JSU senior Powell attends prestigious Thurgood Marshall College Fund Leadership Institute, lands USDA internship

(JACKSON, Miss.) — Jaquan Powell believes in making the most of an opportunity.

“I was initially interested in JSU because of the illustrious Summer Bridge Program. My brother, La’Curtis Powell, was also enrolled here, and I saw he made a name for himself. I also believed in myself and simply took a leap of faith toward furthering my education,” says Jaquan Powell about why he chose JSU. (Photo special to JSU)

During the fall, the senior spent five days attending a leadership institute hosted by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Powell, a political science major, then parlayed the moment into an internship with the United States Department of Agriculture.

“It was like over 2,000 applicants, and I believe out of those applications, around 400 were selected for internships with various organizations,” explained Powell.

According to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund website, the award-winning leadership Institute is a national program intended to develop students’ leadership skills, provide organizations access to a talented and diverse student population, and help students make connections that lead to careers. 

Students are selected from 47 publicly supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Predominately Black Institutions. The goal is to help students compete in today’s competitive global workforce.

It is an experience that could have been non-existent if Powell accepted no as an answer.

“Let me tell you about that,” he says, in his amiable and energetic tone. “This wasn’t my first time applying. I applied my sophomore year and did not get accepted.”

Powell says he used that rejection as motivation to build his professional development skills and prepare for the interview process while waiting for another shot.

“When I applied the second time, I was ready. I nailed the interview,” he says with enthusiasm. “My interviewer was amazed. He said I was ready for all the questions. My whole persona was different this time.”

During the institute, Powell says Animal Plant Health Inspection Services handpicked his resume for a paid virtual student internship as a policy analyst with the USDA. Powell interned from Oct 5 – Jan 15.

After a two-week onboarding process, Powell began attending daily and weekly team meetings, including weekly department meetings. Among his responsibilities, Powell supported regulatory policy analyses and policy development, supported the biotech quality management support program and process improvement initiatives, and supported international engagements and technical capacity-building activities as appropriate.

Powell says one of the highlights of the internship was the down-to-earth demeanor of his supervisors and colleagues. “They did not hide behind their executive positions. They tried to make me feel at home as much as possible. We would have a group laugh session to communicate and make sure we felt comfortable and weren’t afraid to learn. I was excited to go to work every day.”

It may sound like a lot for a senior balancing his studies. Still, Powell, who maintains a 3.1 GPA, explains that JSU’s virtual learning environment helped him balance work and school effectively.

“Because stuff is virtual now, I have to manage my time more, and it all just clicked for me. It helps me focus on what I need to do while improving my professional development, so I am ready for corporate America,” he says.

When it comes to the university’s virtual environment, he describes JSU’s virtual homecoming coronation as one of the best to date. “I enjoyed the whole display. Mr. and Miss JSU are really good friends of mine since freshmen year. I am super proud of them,” says Powell, who watched the event online.

He offers a major shout-out to the Division of Student Life for investing in him. “They helped me build and understand professionalism and the core values of what it takes to be successful. Without them, I wouldn’t be here now.

He also gives thanks to the Department of Political Science for providing a nurturing environment. “We’re all very close; the professors, classmates and the dean. We have open discussions daily. We can have a conversation without it being an argument,” he says before laughing.

As far as his JSU legacy, Powell shares that he wants to be remembered as someone who opened doors for others. Doors he says would be unlocked by keys of success.

He contends that some of his best moments at the University are being named Mister Freshman 2017-2018, joining Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and being charter president of Men of Excellence, an on-campus mentoring organization.

“It is truly a blessing to be here at JSU, and I give all thanks to God, my family, and friends. Jackson State has continued to open up doors for me to not only become a better leader. But, in fact, a friend, a brother, and an inspiration to any students that I may encounter.”