Author: Dr. Monica Y. Jackson, Ph.D. | March 2015

Your past does not define your present or your future, unless you choose to give it power and authority over your destiny. Even if you had a great past, it is so easy to become complacent and stuck in the past, because of fear, lack of knowledge, lack of support and lack of resources. I encourage you to move past your fears, lack of knowledge, lack of support and lack of resources. Set a goal to align yourself with someone who can help you move from where you are to where you desire to go.

“Your past does not define your present or your future,

unless you choose to give it power and authority over your destiny”

Dr. Arnette Edwards, Ed.D.
Dr. Arnette Edwards, Ed.D. (Photo: courtesy of Dr. Edwards)

Locate a life mentor who is where you would like to be, because that individual has firsthand knowledge of the journey and can help you avoid some pitfalls. Life Skills Enterprise aims to help connect individuals to great mentors in food (choices), faith (building) and future (development). When it comes to a mentor, make sure that the individual you select is committed and willing to invest in your development and growth. Also, make sure you are committed to the process and open to their guidance. Don’t waste someone else’s time and do not allow someone to waste your time. When you are on the road to success, remember to reach back and be a mentor to someone else.

Never stop believing, dreaming or achieving. While I recognize that it is not simple or easy to move forward without the proper mindset or mentality, it is important not to make excuses, become defensive or “wear your feelings on your sleeves.” These characteristics are counterproductive and will limit or delay your progress. Choose to change your mindset and mentality. You have the power. You just have to believe it and walk in that belief. Take control of your thoughts!

“At the community college level, you don’t need student loans”

Your surroundings and upbringing may have been challenging, however with the right guidance, everyone can have a bright future. That’s what you must believe, think and act upon. Allow me to introduce you to Dr. Arnette Edwards, Ed.D. who by all accounts would have been labeled a misfit by society. However, she did not allow her beginnings to define her future. She embraced changing her mindset. Observe her response and her journey.

Tell our audience about you, your academic journey and the source of your drive?

I grew up in Long Beach, CA. I dropped out of high school, but made the decision to finish. I earned my high school diploma at the age of 20. My drive comes from my Lord and Savior and my children. I started my higher education journey by accident. I was in the nursing field until I was injured. As a result, I had to be retrained. I decided to go into the dental field. There was only one community college that had a dental program and I enrolled. Eventually, I discovered that dentistry was not for me. So, I began working at the community college where I enrolled. I have worked in student support services and currently serve as a financial aid specialist.

I found a great mentor who encouraged me to purse my education. I earned a certificate, then I was encouraged to pursue an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and ultimately a doctorate degree. I earned an Associate of Arts in General Education from Cypress College, Bachelor of Science in Human Services with an emphasis in Social Work from California State University Fullerton, Master of Arts in Educational Counseling from National University and a Doctor of Education in Community College Leadership from California State University Fullerton. It took me eight years to earn these degrees.

What were some of your struggles and how did you overcome them?

A struggle I had was seeing very few people on college campuses who looked like me. Being the only African-American in the classroom, I often felt like a fish out of water. I was attending predominately white institutions. There were no opportunities to network with African Americans. I also did not have any African-American resources, administrators or professors.

How could you have been served better?

As a student, I believe that I could have been served better by having access to people who could relate to people of color – in student services, faculty and administrators. Seeing someone of power and status who was an African-American who could mentor and encourage me throughout my educational endeavors would have made the journey less difficult.

Tell our audience about your professional journey and aspirations?

I have worked at a community college in Southern California for 18 years. My career aspirations are to take on a leadership position at a community college, perhaps as a counselor or director. I want to create educational access opportunities for disadvantaged and minority students. I believe in using what I have learned to reach one, teach one. It is important that I help other students of color. I am committed to showing them that there are gaps, but there are ways to workaround those gaps and succeed.

As a financial aid specialist at a community college in Southern California, what is the number one mistake that you see students making when financing their education?

I continuously see students taking excessive student loans. At the community college level, you don’t need student loans. However, students take them all of the time, without understanding that this decision is costly.

What is the “little known secret” about funding one’s education?

