She should never have gone into banking. She knew even before she set out on her career path that she wasn’t following her passion. She knew she had a higher calling, a greater purpose. But, when Chanele Jackson ’87 first got into the business, it was for one purpose and one purpose only: to provide for her family.
Twenty-seven years later, she’s still working for the bank, and can honestly say she has no regret.
“I always chose what I thought would provide for me and my family the best. And my career has done that. It has provided for all of us,” says the consultant with Wells Fargo’s Corporate Finance, Shared Service Accounting organization in Charlotte. “I chose my career path by default, not because it was my passion.”
Besides, when she first started on this path, her passion was her children, and she was determined to become the first college graduate in her family and to set an example for her girls.
And that meant sacrifices. Especially after separating from her husband shortly after she’d enrolled at the College at age 31, and having to learn how to survive as a single parent to her three daughters, ages 3 months to 10 years. It was a complete game changer. She had no idea how she was going to make ends meet – much less stay in school. But, at the same time, being a single parent meant providing for her children was all on her – and that made her education even more important.
She had to make it happen. And the N.E. Miles Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC), where her 2-year-old was enrolled, helped make it happen: They waived her daughter’s tuition. It bought her some time, to be sure – but, after a while, she just couldn’t keep up.
“I wanted this education so badly, but there was just no way I could do it.”
She felt defeated, hopeless.
“I have to take care of my family first,” she told one of her professors, who’d found her crying outside of a classroom in Maybank Hall.
Her voice breaks and her eyes tear up again when she recalls what happened next: “I got a note saying that I’d been selected for a scholarship that paid for tuition and books. It was life changing.”
Between the scholarship and her part-time job with a real estate appraisal firm, Jackson was going to be able to finish school. She took her children to live with her mother and brother in Georgetown, S.C., for the remainder of her final year at the College, rented a room in a woman’s home on Broad Street and hunkered down. She did what she needed to do to make her sacrifices worthwhile for her kids.
As graduation approached, she kept her eye on the prize: a well-paying job with potential for growth opportunities.
She still hadn’t found one, though, when Perry Woodside, now a professor emeritus in the School of Business and a member of its Board of Governors, asked the students in his commercial real estate class if they were interested in interviewing for some openings with the North Carolina National Bank Corporation (NCNB) in Charlotte.
“I wasn’t interested in banking, but I needed a job, so I raised my hand,” says Jackson, who landed an interview and was then offered a position in the credit management program on the spot. “So, the College directly shaped my career, my development and my opportunities.”
She’d been with NCNB, which became Bank of America in 1998, for around six years when she started looking for more opportunities.
“I needed more income to truly provide for my kids. I said a prayer: ‘I really need to go to graduate school, but I can’t afford it.’ The next day, I was in commercial loans, and I got called into a senior executive’s office, and they told me I’d been selected to go get my master’s degree! Isn’t that amazing? Out of the whole company, only two people got to do that,” recalls Jackson.
Upon completing the executive M.B.A. program at Queens University, Jackson was offered a leadership position, giving her the financial stability and increased responsibility she wanted.
Having moved to Wells Fargo in 2008, Jackson has made a lifelong career out of the opportunity in banking she got at the College – and it has served her well. But, really, the career is just a footnote in everything Jackson gleaned from the College.
“I’m able to do so much more because I got that liberal arts education. I learned to learn. I know how to think. I know how to research, to explore. I learned to ask questions. I learned to never give up,” says Jackson, who maintains that it is the responsibility of all alumni to give back to their alma mater. “The College has given so much to all of us. It touches every part of life, and shapes us into who we are today. Everything that we touched there has stayed with us. We wouldn’t be who we are today if it weren’t for the College of Charleston. It’s important to sustain the excellence that we all benefit from. We have to realize that the College exists because of us. It is so much a part of our story, we need to help tell its story.”
That is why Jackson has given to the School of Education, Health, and Human Performance, the College of Charleston Fund and ECDC on an annual basis for some 15 years. And, most recently, she has made a planned gift toward ECDC tuition for a child of a single mother who is also a first-generation college student.
“I wanted to help someone like me, so that they may have a wonderful, safe environment for their children,” says Jackson. “The Early Childhood Development Center gives children a foundation of knowledge, of love. It gives them great self-esteem because they are ahead of the curve. They are learning how to learn so early on so that by the time they get to school, they already have that foundation. They have the building blocks to succeed. I wanted to provide educational opportunities for the child and the mom, too.”
Living by the motto “Much is given, much is expected,” Jackson enjoys giving back – creating opportunities for people, just as she has been given opportunities along the way.
“I give back because I want to do that for someone else. I want to create opportunities for other people to find their purpose,” she says. “There is a purpose to everyone’s life, and you don’t always know what it is. But there’s a guiding force creating opportunities for you to find it.”
And Jackson, for one, has found hers: service.
“I feel I was created to give back. I have a heart of service and compassion and social justice, and I am called to service” says Jackson, who is active in a variety of education, financial literacy, community and faith-based organizations and is especially involved with Right Moves for Youth – a nonprofit that targets first-generation college students and their families. “I want the youth to know what opportunities exist. I want them to have access to things they don’t even know about. So, I give my time, talent and treasure: That’s how I fulfill my greater purpose.”
And, in the meantime, her career in banking has served its purpose, too.
Photo by Logan Cyrus