Candace Campbell Jackson leans forward in her seat on a University of Akron shuttle bus and points to an opposite window, framing a view of a new building on Grant Street.
The vice president and chief of staff to university president Luis Proenza explains that the red-brick structure is the third new residence hall to open in the last four years. The additions, she says, have brought the number of on-campus beds to 3,350 and are transforming a college traditionally known as a commuter school into a residential one.
“We’re going to 4,500 beds at least, that’s the plan,” Jackson says.
» My second job in high school was as a PBX [phone] operator at the Casa Marina Resort. Can you imagine back in the days when you knew everything because guests had to call the switchboard?
» I liked having lots of knowledge and figuring out what to do with it, mostly in the most constructive way possible.
» People think of a chief of staff as a gatekeeper. I’m not a gatekeeper. Go on in! Hang out with the president! Have a good time!
» Luis [Proenza] picks up gum wrappers so that our campus is beautiful. So we don’t say, “It’s not my job,” at the university.
» I give people anything they want when it’s easy. When it’s tough, they know that you support them, and they know that you absolutely have the university’s best interests or their best interests at heart.
» I have the best sisters in the world.
» I never worry too much about, “Oh, my gosh! This is really hard. Can I do it?” What’s the worst that can happen?
» I’m always looking for a solution that helps everybody enjoy a little success, get a little of what they want or what they need to move on. I’m not looking to have anybody really lose or anybody really win.
» If you want to help, and you’re sincere, time will expand and allow you to meet your commitments.
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges. The university has almost 30,000 students on its urban campus. Add the carelessness and nothing-bad-will-happen-to-me attitude of young adults who don’t yet fully understand the consequences of leaving a laptop in an unlocked room or walking home alone from a bar late at night, and the opportunities for crime, particularly theft, multiply.
So when Proenza wanted to make sure the university was doing everything it could to promote safety on and around campus, Jackson immediately formed a task force with representatives from campus police, university departments and student groups, as well as the University Park Alliance, a nonprofit that focuses on revitalizing the neighborhood just south of campus.
Three-and-a-half years later, the results of the group’s weekly meetings, which Jackson continues to co-chair, are impressive. They include a joint safety initiative with the University Park Alliance that patrols 25 blocks around the university and escorts students between their residences and various downtown locations at night; a campus bus system that runs until 3 a.m. on weekends and drops students living in the University Park neighborhood at their doors; and house and apartment checks during holidays and breaks.
“We’ve dramatically increased awareness about safety, and we’ve reduced the number of burglaries around the campus area,” Jackson says a few days later.
Improved on- and off-campus security is just one of the advances made by the University of Akron administrative team since Jacskon joined eight years ago.
Proenza calls Jackson a “key contributor” to increasing enrollment by 25 percent over the last five years, making just less than $750 million in campus enhancements and attaining fundraising goals.
At the same time, she has furthered the careers of other women on campus. University board of trustees chairwoman Ann Brennan gives Becky Hoover as an example. Jackson pointed out and supported the human-resources staffer for a possible promotion to vice president of talent development and human resources last year. At the time, the rest of the senior management positions were held by white men.
Hoover got the promotion, and the administration has gone on to hire women for posts as associate provost and chief communications officer.
“There are some women who only think there’s room for one,” say Fedearia Nicholson, director of the university’s Office of Multicultural Development. “Candace is just not that way. She has an eye for recognizing talent and promise in individuals. And she has a way of elevating them and connecting them to resources and opportunities that will ultimately benefit their professional and personal development.”
Candace Campbell Jackson learned the value of education and community service at an early age. Her father Ralph, a professor at Florida Keys Community College in Key West, Fla., taught his four children to read before they started first grade. Her mother Betty encouraged the family to participate in volunteer activities.
“She showed us very early on that everybody had something to contribute,” Jackson remembers.
Although Betty Campbell struggled to provide for her brood as a social worker after the couple divorced, Jackson never considered her family’s financial situation a disadvantage. Instead, it made her and her siblings highly industrious, the kind of kids who always held after-school and summer jobs and saved what they earned to pay fees for school field trips and extracurricular activities.
Jackson’s love of learning and people prompted her to study journalism at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Her first jobs out of college were in the Capitol Hill office of a Georgia congressman and at a nonprofit organization that fostered parental involvement in the city’s public schools.
The experiences further whetted her appetite for public service and qualified her for a scholarship available only to public-service employees. She enrolled at the University of Akron School of Law in 1992 with the vague intention of “doing something legislative.” Instead, she was lured into corporate law during a summer internship at the Akron law firm of Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs.
“I was surprised that I found it interesting,” she admits. “But I began to appreciate the intellectual challenges. And I began to appreciate that without the private sector, there is no nonprofit or philanthropic sector.” The firm hired her as an associate attorney.
Jackson quickly distinguished herself as a champion of women at the firm, even as she labored to establish herself there. Christine Amer Mayer, now president of the GAR Foundation in Akron, was an associate at Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs at the same time. She remembers that Jackson offered to help a Chinese law clerk by checking the young woman’s projects before she turned them in to other lawyers, an effort that took hours of her own time. She also called for patience as the young woman improved her English, acclimated to American society and attended law school at the same time.
“A very busy lawyer might not always choose to take the time to try to develop that person or get them on a better path,” Mayer explains. “Candace was exactly the opposite, particularly with young women lawyers.”
Jackson gravitated to the firm’s public-law department, where one of her clients was the University of Akron.
Proenza and his colleagues were impressed. “She came very well prepared, with a full analysis of the issues,” he remembers. When he needed an executive assistant — in university circles, a senior-level professional — he began recruiting her to fill it.
Jackson realized the position would indulge her passion for education and community service. But she wavered in her decision to leave the law firm until late 2003, when she was driving from Youngstown to Akron and saw a roadside billboard with a message she still believes was intended just for her. It said, “Don’t make me come down there. — God.”
Proenza recalls that Jackson immediately demonstrated an exceptional ability to assess and diplomatically resolve high-level people problems, whether it was getting disparate individuals to work as teams or smoothing relations with a disgruntled donor.
“She was very knowledgeable of the foundation world in Northeast Ohio and very well connected with a number of people who can be helpful,” he adds. The contacts are a result of her duties as a contract program officer for the GAR Foundation, a client of Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs during her tenure there.
“She is a very, very well-respected figure in the nonprofit world, both in Akron and in the region,” Mayer says.
Jackson was given the title of chief of staff in 2005, then added the vice president title the following year. As her responsibilities increased to include executive recruitment and spearheading presidential initiatives, she continued to serve outside the university.
Her seat on the Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio’s board of directors is particularly meaningful to her, mainly because she was one. “I enjoyed selling cookies for Brownie Troop 123,” she says fondly. “That was one of my first business enterprises.”
She also mentors other women. Nicholson credits Jackson for constantly encouraging her pursuit of a doctorate degree in public administration and urban studies.
Jackson has also proved to be a great adviser. Nicholson remembers the response when she confessed her reluctance to request more money for her departmental budget. “She said, ‘Fedearia, you have to be bold. You have to ask for what you need. It’s just money!’ And I thought, Oh, my. She’s right. It is just money!”
Among Jackson’s current goals is increasing summer-school enrollment. She gets off the shuttle bus in front of Buchtel Hall, where she meets with an intern and student-government representative about providing summer classes that include internships and better promoting of warm-weather cultural activities on and off campus.
She says later that she’s exploring the feasibility of building a sand beach somewhere on campus. It’s hard to tell if she’s joking.
“I told the president, ‘Hey, students like to tan,’ ” Jackson says with a smile. “He didn’t say no.”