Jessica Adams once wondered what her purpose was. She was alone without an education and needed to move forward.
“I ended up getting kicked out of school, so I ended up getting addicted to drugs. I had a really big drug problem,” Adams said. “I ended up getting clean when I was about 17, and I tested out of high school early. The only year of high school I actually attended was ninth grade.”
That independence gave Adams the chance for some self-improvement. She got a job and was providing for herself. She later became pregnant, giving birth to a baby boy.
“I was floating a lot until I had my son,” she said. “Once I had a child, I had more of a purpose.”
When her son was one year old, his father died. Adams needed to push forward not only for herself, but also her son.
“I want to provide for this child,” Adams said. “I want to make sure he has a good life. He really gave me a purpose to move forward until I figured out who I was outside of him.”
At that point, Adams knew she had to go back to what she’d left behind – an education.
“I was a single parent all the way, so I knew I needed to get an education,” Adams said.
After attending Fresno City College, Adams enrolled at Fresno State. She entered as a public health major with an interest in reproductive health.
After realizing chemistry was not her strength, she decided to choose another path – women’s studies. There was no going back after attending Dr. Kathryn Forbes introductory women’s studies course.
“It changed my entire life,” Adams said. “The class changed my life. The professor, who is still a mentor of mine, she changed my life.”
Adams found the content to be empowering and began volunteering at the Women’s Resource Center on campus. She learned about the opportunities women can have in the world, no matter what setbacks they may have. She also admired Forbes, who pushed her to do her best. It was something Adams had never experienced.
“Knowing that somebody cared, somebody wanted me to be successful, that really helped me move forward,” Adams said.
Adams graduated from Fresno State with a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies. It was 2009, and she was in search of employment in the midst of The Great Recession.
She began substitute teaching for the Clovis Unified School District and quickly realized that it was not the career for her. She wanted a teaching job where she could express her ideas without being restricted by a set of rules.
“Right when I started questioning, ‘Do I want to work in K through 12?’ I got an opportunity through the Marjaree Mason Center to work in their education department,” Adams said. “It was like combining my two passions of working with women’s empowerment and education.”
She helped organize community education programs for the public while assisting the center’s victims in receiving an education. A few years later, Adams got a new learning opportunity. She gained leadership skills by running a batterers education department, seeing all aspects of domestic violence.
“I was the only employee in that center,” Adams said. “Being in the middle of that helped me see that I want to help people on a broader scale.”
Adams got the chance to come back to where her passion had started when she became interim director of the Women’s Resource Center at Fresno State. Later that year, she was hired on as the permanent director.
The department later grew to what is now the Cross Cultural and Gender Center, where she now serves as the coordinator of gender programs and services.
Adams will be receiving her master’s degree through the Higher Education, Administration and Leadership (HEAL) program. She began in the program thinking she wanted to one day become a vice president of student affairs at a university.
One year into the program, she realized that her “true passion” was students.
“And while in student affairs at a VP level, you are helping students be successful. You’re in charge of student success,” Adams said. “You’re in charge of all these programs [but] you don’t have that student contact, and that’s what I want.”
This realization is leading her to her next chapter. She will be moving to Iowa State University in the fall to earn her doctorate in education.
“My dream is to be able to travel as a professor. I don’t want to just go to one place and be tenured and stay there,” Adams said. “I want to travel to different communities and help different communities better themselves.”
Just as her son was by her side when she began her academic career, he will be following in her footsteps during the move to Iowa.
“He sees me as always learning. When we move and I start my first year of Ph.D., he’s going to start his first year of high school,” Adams said. “So we get to travel this road together, and he sees that anybody can do education. It’s not for other people, it’s for everybody.”
Adams started her journey without having someone show her the way. Now she’s in a position where she can provide support to other students.
“I want everybody to believe that they can do it themselves,” Adams said. “And honestly sometimes all that is is just somebody telling them, ‘I believe that you can do it.’”
Inclusion is what Adams believes causes everyone to have success. She is an advocate for every student and says that connecting with one another can bring change.
“We have to be change agents. We have to find a group that we belong to, or can belong to, or people that accept us. And we change everybody else,” Adams said. “You can’t wait for other people to make it better. You have to find somebody to support you and move forward to make it better.”