Dr. Debra Mays-Jackson, a Jackson State University alum hailed for numerous academic and administrative achievements throughout the area, is the chief of staff for JSU President William B. Bynum Jr.
“I’m feeling privileged to serve and be at JSU at this level,” Mays-Jackson said. “It’s surreal; it’s exciting. I’m trying to wrap my brain around it. I never thought this would occur, so to be ‘home’ is a wonderful thing. I’ve always supported JSU because it’s done so much for me, especially having received three degrees from here.”
Before JSU, she had gained valuable experience in higher and in secondary education, having served most recently as the first woman vice president of Hinds Community College-Utica Campus. There, she supervised operations of the Utica and Vicksburg-Warren campuses and was responsible for administrative services at all six HCC campuses that included EEOC, affirmative action and civil rights.
Her collegiate experience at HCC-Utica after Terry High School was the start of her successful association with that institution, where she earned an associate of arts degree in music education with an emphasis in piano performance. She would return years later at HCC-Utica as one of its top administrators and achieved the following accomplishments:
- Increased enrollment at the Utica and Vicksburg campuses, with Utica experiencing a 37 percent hike in 2016-17. It was the highest of all HCC campuses.
- At Utica, she re-established the agriculture program, which is the historic foundation of the campus; increased external funding to more than $8 million, including financial support from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation; facilitated revision of and created new student support programs for academic success; facilitated an $8 million renovation of the Student Center along with its Cosmetology and Barbering and Campus Marquee; established a collaborative relationship with the Utica Campus National Alumni Association and the Utica and Vicksburg communities; gained recognition as a Phi Theta Kappa Distinguished Administrator in 2017; and she established the “Vice President’s Scholarship and Hall of Honor Gala” recognizing Utica Campus Alumni and Community Supporters. It raised more than $100,000 in scholarship funds in just two years.
- At Vicksburg, she was involved in requesting and gaining approval for a new $10 million multi-purpose complex and established the River City Early College in collaboration and support of the Vicksburg-Warren School District.
As part of her continuing role as an educator, Mays-Jackson also had been an adjunct professor at JSU in the Education Leadership Department.
Looking back over her life, she recalls her academic studies at JSU, where she achieved a bachelor’s of arts degree in music for piano performance; a master’s of arts in music education; and specialist degree in education administration from the urban HBCU. As well, she earned a doctorate from Mississippi State University in education administration and supervision for elementary, middle and secondary schools.
The native of Terry, Mississippi, explained that her new “multifaceted role” as chief of staff at JSU will include providing direct support to Bynum and his mission. “I am honored that Dr. Bynum saw in me something that could help him realize his vision and his mission for JSU. I am more than willing to serve in any capacity he elects for me to strengthen the capacity of the university.”
Also, she will provide oversight to the Department of Public Safety, Title III, Student Affairs, the Mississippi e-Center@JSU and legislative issues. As vice president and chief of staff, she is the No. 3 ranking administrator after Bynum and the provost.
Her hope for JSU is for the institution to continue its legacy as a “fixture of excellence. I see us being part of the Ivy Leagues of institutions because in my heart that’s where we are already. We’re leading among HBCUs, which for students the HBCU experience is second to none and essential to the development of who we are as a people.”
Mays-Jackson describes JSU as a nurturing institution. “I knew that when I was a student the people here really cared that I not only matriculated through the program but that I completed the journey as well. … There’s a lot of knowledgeable, experienced, passionate faculty and staff today as it was when I was enrolled in school here. I urge students to listen and expose themselves to all they can because those experiences will take them to their next venture.”
As if life wasn’t busy enough already for her, Mays-Jackson also serves on the Mississippi Department of Education Teacher Licensure Commission.
Her other highlights include:
- Phi Theta Kappa National Distinguished College Administrator in 2017
- Mississippi Department of Education’s 2012 Administrator of the Year Congressional Finalist
- Featured in “Portico Jackson Magazine” in June 2011 as “one of Mississippi’s outstanding administrators”
- One Church One School’s 2010 Outstanding Educator of the Year
- Mississippi Scholastic Press Association’s 2009 Administrator of the Year
- Principal coach for Jackson Public Schools
Despite all that she’s accomplished and continuing to achieve, the former musician is still uncertain as to what will be her final encore performance as a university administrator.
“This role at JSU could be it,” she said. “I don’t know what God has planned for me. I still feel I must be doing something right for children and students because he continues to do for me. I’m just stepping out of his way. Wherever he puts me, I’m just going to work hard at what I’m doing in that place. When he’s ready for me to move on, or if he wants me to remain, that’s where I’ll be. I’ve stopped trying to figure it out.”
Mays-Jackson is married to G. Torrie Jackson Jr., and they are the parents of two sons, Cameron and Kendall.