Stephen F. Austin State University

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Nacogdoches native graduates from SFA at 19

December 10, 2008 - Kayli Steger
Jackie Pierce

Passion for learning, a drive to succeed and careful planning have led one Stephen F. Austin State University student to graduate at the age of 19.

Nacogdoches native Jackie Pierce will receive her bachelor's degree in special education at Saturday's commencement ceremony after only two and a half years at SFA. According to university records, fewer than a dozen students have graduated from SFA at the age of 19 in the last two decades.

Pierce began auditing classes at SFA when she was only 14 and later took dual-credit courses while being home-schooled. While at SFA, she took between 18 and 19 credit hours per semester and 15 hours each summer. Not only did she take on a full-load of college courses, but she also supported herself with a full-time job.

The honor graduate credits her success to staying organized and planning exactly which classes to take from the beginning, as well as having a good relationship with her adviser. The aspiring special education teacher said she was driven to complete school so quickly because of the anticipation of having her own classroom and children to teach.

Pierce's involvement in PALS, a program that pairs special needs children with mentors, inspired her to pursue a degree in special education. She also was involved in PALS in-home training, which provides therapy and life skills for special needs children outside of the classroom.

"I love special education. There is just something amazing about those kids," Pierce said. She is currently working on a math certification so that she can specialize in teaching math skills.

Another driving factor for her success has been her mother, M.E. McWilliams, who Pierce calls "her backbone." McWilliams is the director of SFA's award-winning Academic Assistance and Resource Center.

"She has always believed in me and supported me through all the ups and downs in my life," Pierce said. "I couldn't have done it without her."

In what little spare time she has, Pierce enjoys clogging, scrapbooking and photography. She considers herself "just a normal girl" and a "social butterfly."

After graduation, Pierce plans to remain in the area and teach in Nacogdoches or Angelina County. She then hopes to complete a double master's degree in applied behavior analysis and education administration and eventually pursue a doctoral degree. She will soon take a trip to Europe as a graduation present to herself.

Pierce's words of encouragement for graduating seniors are to remember why you got your degree and to stay motivated. "Find something that you truly love and stay driven toward your goals."

SFA commencement will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the William R. Johnson Coliseum.