Giving Them the World

A life-changing gift enables U.P. students to expand their horizons

In her youth, Marquette native Gloria Jackson ’68 BS ventured beyond the Upper Peninsula only once: for a three-week summer stay at her uncle's home in East Lansing. As a successful Arizona-based business owner with her husband, Bill, she has since traveled extensively in the United States and broad.

Jackson does not take these opportunities for granted. Even while in-flight thousands of feet above sea level, she remains firmly grounded in her U.P. values and upbringing. Her continued loyalty to the region and desire to help U.P. students reap the life-altering benefits of experiences beyond their insulated comfort zone—and farther away than East Lansing—led her and Bill to establish the $1 million Jackson Scholars Study Abroad Endowment through the NMU Foundation.

The endowment will provide funding for a study abroad experience for one student from each of the 15 U.P. counties each year. According to the NMU Foundation, the ultimate value of this gift cannot be overestimated. More than three quarters of the students at NMU qualify for need-based aid. Many do not have the personal or family resources to shoulder the travel and living costs associated with international academic and service opportunities.

The gift also provides funding for a campus-wide, annual celebration of international experiences. Its components align directly with the university's “Road Map to 2015” strategic plan.

“I had a discussion with Les [Wong] about his dream of providing an international experience for NMU students and I thought it was great,” says Gloria Jackson. “It's exactly the kind of thing we believe in and the endowment seemed like a perfect way to support that. The world is shrinking. It is critical to have some exposure to other cultures, whether you work for a company with a presence overseas or you work and live in the United States alongside people from other countries.”

Martha Haynes, NMU Foundation executive director, says the Jacksons have been tireless advocates for the vital role that international experiences play in preparing students to compete in the global marketplace. They also comprehend that, on all levels, the fates of individuals, communities, nations and the planet are tightly interwoven.

“The Jacksons are dedicated to the belief that international experiences will help students acquire the adaptability, self-confidence, global context and intellectual, personal and social growth necessary to succeed and to open new paths to a better future at home and abroad,” Haynes adds. “This endowment is an incredibly generous gift that will provide a solid financial underpinning for internationalization at NMU and life transforming opportunities for our students.

Jackson has a unique understanding of the importance of global awareness and international education. She has parlayed her Finnish heritage (her maiden name is Jussila) into an appointment as the honorary consul of Finland to the state of Arizona. As a member of the Arizona Consular Corps, she has contact with fellow consuls from about 30 countries.

Her primary responsibilities include promoting Finland and helping to facilitate collaborative relationships between the country's business and education leaders and their counterparts in Arizona. She has processed declarations for people who lost and are reclaiming their Finnish citizenship and, prior to changes in U. S. immigration law, handled passport applications for Finnish citizens.

Because the Arizona Consular Corps has an endowed scholarship at Thunderbird School of Global Management, Jackson became involved with Thunderbird's Global Council. The private, graduate-level business school based in Glendale, Ariz., has affiliations in Mexico, China, Switzerland, France and soon Russia and Saudi Arabia.

One of Thunderbird's programs, Project Artemis, offers an intensive two-week business training program for women from Afghanistan. Jackson sponsored one of the participants last fall.

“It's amazing to hear the Afghan women talk about the conditions they live under, even after Taliban rule ended. Several in the program spoke fluent English because they were from upper-class families and went to private schools to learn English. A previous graduate who runs an embroidery business called Kandahar Treasures hired 500 women to do handwork in their homes and sells the items worldwide. She told me that 99 percent of her employees are illiterate.

“The intricate work takes their minds off the situation. They earn about 20 U.S. dollars per month, which goes a long way toward improving their living conditions. Their courage is inspiring and they are helping to rebuild Afghanistan one womanowned business at a time.”

Whether traveling in her consular capacity or for pleasure, Jackson says Finland tops her list of favorite destinations.

“If I had to live anywhere else, it would be there. New Zealand is also wonderful. A friend and I spent two weeks hiking there about 10 years ago. It was more laid back than the U.S. There were no freeways—only two-lane roads—and hardly any traffic lights. The scenery was out of this world and the people were friendly. In that sense, it reminded me of the U.P.”

Gloria and Bill are in what she describes as an “equalopportunity marriage involving a Northern accountant and a Michigan Tech engineer.” They willingly embrace and support each other's institutions, except when it comes to athletic events.

The couple met shortly after Gloria finished high school. Introduced by mutual acquaintances at the Tip Top—once a popular hangout on Third Street—they did not establish a connection until months later, when the same acquaintances invited them on a not-so-blind date.

They will close out 2009 by celebrating their 50th anniversary on New Year's Eve.

The Jacksons' journey has included several business enterprises: electronic parts distributor, industrial equipment sales, antenna installation, a local origination TV station and a gourmet cookware store.

Wanting to contribute to the initial family business, Gloria enrolled in the accounting program at Northern after their wedding. She says her professors were highly accommodating as she juggled her education with an expanding family. She even recalls going into labor during an economics exam, but still managed to perform well on the test. It was a perfect display of sisu, that Finnish expression for determination, perseverance and acting rationally in the face of adversity.

The couple entered the cable TV industry in 1971, when the U.S. Air Force decided that the government operated cable TV system at K.I. Sawyer should be run by a private contractor. The Jacksons submitted the winning bid. That was the beginning of CableAmerica, which later relocated to Arizona.

Some husbands and wives thrive in a shared professional environment; others advise against working together, saying it puts too much strain on the personal relationship. “I've seen both sides,” Gloria explains. “It's good in the sense that you understand your spouse's business and can talk about it because you're both invested in it. The bad side is that it's hard to leave the business issues at work. They often intrude on family time because you end up discussing them at the dinner table.”

The couple's two sons also work at CableAmerica. Their daughter is a stay-at-home mom in Minnesota.

Gloria and Bill have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to higher education in the Upper Peninsula. She sits on the board of trustees at Finlandia University (formerly Suomi College) and they previously established scholarships at MTU and NMU. The latter awards scholarships to business students, with preference given to those from Marquette.

Gloria serves on the NMU Foundation Board of Trustees. She was the keynote speaker and honorary degree recipient at December commencement. Her address included references to Robert Frost's poem,

“The Road Not Taken,” and Dr. Scott Peck's book, The Road Less Traveled, to illustrate both life's journey and Northern's strategic direction. It was an appropriate preview of the Jackson's generous gift to support study abroad opportunities for U.P. students and the latest example of their lingering devotion to the region.  

“I always say you can take the girl out of the U.P., but you can't take the U.P. out of the girl,” Gloria says. “We own a home in Eagle Harbor and return to the area often to visit friends and relatives. Marquette will always be home.”