March 23, 2023
By Savanna Ramirez, Golden LEAF External Affairs Intern
Golden LEAF Scholarship alumna Jessica Blackwell grew up in a rural community in Columbus County as a farmer’s daughter. She rode tractors and learned how to deal with different farm equipment over the years. Her grandfather was a tobacco farmer and eventually passed that business down to her father, which allowed her to witness the effects of the tobacco buy-out firsthand.
When she was looking at attending a four-year college, she applied for the Golden LEAF Colleges and Universities Scholarship and received it.
“This scholarship is meant for me,” said Blackwell.
She decided to attend East Carolina University for both undergraduate and graduate school.
“It really was a positive experience for me,” said Blackwell. “I met lifelong friends and mentors that have helped me grow throughout my entire career.”
Her time at ECU was well spent as she participated in networking and professional activities like Zeta Tau Alpha, Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), Pre-Dental Honor Society and was even president of Eta Sigma Gamma.
Originally, it was Blackwell’s plan to become a dentist. She even became a Dental Assistant Intern in Columbus County for a summer before finding her passion in the Public Health field.
After graduation, Blackwell landed a job as a Public Health Education Specialist for the Beaufort County Health Department. She spent two years working for the Beaufort County Health Department during the peak of COVID-19 where she felt like it was working two jobs at once.
She had been in charge of a team program for pregnancy prevention where she would travel and educate high schoolers on preventive measures during their health classes. Once COVID-19 hit Blackwell also had to do vaccine administrations as well as positive-testing notifications.
Blackwell started to explore different avenues to broaden her horizon in the Public Health field. She ultimately found her current job as a Fire and Life Safety Educator/Public Information Officer at Greenville Fire/Rescue. In her current position, she gets to work in community engagement and coordinate large community events like a toy drive where Blackwell raised over $100,000 during Christmas. Blackwell also gets to organize a fire safety summer camp for middle schoolers. She finds purpose in her work by finding the joy in helping others and making them happy.
A concern that Blackwell feels that deflects many people from returning back to a rural community is the lack of livable wages in competition to those of a big city.
“It’s also hard with some majors to find a job that aligns with their degree,” said Blackwell.
Blackwell continues to be an example of a flourishing Golden LEAF Scholar who continues to align with the ideals of the Golden LEAF Foundation.
“I wish more people knew about this amazing opportunity and that the ones who are supposed to find it, find it,” Blackwell noted.
To learn more about the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program, click here.