Mother, worker, scholar, grad: One student’s race to an MPA

Jayna Jenkins Vernon, Master of Public Administration

In her junior year of high school, Jayna Jenkins Vernon had a talk with a teacher that she has never forgotten.

A natural hard worker, Vernon had (and still has) a habit of loading herself down with coursework. Junior year was no exception, though, despite taking five advanced placement (A.P.) courses and a sixth Honors course, she found she was doing well in all of her classes. All except A.P. U.S. History, that is.

“At this point in the class, this teacher has only given me ‘C’s on everything,” Vernon said. “I overheard another classmate say that the teacher raised his grade from an 88.4 to a 90 so that student could get an A.”

This got Vernon thinking. Approaching her teacher, she asked what she was doing wrong and how she could improve, hoping to bring her history grade more in line with her others. To her amazement, rather than addressing her concerns or giving her advice, her teacher simply asked her a question.

“He asked me if I wanted to go to college,” Vernon said. “I told him, ‘yes, that’s why I’m really worried about my grades and why I’m not doing well in your class.’”

With a look a genuine disgust, Vernon’s teacher said to her, “Just because you’re a woman and of ethnic descent, doesn’t mean you could get into college.”

Vernon went on to graduate from California State University with a 3.8, and she hopes to finish out her last semester in Augusta University’s Master of Public Administration program with a 4.0. But that teacher’s words still have an effect on her.

I have always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives

— Jayna Jenkins Vernon

The MPA program was a natural fit for Vernon. She says she has always felt pulled toward public service. Her husband is in the military, and her mother works for a government agency back in California.

“I have always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said, echoing a sentiment shared by much of her cohort in the program.

What separates Vernon from her classmates is not her dedication to giving back. Rather, it’s her amazing commitment to always give her all. In addition to raising two small children and working part time, when she walks across the stage this May, Vernon will have also become one of only a handful of students to complete the entire program in just four semesters.

One of the keys to her success, she said, has been her family’s love and understanding.

“One word: Support,” Vernon said. “My husband and I sat down, and we made an agreement to support each other throughout all the speed bumps that were ahead.”

Her husband, and her family, did just that.

“My family altogether has always been a huge support system,” she said. “They were there for me when I needed to pick their brains about an assignment or a shoulder to cry on when I got feedback on an assignment.”

I know I have two little humans looking up to me. If I can inspire them to be great at any point in my life, I’m going to do it.

— Jayna Jenkins Vernon

Despite the workload, Vernon said she has never felt like giving up, though, once or twice, she has questioned how “sane” it was to sign up for and finish a program in just one year. Nevertheless, she persisted, and with good reason.

“I know I have two little humans looking up to me,” she said. “If I can inspire them to be great at any point in my life, I’m going to do it.”

As she prepares to move on to her next adventure – Vernon and her family are moving to Bahrain shortly after she graduates – she’s started thinking about the things she’s learned and the things she’ll miss here in Augusta. Her time in the MPA program comes in near the top of her list. The Georgia scenery also made the cut.

Perhaps the thing she’ll miss most, though, are the people she’s met in her brief time in Georgia.

“I have met some of the most genuine professors and students,” she said. “They have really made an impact on my life.”

As for the teacher who put her down in high school so long ago, the one who treated her with disgust and disdain for chasing a dream, she said she hopes to invite him to her graduation.

At Augusta University, success is a choice.

This spring, we celebrate graduating seniors by recognizing students who are choosing to better themselves and their communities in 2018.

Celebrate with these members of Jaguar Nation and the entire Class of 2018 using the hashtag #AUGgrad.

Follow in Jayna’s footsteps:

An Augusta University MPA gives students the practical skills they need to address the complex problems in government and society. Learn more about the Master of Public Administration degree.

The love and understanding of her family is one of the keys to her success, Jayna said.


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Written by
Nick Garrett

Nick Garrett is a communications coordinator in the Division of Communications & Marketing at Augusta University. Contact him at 706-446-4802 or

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Written by Nick Garrett

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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