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Like many Eastern Kentucky University students, Student Government Association President Laura Jackson “grew up in a town with more hills than people.” Living in that small town inspired her dream of impacting the lives of fellow Appalachian citizens through a career in law.

Jackson, a senior pre-law and political science major from Artemus, Kentucky, is no stranger to Appalachian stereotypes. “When you come from a small town like Artemus, many don’t expect much from you,” she confessed. She’s also all too familiar with the problems that commonly plague rural Kentucky, home to some of the most economically disadvantaged counties in the nation. “During my childhood, I experienced the effects that poverty, drug abuse, and so many other tragedies can have on the lives of Appalachian families,” she said. “From a young age, I realized that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of Appalachians.”

Upon graduating from Knox Central High School in 2014, Jackson felt some pressure to stay near Artemus and attend a local private college. But she decided that in order to one day serve her region, she needed to take advantage of opportunities that, for her, were best found outside of it. “Leaving home would provide me with the chance to grow and develop skills I needed to make a difference in communities like the one in which I was raised,” she said. EKU became the provider of those opportunities for her.

Even an accomplished young woman like Jackson began college with the overwhelming feeling of being a little fish in a big pond. Jackson vividly recalls her freshman President’s Picnic, listening to President Michael Benson and the student body president address what would later become the Class of 2018. She couldn’t have fathomed filling those shoes herself one day. “My goal then was to just go to class, get good grades and get the bachelor’s degree I needed to attend law school. But it didn’t take long for my mindset to change.”

One of the first fruits of Jackson’s new mentality was her decision to try out for EKU’s nationally prominent mock trial team, of which she is now co-captain. She credits her coaches for preparing her for success: “My mock trial coaches have taught me so many skills that will be vital to me as I pursue a career in law, so I am very thankful for their commitment to teaching me and sticking with me even when I've made mistakes along the way.” Today, those coaches are Dr. Tom Parker, pre-law adviser at EKU; Dr. Lynnette Noblitt, chair of the Department of Government; Kristeena Johnson and James Pennington, local attorneys and EKU mock trial alumni; and Dr. Sara Zeigler, dean of the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences.

Jackson said that her experiences at EKU groomed her to become exactly who she needed to be to achieve her lifelong dream. “These roles have taught me how to effectively advocate for people and for causes. They have also taught me how to lead groups of people to advocate and achieve a goal.”

She specifically values the opportunity to serve in SGA for its impact on the lives of students during an uncertain time in higher education. “My role as student body president and member of the Kentucky Board of Student Body Presidents (BSBP) allows me to voice student concerns both to the administration here at EKU and to the state legislature,” she said. “These roles are vital as we face serious budget cuts this year.” 

Her drive to advocate for students continues off campus. Of her many accomplishments, Jackson says she’s proudest of coordinating the 2017 Rally for Higher Education in Frankfort. “Students from public universities across the state came … at the same time to give speeches on the north steps of the Capitol and meet with their state senators and representatives to voice their concerns about the budget cuts that all of our institutions are facing,” she recalled.

In addition to serving as student body president and mock trial team co-captain, Jackson serves as the student representative to the EKU Board of Regents and vice chair of the Kentucky BSBP. She is also active in the Honors Program, Phi Beta Lambda-Future Business Leaders of America and the National Residence Hall Honorary.

So how does she manage such a hectic schedule? “Balancing many activities is a skill that I have been attempting to master for a very long time,” she admitted. Her secret? Meticulous planning. She schedules time each day for homework, workouts, work, leisure activities and even meals.  “This helps me make sure that I am fulfilling all of my responsibilities, but also making sure I'm healthy and enjoying life.”

After graduating from EKU, Jackson plans to attend law school, probably either at the University of Kentucky College of Law or at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. She has been working toward law school for a long time: “I recognized that pursuing a career in law … could allow me to pursue the goals I set for myself as a young child.”

In plotting her life’s course, Jackson came to realize that her rural roots have made her, not held her back: “I started to see that being raised in a small town in southeastern Kentucky did not limit me,” she said. “In fact, it had made me passionate, strong-willed and dedicated to my goals.”

Still, her time at EKU has been a transformative journey. “When I first got here, I never imagined I'd be where I am today,” she marveled. “But with the encouragement of faculty and my peers, I have achieved goals that I never would have dreamed a small-town girl could.”

— by Madison Harris, Student Writer, EKU Communications & Brand Management