By Corey Thompson

Karen R. Jackson may be halfway through her six month contract as the interim director of the New College Institute, but she isn’t about to slow down.

Since being named to the position in June, Jackson has secured a partnership between NCI and Nationwide Homes. She also re-signed a partnership with Newport News Shipbuilding.

But, she says there is more to come.

“Getting partnerships is very important to us. Students get to learn great new information. We can shine light on certain areas we may see are growing or have lots of potential for future graduates,” Jackson said.

During her tenure, Jackson also plans to implement courses in cyber security and data analytics, strengthen community relationships, and build partnerships with other schools and programs. She says the most important thing she can do is “be an advocate [for NCI] and propel it forward.”

A native of Poquoson, Jackson is president of Apogee Strategic Partners, LLC, which provides technology consulting and advisory services to companies, universities, governmental entities and nonprofits specializing in technology and business strategy, government relations, public policy, business development and program management.
She served as Secretary of Technology from 2014 to 2018 in the administrations of Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Bob McDonnell and has been a leader in advancing internet technology, cyber and broadband access in rural and underserved areas, according to a news release. She also was part of Virginia’s effort to land Amazon’s HQ2.

She has also served as Virginia’s deputy secretary of technology and as director of Virginia’s Office of Telework Promotion and Broadband Assistance. Jackson was vice president for broadband programs and regional director for that center for Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology in Newport News.

Jackson has a bachelor’s degree from Christopher Newport University and a master of business administration degree from the College of William and Mary, has held several positions with Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, received numerous awards and served on several boards and commissions.

Even with her myriad accomplishments, she said she wasn’t always interested in being a civil servant or improving education.

Before college, Jackson attended high school in her home town, and spent her time as a traditional student with interests in band and intramural softball.

“’Can’t’ was not a word in my home,” she said, ”I was always encouraged to follow my own ideas and walk through an open door if it presented itself.”

That is exactly what she has been doing her whole career, taking every opportunity she can get.

Out of college, she went into the banking sector. After some time, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in business from the College of William and Mary. From there, she spent some time doing contract work, owned a small business, and began government work in 1995.

Jackson started at CNU as a computer programming major.

“My mom worked at NASA my entire life, it really made me interested in technology, but then I realized I was more of a people person,” Jackson said, adding that she soon switched to business classes, and later became the first college graduate in her family.

She brought the knowledge she gained about technology with her when her focus shifted to business, and she said she began the process of marrying the two early on because technology is also important. The experience in both fields impacted her career, and she has spent her life learning about how technology improves lives.

Jackson said she wants to inspire more people to find the importance of technology in life and in career; however, while she is a huge advocate for the furthering and education of technology, she also understands the dangers. She herself is weary of her privacy and time spent using when it comes to technology.

“I don’t own an Alexa or a Nest. The can be very helpful devices, but it’s odd to have a device that’s always listening. Information about you can be taken from lots of places. Your google search history is just as easily accessible to everyone. But there is something strange about having a device that is constantly listening and relaying information,” Jackson said.

While encouraging students to find the importance of technology, she also wants to make sure they are aware of the dangers. She enjoys her privacy, and feels the need to instill a cautious passion for the field.

Jackson is currently splitting her time between Martinsville and her home. Her schedule has her spending several days in one location before traveling by car to see her family and friends or back to work. She said she enjoys the time traveling, though. “There is just such great scenery on 58, just some really beautiful and scenic spots.”

Aside from admiring the natural beauty, Jackson generally works during her four-hour commutes. “When there’s good signal I’m on the phone,” said Jackson, “or thinking about what I have going on. There really isn’t any downtime.”

When she is in Martinsville, Jackson stays in Kings Grant. “They welcomed me and my giant dog with such open arms. It’s been very nice.”

When she has the opportunity, she loves to walk and play with her German Shepherd. Also, she tries to keep up with current information on the field of technology or stay current on knowledge. When there is downtime, she has been exploring the Martinsville area.

As for whether or not Jackson will remain in her position after her six month contract expires is undecided.

“That’s a discussion we [herself and the NCI board] will have to have,” Jackson said. “Between then and now, there will hopefully be a lot happening, and I’ll focus on that. It would be a great opportunity but it’s just a discussion that will come later down the road.”