By Catie Dandridge | Tableaux, Winter 2016
You could say that Sharon Jackson was destined to embrace Fontbonne University’s mission of “educating students to think critically, to act ethically and to assume responsibility as citizens and leaders.”
“I remember traveling to downtown St. Louis with my dad when I was about eight years old,” said Jackson, an associate professor and the director of Fontbonne’s social work department. “I saw homeless people, and I had a lot of questions about them. Who were they? Where were their families? Was anyone helping them? What could I do to help?”
Indeed, over the last 15 years, Jackson has been hard at work, educating and supporting students who want to make the world a better place. She has put her heart and soul so deeply into her teaching that she was awarded the school’s highest academic honor this year: the 2015 Joan Goostree Stevens Excellence in Teaching Award.
Throughout her adolescent and early adult years, Jackson continually felt called to serve, and she credits the Catholic education she received from grade school through college as her inspiration to continue down that path. She graduated from Fontbonne University in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in social work, and then went on to earn her master’s degree in social work from Washington University. Later, she worked with the National Health Service Corps and created a clinical mental health practice in rural Southern Missouri.
“Everyone knows someone with mental health and disability issues,” she said. “However, stigma and lack of knowledge continue to negatively impact treatment and recovery. My work involves creating programs and services for siblings and extended family members. These individuals are often left out of the treatment process even though they are willing to help. Programs and services that are designed to support the family result in better treatment outcomes and healthier communities.”
She returned to Fontbonne in 2000, this time as an adjunct in the human services department. Not long after, the National Association of Social Workers in Missouri opened the door for licensed bachelor-level degree programs.
“The administration at Fontbonne understood the need for a social work program and asked if I would create and direct it through accreditation,” she said. “Since its development eight years ago, the program has achieved high ratings from health and human service agencies. The valued reputation is due to the curriculum that addresses current service needs and the quality students the program attracts.”
Though there have been many changes over the course of Jackson’s teaching career, the best part of her job has always remained the same.
“The good news about Fontbonne is its value of community,” she said. “We develop a personal relationship with our students that lasts beyond graduation. We have excellent students who are committed to social work. They’re good people who are driven to do good in the world. Educating people who are motivated by compassion … who could ask for a better job?”
Jackson is so enthusiastic, she can’t highlight a single student success story.
“All of my students are success stories,” she said. “Success is found in the commitment social work students make when they engage themselves in the process of learning to think critically and ethically to support their responsibility to improve themselves and the world around them.”
Although she stays very busy with her career, Jackson devotes time to other passion projects. She is a CSJ Associate, an individual committed to extending the mission and sharing the spirit of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet without becoming a vowed member. She also spends as much time as possible with her husband, Tom, and is the proud mother of three sons: Thomas, a physician; William, a health care lawyer; and Matthew, a financial analyst and Fontbonne alumnus.
“They’re my biggest supporters,” Jackson said of her family. “Family has always been important in both my personal and professional lives. I have a supportive spouse and three sons who developed into responsible and thoughtful men, and for that, I am very thankful.”