applicant pool of over 20,000 students. Kayla was paired with the editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine during her time as a Disney Dreamer and had such a great experience that she has since become an ambassador for the program and traveled the country giving speeches on behalf of Disney’s various youth organizations.
Kayla’s most recent initiative is perhaps her most ambitious yet. Kayla is currently in the process of launching PeduL, a higher education crowdfunding platform that aims to reduce student loan debt by effecting a paradigm shift in college funding. Kayla is developing the business alongside a team of founders and was recruited by her classmate, Chisa Ebelu, to join the project. Kayla hopes that PeduL will provide students with the opportunity to go to college where they otherwise might not have been able to due to financial restrictions:
I have a huge passion for women’s empowerment and for youth empowerment. I know there is this seamless marriage between education and success, and the critical bonding component of that marriage is opportunity, but opportunity isn’t always equitably distributed which is unfortunate. Through this platform, we want to provide opportunity for all, regardless of socioeconomic standing, sexual, or racial background.”
Through PeduL, students will have the opportunity to raise money from friends, family, and a host of other donors to use for their higher education expenses. Unlike competitors, however, PeduL will facilitate money directly from campaigns to the university in the form of a third-party scholarship. PeduL will be launching this summer and Kayla plans to grow and develop the idea post-college.
Looking back on her college experience, Kayla is grateful for all of the opportunities that Rutgers has made available to her:
Rutgers, as such a large institution, has a wealth of resources available to help its students succeed. The administrators are invested in students’ lives and career aspirations. Steve Miller and Alfred Blake particularly have been critical to my personal success. I feel like the bond I have been able to form with them is something that is invaluable and something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
With that being said, her success did not arise from connections and resources but was primarily the product of her personal ambition and dedication. When asked if she has any advice to other Rutgers students who are looking to achieve similar success, Kayla said:
Success is an intersection between your passions, gifts, preparations, and opportunities. When doubt begins to permeate your thoughts about whether or not you can succeed, you have to revisit what drives you — and that could be something as little as getting through college with little to no debt, or as significant as removing your family from plight. But what you have to remember is being incredulous about your dreams is just as, if not, more horrifying than not seeing them come to fruition. You have to put yourself out there and strive for what you want. You have to make strikes to achieve your dreams, and you have to be willing to do whatever it takes.”
Kayla still has one year left at Rutgers, during which she will continue to work on PeduL. By the time of graduation, Kayla hopes that PeduL will be a viable employment option. As a true entrepreneur, Kayla would love to work full time for an organization that she helped create. We wish Kayla and the PeduL team a successful launch — stay on the lookout for PeduL this summer. If you know any developers who would be interested in joining the team, or you would like to feel free to contact Kayla through her LinkedIn.