Jasmine Foster Wilson always felt that her faith was leading her back home.
When Wilson began her college education at Arkansas Tech University, she intended to teach music in the K-12 environment someday. Describing herself as a "late bloomer" when it came to auditioning for music scholarships, Wilson was impressed by the kindness of Professor T. Ray Wheeler (former director of choral activities and assistant professor of music) when she auditioned at ATU.
Wilson said, "ATU had the best package, so I decided to head to Tech to study music. It was also closer to home than my other option, which was three hours away."
Moving from her hometown of Morrilton, Arkansas, and armed with a music scholarship, Wilson enrolled at Tech and excelled in her studies. As she became more involved in on-campus activities during her junior and senior years, she became aware of other opportunities.
"While I was [at ATU], I had a great experience, especially in the last couple of years once I became more involved in student activities, became a resident assistant and then worked my way up in housing," said Wilson. "It allowed me to experience things I never thought I'd see…having a chance to travel to conferences and meet people from diverse backgrounds. It broadened my view of the world."
Wilson enjoyed her work in housing and her involvement on a college campus.
From Dr. Lori LeBahn, the dean of students at the time, Wilson learned of a new ATU graduate program in college student personnel (now the Master of Science in Student Affairs Administration.) Wilson would need to finish her bachelor's degree to enroll in the program and be amongst its first cohorts. With too many credit hours required to complete her degree in education in time, Wilson switched her major.
“After reviewing my options, I landed on switching to psychology," said Wilson. "I also realized that it was going to be a great fit, having that knowledge going into a college student personnel program. I packed in as many psychology courses as I could in one year, graduated and entered into the CSP program on time."
As part of the master's program, Wilson was able to teach an undergraduate course, utilizing her love of teaching. After earning her master's degree, Wilson was hired by ATU as an affirmative action officer in student services. She later moved to a position at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway before working for Hewlett Packard.
"Ultimately, education was always my goal, said Wilson. "Working in higher ed and then going into private industry was merely a matter of being in the right place at the right time for the right opportunity. It's nothing that I sought out. When I was working for UCA, Hewlett Packard decided to open their new customer support center in Conway. They wanted to bring in some trainers who were not the conventional technology trainer; they wanted people like me."
More advanced opportunities followed for Wilson within the company. Those opportunities led to another division of HP located in Dallas, Texas, prompting a move for her family.
“For me, it was a God thing because so many of these opportunities that I was blessed to receive, I didn't seek out,” said Wilson. “That's why my path has been so varied and interesting. Regardless of the moves, all of my roles were, in some way, related to human relations and human resources types of work.”
Economic factors caused layoffs in many industries, and upon moving back to Arkansas, Wilson was faced with the choice of switching to another position within the company or taking a package deal for a layoff. With a lot of prayer and support from her husband, she took the layoff and decided to pursue non-traditional teacher licensure for K-12—to get back to what she truly loved.
"I went the non-traditional route," said Wilson. "Because I'd had so much business experience, I was able to obtain a provisional license."
During the teaching licensure process, the City of Morrilton approached Wilson about considering a position in marketing efforts for the Chamber of Commerce. Without a current job offer, Wilson worked for Morrilton until the school district had a teaching position for her.
Now, having taught business education for grades 9-12 at Morrilton High School for almost three years, Wilson beams when asked about her students. Many of her students have recently completed the Microsoft Office certification process.
"I love my students," she said. "They've been working hard, and it's been paying off."
Wilson was named Morrilton High School Teacher of the Year for 2020. She was surprised and humbled that her peers would bestow upon her such an honor since she hadn't been teaching very long in the school. In November 2020, Wilson was accepted as part of the Teacher Leader Advisory Group for the State of Arkansas, a group for which she was nominated. About a week later, Wilson was contacted by the governor's office to let her know that she'd been appointed to serve on the Arkansas Private Career Education Board.
In addition to being active in education, Wilson is also actively involved in city council. She was recently elected to a position on the city council for Morrilton.
"It's interesting," said Wilson. "During my time with the city, I realized that there wasn't very much representation in leadership roles when it came to women and people of color. When the opportunity to serve came up, it took some time for me to make the decision. I'm not a politician at heart; I'm a teacher—I'm a servant at heart. To win and to have a chance to be, I think, the second African American woman to serve in an elected position within our county…having that chance to serve is really significant. We've had men of color, but we didn't have very many women that have represented on the city council, and having the chance to do that is a great opportunity."
Wilson’s faith was always central in her decisions.
"Just taking a leap of faith and moving back from Dallas to my hometown, I was asked all the time, 'Why, in the world, would you leave Dallas?' or "Why in the world would you come back home?'” continued Wilson. “Well, we felt the calling to come back home. And for us, it was an opportunity to come back and not just live in the community, but to become part of the community."
Wilson lives in Morrilton with her husband, Pastor M., and their daughter, Madison, where their family is active in their community.
"When people ask me what's important, it's my family, my faith, and the opportunity to serve," said Wilson. "That's it."
-By Brandi Easterling Collins
for the Tech Action, Spring 2021