I talked with Jessena (CRSM ’15 SIU ’19) as she was beginning her exit from Carbondale, IL after her recent graduation from Southern Illinois University. Heading toward Houston, her plans include growing her successful on-line business, eventually reopening her hair and clothing boutique and getting her master’s in marketing. After speaking with her I came away knowing I spoke with a very determined young woman.
The following conversation has been edited and condensed
I’m glad we’re finally able to connect – it’s such an unpredictable time. Congratulations on your graduation!
Thank you. I considered adding classes and delaying my graduation ‘till the summer; I’m glad I didn’t. It was just announced that Southern Illinois University will take on a limited number students for on-campus classes this summer and in the fall. So I’m off to Houston.
I want to talk more about that, but I’m also interested in your involvement at CRSM. You grew up in Zion, IL…that’s a long drive to Cristo Rey in Waukegan.
It really was a long way. My little brother is at CRSM; and now that my Mom lives near school, he has it much easier! But CRSM was the best choice for me. I was little as a freshman and I was being bullied a lot. So, it was up at 5:00am…catch the earliest bus from Zion and get to school. That made for really long days, especially during basketball season – practice, games, and those all-day tournaments.
Not to mention, your Work Study obligations. Were CWSP experiences important for you?
Very important. I worked at Grainger in their HR Department. I learned so much. Those work experiences even helped me land my college externship at a Washington DC. based company called Vysnova Partners. They’re involved in operational solutions for private and federal agencies.
So, you were traveling long hours to school, working at Grainger and playing basketball all four years. I looked up your records; you also worked on the yearbook, you volunteered at the Northern Illinois Food Bank and PADS just to name a few. How did you find the time?
There was always help available to me at CRSM. I was able to get rides from other students that could get me closer to home without the bus. When we were struggling financially, I received help in the form of a scholarship from the Libertyville Rotary Club. Mr. & Mrs. Horcher came to my house to tutor me in math, Mr. Edmonds helped me visit colleges, Ms. Chavez helped me get a scholarship and Mr. Dippold gave me a chance to work on retreats.
With a high school schedule like that, college life might have seemed relaxing. But you mentioned it wasn’t always easy. What did you mean?
The transition was still difficult. Because I decided on SIU late in the game, I missed the freshmen orientation and campus tours. The huge setting at SIU was a big change and I was away from my Mom. I wanted to go home. The first semester was hectic and my 1st semester grades were terrible. I never received bad grades all through high school; but my second semester was way better.
What helped you come back so quickly?
I was spoiled by Cristo Rey! [laughs] There was always one-on-one attention when you needed it. At large universities teachers have limited office hours and are available by email only. I needed to concentrate on doing things differently; second semester I had a 4.0.
You were a very busy young woman during the last three and a half years at SIU. How did a forensic science major become involved in hair and fashion?
I always did hair, but people at school kept asking me “where’d you get this or where’d you get that”, so I started selling fashion items out of my house. It grew way faster than I ever expected. Clothing stores in the area were closing down, so I was able to equip the store for pennies on the dollar. Friends taught me how to do drywall, so I built my own fitting rooms and painted the store. I was able to open up Sena Selections within a few months. I didn’t need to take out any small business loans.
A full time student with a fashion boutique, volunteering at a women’s shelter and Stop the Violence Fun in the Park, where does all that energy come from?
My mom can’t sit down. [laughing] As a junior I changed my major to business with a focus on entrepreneurship, where my energy seems to be.
You’re moving to Houston the 2nd or 3rd week of June; what’s the plan?
I’ll finish a few marketing courses here before I leave. My on-line business will continue until I can have the grand re-opening of my store in Houston. In January I’ll start my masters at Texas Southern University.
I’ll be watching for the grand opening! I don’t want to forget to ask you for something our graduates might want to hear from a budding entrepreneur…
Never lose focus on your goals. Find something that you’re passionate about and invest yourself into it. No matter the changes that will come, never lose focus! Oh and…[smiling]…think twice about taking 8 AM classes. It’s nothing like coming in early for work study!