Rising to the Top

by Russell Boone

Posted on Mar 28, 2022

James Jackson, a 2004 graduate of Fort Valley State University (agronomy), is now the director of the Loan Making Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency

James Jackson, a 2004 graduate of Fort Valley State University (agronomy), is now the director of the Loan Making Division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency

James Jackson, 40, graduated from Fort Valley State University in 2004 with a degree in plant sciences (agronomy). In 2021, Jackson received a promotion to director of the Loan Making Division (LMD) within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA).  He reports directly to the deputy administrator for Farm Loan Programs (FLP).

The Forsyth, Georgia native began his more than 21-year FSA career as an 18-year-old student trainee. Currently, he resides in Washington, D.C. Here he discusses how his FVSU experiences prepared him for an administrative position.

What are your main duties at the FSA?

The Loan Making Division is responsible for managing the processing of all the loan applications that comprise FLP’s multi-billion-dollar portfolio. Some of my specific duties include:

Managing the creation and implementation of plans, policies and procedures for administering the Agency's direct and guaranteed loan making programs nationwide.

Addressing a variety of program issues including budget projections, funds distribution requirements based upon loan trends, and policy and procedure development projects.

Directing the preparation of the annual budget request and justification material for funding assigned to FLP and for funding Division operations.

Why did you decide to attend FVSU?

My parents James L. Jackson & Patsy (Wilcher) Jackson are both proud Wildcats (FVSC ‘70) and made FVSU our family school. They cultivated a “Blue & Gold Heart” in my sister, Jael P. Jackson (Ag Econ ‘06) and many of our relatives at a very young age. Growing up, I saw my parents’ degrees prominently displayed daily in our living room and wanted one of my own to place beside theirs.  Also, some of my most influential teachers from childhood are FVSU Alumni: Diane Fort (‘91), Shirley Harmon (‘89), & Gladys Barden (‘72).

What or who inspired you to select your major?

My father, a high school guidance counselor and my actual high school counselor, worked behind the scenes to introduce me to the USDA scholarship as a gateway into agriculture. After accepting the scholarship, the USDA liaison (Levi Glover, Agronomy ’69) and plant science department chair (Dr. Mark Latimore, Agronomy ’73), visited me at Lamar County’s FSA office to educate me about all the agriculture majors FVSU offered. I really liked and developed a personal connection with them and choose to major in plant science/agronomy.

What are your fondest memories of your time as a student at FVSU?

Traveling to conferences to represent FVSU and participating in the Ag Alumni/Faculty vs. Students Softball Games on Reading Day. Also, coming together with fellow Ag students during homecoming to design and build the parade float, attend the Ag Alumni Breakfast and of course, walking with the float in the parade.

How well did FVSU prepare you for your career at the FSA?

As a student, I held office on the boards of various student organizations. This included the Agri-Demic Forum, Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS), and the Student Government Association (SGA). It taught me about marketing, recruitment, and networking to accomplish a goal.

As an FVSU graduate, how does it feel to be representing your alma mater at such high level in the USDA?

Often, I am the first Wildcat that individuals in the USDA encounter, so my goal is to make a positive and lasting impression. It gives me a great sense of pride to represent FVSU Ag and earn respect for our institution with every interaction. To walk in a room knowing a long line of FVSU Ag alumni preceded me in the USDA, paving the way for me to do my part, is a tremendous honor. My goal is to protect that legacy for the next generation of Wildcats that are coming through the ranks now.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

Creating ways to assist the thousands of employees we have by improving program delivery and updating internal standard operating procedures to align with industry best practices. It has been an honor to be able to influence and modernize some of the same programs that I worked on as an entry level FLP employee. 

If someone approached you about attending FVSU and pursuing a degree in the college of agriculture, what advice would you give them?

Do It! Whatever you study during your time on the FVSU campus, agriculture has real-world applications that will ensure that you and those you care about will live a “Good Life”. The best piece of advice is to plan for how to best manage what you will have while still on campus and learn from the mistakes that you will make along the way. Attitude makes all the difference. It is important to have the proper prospective on the opportunity that is in front of you.

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