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College of Liberal Arts
University of Mississippi

Jackie Certion Earns a ‘Ph.D. Every May’

FASTrack administrator receives Harriet Tubman Award for work with students of color

Jackie Certion, UM assistant director of Foundations for Academic Success Track, has been honored with a Harriet Tubman Award for her work with students of color.

Jackie Certion, UM assistant director of Foundations for Academic Success Track, has been honored with a Harriet Tubman Award for her work with students of color. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services


Jackie Certion says she may not ever be called “doctor,” but she gets the same satisfaction she’d have from earning a Ph.D. each May when University of Mississippi students send her graduation invitations as thanks for helping them.

Certion, assistant director of the univerity’s Foundations for Academic Success Track, or FASTrack program, has been named the 2019 Northeast District Harriet Tubman Award winner from the Magnolia Bar Association for her work with students of color. FASTrack is a first-year learning community that helps students make a successful transition from high school to college through a network of support staff and resources.

She was recognized for her tireless work for the program, which she said is enormously satisfying when Commencement rolls around each year.

“I may never be called Dr. Certion,” she said. “But, when I see that student who doubted himself, who may have struggled their freshman year with figuring out if this was the place for them, or if this was their major, end up finding their niche and finding their groove, and then I get their graduation invitations, that’s my Ph.D.

“That is what brings me so much joy: seeing them matriculate through this university, and not only get a degree, but find out who they are.”

The honor caught her off guard, she said.

“I still have to pinch myself,” Certion said. “It is still hard to believe because I just think of my approach to my work as just me being me.”

Certion also was recently honored with the UM Black Student Union‘s Guiding Light Award, which recognizes faculty and staff who help students excel not only while they’re on campus, but also after they’ve earned their degree.

FASTrack students benefit from smaller and enhanced classes, individualized advising and mentoring and a community of supportive peers. Participating students earn higher GPAs, go on academic probation less often and return for the sophomore year at higher rates than their peers.

The students are part of a cohort of about 20, and small groups of them take multiple classes together each semester, which helps build a sense of community, Certion said.

The program has a network of affiliated professors from several departments and staff from the Department of Writing and Rhetoric. They work with Certion and FASTrack administrators to keep students on task with their school work, but also help them develop habits that lead to success.

Certion is a major part of the work FASTrack does, said Jeff Jackson, UM chair and professor of sociology and a FASTrack-affiliated professor. Jackson said Certion is very deserving of the recognition.

Her work, as well as the work of the program, is critical to Ole Miss students, he said.

“FASTrack is a terrific program that helps freshmen adjust to the rigors of their new college environment,” Jackson said. “The first semester in college can be hard, and FASTrack helps make it easier by creating an instant social support network for new students that helps them to succeed.”

Certion constantly reminds students that nonacademic life doesn’t stop when they step onto a college campus. Certion became interested in the idea of being a go-to resource for students when she was an undergraduate at the University of Southern Mississippi and found that person to help her, she said.

“I tell them that sometimes when you are trying to focus on the academics, or things are happening at home, it is hard to stay focused, but the main reason you are here is academics,” she said.

“It is important to have that person to talk through, or help you find those resources, that are on campus or off campus. I didn’t find that person until I was a junior in college. That’s when I realized I wanted to work in higher education and be that person to students.”

Rashad Collier, who graduated from Ole Miss in December 2017 with a degree in computer science, works as a software engineer for C Spire and lives in Ridgeland. He was particularly affected by his time with Certion in FASTrack. He said her warmth with the students she works with, as well as everyone she encounters, makes her great at her job.

“No matter the person or the circumstance, she extends her arms and her heart to the person,” Collier said. “She’ll stop at nothing to help you, regardless of your situation, and won’t judge you regardless of your life choices.

“Make no mistake, she’ll be on your case if you’re in the wrong, but it’s conviction laced in care that makes all the difference.”

Collier said FASTrack is what sold him on coming to the university.

“Coming from an area where there aren’t many students who wish to go to Ole Miss, FASTrack for me not only meant connections to peers and classmates who related me, but giving me role models and adults who genuinely cared for me. Ms. Certion is the prime example of that kind of role model.”

A native of Greenville, Collier said FASTrack connected with him about an opportunity to join its Grove Scholars program and he got involved from there.

“It was the first program that called me and gave me an actual person who wanted to talk to me instead of a prerecorded message,” Collier said. “I remember talking to Ben Pinion, the administrator for Grove Scholars at the time, and he eased every single one of my concerns I had with Ole Miss.”

Caroline Franco, a junior marketing major from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said FASTrack made a big difference in her college experience. She has become very involved in FASTrack, working as a peer coordinator, which is the highest tier of leadership.

She is also a chief emissary officer, which represents the School of Business Administration’s student body, and is a member of the Student Marketing Association.

“The connections I have made from the friends, faculty and everyone I’ve met in between through FASTrack will last way beyond my college years,” Franco said. “I’m so thankful for the support this program has given me and for always giving me the extra push I need to step out of my comfort zone to become the best I can be.

“Without the tools, resources and lessons I’ve learned through FASTrack I don’t think I’d be half the student, person or leader I am today.”

Jarrius Adams, a senior public policy and political science major from Hattiesburg, went from having thoughts of transferring to blossoming into a campus leader.

He credits his freshman experience with FASTrack with allowing him to be president of the UM Gospel Choir, a member of the Columns Society and the Associated Student Body director of voter registration and elections.

“I found comfort in waking up in the morning and laying my head down at night knowing that I was a part of a community that supported me,” Adams said. “Ms. Certion, or JC as I call her, is the biggest asset to the FASTrack program.

“She is the only person who is in contact with each student on a personal level throughout the year.”