In this edition of Five Questions and a Sketch we interview the immensely busy Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood, an adjunct journalism professor and adviser of The Collegiate. Ackerman-Haywood is from suburban Detroit but moved to Grand Rapids in 1998 to cover police and breaking news for The Grand Rapids Press. She also wrote a weekly art and craft column for The Press until 2015. When she’s not teaching journalism, she’s running her fiber art and printmaking business called CraftSanity. She likes to wear practically the same outfit every day – a long unbuttoned denim shirt over a dress, layered over pants, with turquoise crocs, and a seemingly effortless bun on the top of her head. Full disclosure: she is my mom.
What has been the most rewarding part of being the adviser? Most stressful?
Advising the Collegiate has been simultaneously the most wonderful and challenging job I’ve ever had. I took this “part-time, temporary” gig in 2012 and have willingly allowed it to flow freely beyond the definition of a part-time commitment. I have invested a lot into helping my students succeed through the years, and it’s been extremely fun to watch many of them win contests and make people cry with their storytelling skills. Although the most gratifying moments have happened gradually and unceremoniously in the classroom when students go beyond what they thought they were capable of and write the stories they were born to tell. In contrast, I also have found this job completely devastating at times when students with great potential veer off course. When they fail I can’t help but own a piece of that and wonder what more I could have done to help them. This job is challenging and isolating at times, but I keep coming back because I want to keep trying to make a difference and I’m committed to doing what I can to help train the next generation of journalists.
What do you think makes The Collegiate important?
The Collegiate provides GRCC students with a platform to report the news, document their college experience, hold campus and community leaders accountable and shine a light on the hardworking students and staff members who make our college what it is.
What made you want to take this job?
The first time I was very casually approached about this job, I said, “No, thanks.” At the time my kids were babies and I was working full-time as a newspaper reporter. I didn’t have time to take on one more thing. Then, roughly six years later, someone else approached me about the job and I felt like the universe may have been trying to tell me something. I was not heavily recruited and rumor is that about a dozen people turned it down before it came back to me. It’s not a lucrative gig and involves an almost constant level of worry, but I do this work because I love college newspapers and want the student publication to continue at GRCC.
If you could tell your college-age self one thing what would it be?
I would tell myself to chill. I spent a lot of my youth worrying about the future. Looking back I realize that was valuable time I can’t get back. I would also share a spoiler and tell myself that dreaming out loud totally works. Say what you want, work hard toward those goals and the universe has a way of taking care of the rest.
What do you want people to take away from The Collegiate?
I’d love for GRCC students and faculty to view The Collegiate as their publication, the one that covers stories that matter to them. Likewise, I want the student journalists I teach and advise to come away from their experience working on The Collegiate with solid writing samples, the basic skills necessary to pursue a career in journalism and fond memories of being part of an inclusive, kind, fun and dedicated community.
Have suggestions about who I should feature next? Drop me a tip at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!
Editor’s note: Responses were edited for clarity.