Alumni Profile: Johnathan Jackson

Johnathan Jackson expects to sit at the management table someday– a place where self-admitted “techies” don’t always fit in. But highly skilled IT project managers can communicate with CEOs as well as they can with programmers.

“I got those skills from Harrisburg University and the workplace,” says Johnathan. He is a Project Manager with Metro Bank, having just joined the financial institution after working 5 years as a project manager for the Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union, where he was responsible for e-commerce projects at one of the state’s largest credit unions. He has moved up the career ladder from a PSECU internship earned through Harrisburg University to his current role at Metro, but the journey hasn’t always been smooth. Life’s twists and turns took Johnathan on a roller coaster ride, but through it all, HU helped him stay on track.

Johnathan always knew that he wanted a career in technology. The “lucky middle child” of three kids from suburban Harrisburg, his parents hadn’t gone to college, but his own dreams of college were inspired and aided by his older brother, chiropractor Dr. Robert Jackson.

“He has always been an inspiration to me because of all the hard work he put in,” Johnathan says.

In high school, Johnathan helped teachers run the computer lab. After high school graduation in 2003, he pursued two semesters at community college, but then came the first twist on the roller coaster ride. Changing family circumstances sent him out of school and into the workplace. Several years in retail taught him valuable management skills, but in time, his dream of a bachelor’s degree resurfaced.

It was 2006, and a friend told him about a new school dedicated to technology education. On a visit to Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Johnathan found himself in a high school, lockers and all. He thought, “They realize I’m talking about going to college here, not going back to high school? I did that already.”

But in those days, HU was still housed in Harrisburg School District’s Sci-Tech High, and Johnathan soon found his way to the top floor, amid the college students and professors. The technology focus got his attention, and the low student-professor ratio assured him individualized attention.

His personal finances remained challenging, but HU grants, scholarships, and awards, plus state and federal grants and a scholarship from Harrisburg Young Professionals, helped fill the gap. “Finances were never a really huge problem because HU helped as much as they could,” Johnathan says now.

After a year at HU, the roller coaster of Johnathan’s life took another scary but exhilarating plunge. He and his fiance were expecting a baby, so they got their own apartment. “That’s when things started to get rough,” he recalls. “I still needed a degree, but I needed to make money.”

Once again, HU stepped up, placing Johnathan in an internship at the help desk of PSECU, one of Pennsylvania’s largest credit unions. That assistance “was huge,” because it led directly to a full-time job with PSECU even before Johnathan graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer and information sciences in 2008. Still, pressures were building on the young father and college student.

“It was a tough time. School helped where they could,” he says. HU officials and professors worked with Johnathan to help him meet course requirements through evening work and personal studies. They helped him grow “as a person and as a student.”

Though he took a year off after earning his bachelor’s degree, Johnathan knew that a master’s degree would help him attain his goal of senior management. He was “ecstatic” when he learned about HU’s master’s in information systems engineering and management.

“The level of education I got at HU was unparalleled,” he says. “The personal attention from the professors is something you can’t experience anywhere else, and it really helps you excel.”

In the master’s program, Johnathan learned a unique combination of high-level information technology with management and strategic planning — “the perfect mix of things to move forward.”

“I didn’t want to spend a lot of time and money just to have a degree,” Johnathan says. “I wanted to learn.”

While studying for his master’s degree, Johnathan was promoted to project manager at PSECU, and he welcomed the birth of his second son. In summer 2012, he became one of HU’s first three dual-degree earners holders of HU bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He credits “wonderful wife” Renee for the support needed to pursue an education, and his sons for providing inspiration.

Johnathan continues to attain new career milestones, with his hiring as a project manager with Metro in the winter of 2012. His involvement with HU is ongoing, as chair of the Leadership Alumni Committee, a panel he helped create to keep HU alumni in contact with their university and to cultivate donations. He now teaches IT project management at HU and hopes to be a mentor someday, “to help students that were in my situation realize and achieve their goals.”

“HU has helped pave the way for me in my career, so I have the necessary skills and tools to stay successful and provide for my family. HU has also helped me realize the importance of a secondary education as a means of securing your dreams, and I will be sure to try and instill that vision in my two boys.”