Jamie Wilson was perusing the scholarships listed on the University of Missouri–St. Louis website when she spotted the Emerson Community Scholarship. The name jumped out to her because her father had been employed at one of the company’s plants until she was 5 years old.
“I called him, and I was like, ‘Hey, so what exactly did you do?’” Wilson recalls. “He told me he worked in the warehouse, and he ended up getting promoted to a foreman before they closed down the plants. I used all that in my essay for the application, and I was like, ‘You gave him an opportunity to grow and change in his career, and I hope that you can help me grow as a person.’
“I ended up getting the scholarship. I told him after I got it, and he was super excited, especially that he had a hand in it. That was actually the scholarship that pushed me over to where my whole tuition was covered.”
Having that additional connection to her father through the Emerson Scholarship became especially meaningful when he passed away in his sleep just two weeks before Wilson started at UMSL.
Getting through school while grieving for her father was unimaginably tough for Wilson, but she persevered thanks to support from family and faculty and scholarships from Emerson, UMSL and the Pierre Laclede Honors College. She graduated cum laude in 2017 from the College of Business Administration with a BSBA and an Honors College certificate and went on to work as a manager at QuikTrip and then in the accounts receivable department of Express Scripts. Now she’s back at UMSL to finish up some unfinished business.
Despite being a high-achieving student and hard worker who “likes to stay busy with not much downtime,” Wilson had moments during her undergraduate career when her father’s death permeated into unexpected areas. She’d transferred to UMSL from St. Louis Community College with an associate degree in accounting and had intended to finish her bachelor’s degree with that as her major. But Associate Professor Pamela Stuerke changed that.
When Wilson found herself flailing, the professor pulled Wilson aside one day after class and asked her how everything was going.
“‘I lost my dad this year,’” Wilson recalls saying. “‘It was very impactful, and I’m having a hard time.’ And she told me, ‘Grief, that’s what it is. Grief affects the mathematical part of your brain.’”
Stuerke connected with Wilson by sharing her own story of loss. Then she suggested Wilson might benefit from making some changes: continue with the Honors College, where Wilson was excelling, but think about switching her major and come back to accounting later.
“I got through maybe one more test in that class,” Wilson said. “I was like, ‘You’re right.’”
She switched her major to finance and had no problems with the coursework. Wilson feels gratitude toward Stuerke and also to other UMSL instructors such as her Emerson Community Scholarship mentor Assistant Teaching Professor Paul Van Wert, who gave Wilson some career advice she still thinks about. He told her it’s not about the major but what you want your daily life to be like. What kind of company, work environment and people did she want to work with?
“That really helped me,” she said. “It still helps me today.”
Wilson thought about it and decided she wanted to work for a smaller group in a larger company. So when her best friend’s husband had an opening in his department at Express Scripts, she went for it. She says accounts receivable is a great environment and has a great team, and she’s formed strong bonds with her co-workers.
Connecting with others is something of a theme for Wilson. For example, one of her favorite classes from the honors college, “Case Competition,” ranks top in part because of the tight-knit group that arose from the experience. Over the course of the semester, all the students worked toward being selected to compete in the UMSL International Business Case Competition.
“I ended up getting to do that, which was really cool,” Wilson said. “And my group that I was with, I’m still in contact with all of them. But it was really rigorous. I mean, eight to 16 hours of homework a week, I would say, because we had to give our presentation every two weeks, so you had to meet with your group once or twice a week outside of class. That was definitely the most difficult, but coolest experience that I had here.”
Wilson thoroughly enjoyed the Honors College’s “really weird and cool” classes and stays in touch with the friends made during her two years.
Despite the tumult of her beginning at UMSL, life after college has been sweet to Wilson. She got married on Sept. 1 to her high school sweetheart and has been working toward some long-term goals such as buying a house. To achieve those dreams, she’s headed back to UMSL to see about a degree.
After a year of working at Express Scripts, Wilson is ready to take up Stuerke’s suggestion and started a Masters of Accounting program this semester. After all, accounting is Wilson’s chosen field, and she’s not shy in explaining what draws her to the profession.
“I love Excel,” she said. “I love spreadsheets. I love a very difficult problem that I have to solve and then getting to the end and realizing you made all the mistakes and having to go back and audit yourself. It’s just fun. Complex. I like it.”