Students should make sure they know what resources are available. There are lots of scholarships, fee waivers, Pell Grant, FAFSA, Cal Grant, FSEOG and each institution has private funding. Some great sources for funding are Coca Cola, clergy and unions where students’ parents are members.

What are the top tips that you would give to students pursuing their education?

It is so important for students to:

  1. Be self-determined
  2. Be self-motivated
  3. Be open-minded
  4. Be willing to accept failure
  5. Understand that failure will happen, but you can still succeed
  6. Ask for help and don’t be afraid

There is a lot of press about President Obama making the first two years of one’s education, free. Can you shed light on this topic? What are your thoughts?

Yes. President Obama recently announced making the first two years of college free. I have mixed feelings about this topic. It is an amazing concept and opportunity. It gives everyone access to education. However, my concerns require two questions to be answered: (1) What is the real cost of free education? (2) Will the right people receive the funds?

Our motto is “Learn, Build, Inspire, Model, Promote, Love … LIFE.” What are your thoughts and how does your life align with this motto?

I’m aligned with this motto because I’m a strong believer of paying it forward. My experience and abilities allow me to help others achieve their goal. It doesn’t matter where you come from. You must be willing to go through the struggle. The motto embodies what I stand for as a woman of color.

Author’s Reflection

Dr.Edwards’ responses caused me to reflect on my dissertation, An Examination of Standardized Tests, Religiosity, Self-Esteem, Cultural Congruity and Campus Climate on African American University Students’ Academic Success. I collected data from students at California State University, Fullerton (Dr. Edwards’ alma mater), California State University, Dominguez Hills (my alma mater), University of California, Riverside (my daughter’s alma mater), Pepperdine University and University of Southern California.

“It is important that our classrooms, boardrooms and places of employment truly reflect the diversity that is in our society, deliver equal opportunity for all and improve campus climate”

The results revealed that African-American students at California State University, Fullerton were not as positive about the campus climate as the other four institutions. Campus climate was defined as “having feelings of belonging on the campus, student experience with staff, peers and faculty and having social support. Students’ perception of campus climate has been associated with academic success, social support, persistence and GPA” (Edman & Brazil, 2007, as cited in Jackson, 2012, p. 23). Although this is only one study, results align with Dr. Edwards’ perspective and her educational journey.

I selected this dissertation topic, because it suggests that educators have a limited understanding of the unique challenges that African Americans have when pursuing higher education. Additionally, the system has not successfully narrowed the academic achievement gap. Furthermore, a model for academic success does not exist for African Americans, who historically are underrepresented, undeserved and underachieve at predominately white institutions (Jackson, 2012). For these reasons, race still matter, unfortunately.

My personal experience in higher education was similar to Dr. Edwards, at times. There was a level of discomfort being the only African-American, or one of the few, in the classroom. Others who were not of color, simply believed that this was not a prevalent issue and discouraged my dissertation topic. This was a hurdle that I constantly had to overcome. When I became an administrator and professor, I found that others had similar experiences. Yet, we persevered and learned to navigate through the struggles. Furthermore, whenever I showed up to teach a class, I observed the majority of African Americans embracing education and feeling like “they belonged.” I even saw them excelling and persisting. We have made some progress in higher education; however there is still room for improvement. I also research and publish articles in education publications associated with African-American students’ success. Some titles of my published articles include:

  • Understand barriers faced by black adults to better recruit, retain and graduate them
  • Boost black adult representation and completion in doctoral programs.
  • Implement viable doctoral-student retention practices
  • Understand what black adults need to persist in college
  • Recruit, retain black adults by understanding them better

I research and publish these articles, because it is important that our classrooms, boardrooms and places of employment truly reflect the diversity that is in our society, deliver equal opportunity for all and improve campus climate. This requires each of us to do our part, examine our own attitude and move forward. Thank you Dr. Edwards for being an example that one’s beginnings do not have to dictate one’s endings.


Jackson, M. Y. (2012). An Examination of Standardized Tests, Religiosity, Self-Esteem, Cultural Congruity and Campus Climate on African American University Students’ Academic Success. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Database (UMI No. 3501615).

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