Jessica Williams (BA Mass Communications/Public Relations ’10) has shifted a successful career in technology sales and consulting to special education with the national corps of teachers, Teach for America. Her irrepressible enthusiasm and honed advocacy skills are proving invaluable tools as she supports the Teach for America mission to provide educational equity and excellence in low-income communities.
After completing her studies in Public Relations at VCU, Jessica held positions as a marketing sales consultant, business development representative and a customer experience management consultant. Though she was enjoying great success in these roles, a flashback of a conversation with a Teach for America representative at a student job fair persisted in her thoughts. Having grown up watching her parents enjoy satisfying and successful careers in public education, her father in teaching and administration and her mother in guidance counseling, Jessica always thought teaching might be an interest she would pursue. Teach for America provided the right combination of social justice ideals and action that she was hoping to practice as an educator. “I really believe in service.” She made a teaching commitment in July of 2016 and was placed at Mesa High School located in Phoenix, Arizona. As the country’s fourth largest public high school, it has struggled with delivering the tenets of public education. Mesa High School and the state at large have struggled in public education rankings, particularly in student teacher ratios and teacher pay. One-fifth of Mesa High School’s students are undocumented immigrants and 65% of its students live in poverty. With the added tension of the current political climate and the uncertain future of legislation friendly to undocumented immigrants, day-to-day classes and interactions at Mesa can be markedly different than the average American high school.
All of these factors have bolstered Jessica’s commitment to her students. “My number one priority is my students. I moved across the country for them, and they are what have humbled me the most.” Currently, she is teaching special education but has also taught 9th and 10th grade English. She takes every opportunity to educate her students not only about core subjects but also finds creative or unexpected ways to introduce community-building and service opportunities into the curriculum. Jessica has led her students in writing letters to veterans and in visits with elderly in the area. “There are various ways you can educate someone. A student might not make the Dean’s list, but I can share an experience that might change the way they view themselves and their contributions or influence how they approach a new opportunity. Achieving that can be a huge success.”
Jessica is in year two of her two-year commitment to Teach for America. What’s next for her after the 2017-18 school year? “I will cast my net and see where it takes me.” She says that as a result of her teaching experience at Mesa High School, she is interested in education policy, administration in the Teach for American national office or perhaps applying her background in public relations to advocacy work. “If your students trust you, you can do anything.” If that is true, then clearly students put their trust in Jessica as she undoubtedly makes impressive strides to benefit our nation’s most vulnerable students.
Written by Caitlin Hanbury