Dr. Jerry Thomas was inspired by his grandparents to work hard in school, and he learned early on the value of a good education. His passion for learning and mentoring is the driving force behind his career.
Thomas, a Waldo native and SAU alum, is now director of the program at SAU which he credits with helping him when he was younger.
“I was in the Upward Bound program myself. The academic support and encouragement I received helped me stay focused and achieve my goals,” said Thomas. “Because of that, I want to help other young students to do the same.”
Being such a strong advocate for lifelong learning, it is no surprise that Thomas’ academic credentials are impressive. He earned a Bachelor of Science in history and a Master’s of Education in agency counseling from SAU. He is also a proud alumnus of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, where he earned a Master’s of Arts degree in history. Earlier this year, Thomas received a doctorate from Texas A&M University in Educational Administration.
In this most recent step in his academic journey, Thomas chose a topic for his dissertation that is close to his heart.
“The title of my dissertation was, ‘Factors Promoting the Academic Success of African American Males,’ and I saw this as an opportunity to inspire the students I serve,” said Thomas. “The purpose of it was to explore the experiences of African American males in order to obtain their perceptions of the contributing factors for them enrolling and persisting in college.”
He did not take much time off after researching his topic before putting it to use. After successfully writing a grant and being awarded $2,000 from the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame Foundation, he plans to use the money to encourage first generation African American male high school students to complete high school and enroll in college. He said he will make sure these students receive information about financial aid, are well prepared for and complete the ACT test, and learn college admissions procedures.
The Upward Bound program is one of eight federally funded TRiO programs. It provides fundamental support to participants in their preparation for college entrance. Thomas said that the biggest challenge in running the program is procuring government funding. For the past several years, the SAU U.B. program has been level-funded, which means they are expected to provide the same or even additional services for the students with the same amount of funding. And they have to constantly convince the government that the SAU program is achieving its goals and working.
“We work tirelessly lobbying Congress each year to get the point across that the Upward Bound program is a key factor in the success of the students we serve,” said Thomas. “So far, our efforts have worked to help the U.B. program continue to provide academic support for students in southwest Arkansas for more than 47 years.”
Thomas’ tasks can be daunting, but he stays physically and spiritually active to ward off stress. He exercises several times a week and is the director of the youth choir at his church.
“My faith in God keeps me grounded spiritually, and I work with a wonderful group of people at SAU who are not just co-workers, but are like my family,” said Thomas.
Thomas is married to Dr. Carlotta Wells, and together they have six children.