JACKSON, Miss. – When Jeff Sloan first matriculated to Jackson State University in 1984, he said he was given “everything you need to succeed.” He was the first in his family to go to college and attended JSU on a full scholarship. He cultivated a vast network of friends who became like family, people with whom he would remain close after leaving Jackson State and who, years later, would act as “uncles and aunties to my kids.” As a self-described introvert, Sloan says that Jackson State is where “I found my voice and found myself.”
In the spring of 1990, when his time at Jackson State came to an end, he felt like he was leaving with everything – except a degree.
Coming from the small town of Meridian, Mississippi, and without a family history of pursuing higher education, Sloan says, “I didn’t have the discipline or … a baseline on how to actually study. That kind of started me down a path of not really being focused on what I needed to do.”
Sloan says that he had “false pride,” which prevented him from taking advantage of the Jackson State resources that were there to help him and stopped him from seeking assistance from those in a position to support him.
Instead of walking in a cap and gown during commencement exercises, he walked off campus in search of a job. Ultimately, Sloan started his career at Dell Computer Company before moving to DuPont Photomask and Thermo Fisher Scientific, where he works today in trade compliance. As a working professional, he would go on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Park University and Herzing University, respectively.
Despite the academic and professional success he achieved, “Over the past few years with the pandemic, I just started really thinking about things that I regret in the past that I could do something about,” Sloan says. “And one of the things that I wanted to do was to finish my degree at Jackson State University…it’s going to be my third degree, but it’s going to be the one that I take the most pleasure in.”
Despite living in Orlando, Florida, with his wife and children and a full-time job, Sloan re-enrolled at Jackson State University in the fall of 2020. This time, he’s been taking classes online as he pursues his professional interdisciplinary degree.
Ever since his first stint as a Jackson State student, Sloan has been involved in the JSU community. He’s a long-time member of the alumni association. While he was technically an alumnus based on credits earned, it has always been important to him to become a graduate.
He hopes his story can be useful to current Jackson State students and those who left without finishing their degrees.
“Even if you don’t succeed the first time, you can always go back and finish what you started,” Sloan says. “I want to still support the school that has given me so much.”
Sloan has been giving back to JSU, even as he works to pursue his degree, by recruiting students to come work at his company.
“That’s been my goal for the past year, year and a half,” Sloan says. “Trying to bring more people from Jackson State University into my world at Thermo Fisher Scientific.”
In 2020, Thermo Fisher committed to hiring more than 500 students from historically Black colleges and universities. Sloan is doing what he can to identify high-potential students and alumni, recruit them to apply and support them during the application process.
In just a few short weeks, Sloan will once again find himself on the JSU campus during graduation season – but this time, he will pick up the diploma he never gave up on.
“I’ve already ordered my cap and gown,” Sloan says. “I plan on walking across that stage … to finish that journey that started 38 years ago.”