Accessibility determines so much in a person’s decision to pursue higher education, both in terms of physical proximity and financial feasibility. On-campus housing and financial aid offer traditional solutions to these challenges, but for Jacqalynn Riley (‘07), neither of those fit the bill—she wasn't about to choose dorm life over the farm she and her husband bought at age 19 for dorm life, and she was committed to avoiding educational debt.
Lucky for the native of Dry Ridge/Williamstown, Kentucky, Northern Kentucky University’s Grant County Center offered university courses right in her hometown. And to pay for it, she just needed some horses and cattle—but all that came after her time in the county jail.
“I was the Grant County Fiscal Court’s first business co-op as a high school student at Grant County,” says Riley. “It was a last-minute position added by the elected Jailer. My first year, I did administrative and business-related tasks in the front office.” The co-op position led to a job offer after high school, which presented Riley with a difficult choice. “I had a really tough decision to make: whether I was going to accept academic and sports-related scholarships and move away, or if, as I saw it, take the harder route and work a full-time job and go to school at nights and on weekends.”
Riley ended up accepting the full-time county position, which offered tuition reimbursement and books costs for two of her classes. She could begin her undergraduate work without undertaking the long commute from her rural hometown, which is about 40 miles from NKU’s main campus in Highland Heights.
“Classes used to be held in a church/preschool classroom in Williamstown,” she says of the Grant County Campus. “It started as an initiative of business leaders in the Grant County community and, as things continued to be successful, they actually secured the former Williamstown city building.” She worked all the while, gaining experience and responsibilities as time went on. “I had a variety of roles because it was a correctional facility at the time that housed county, state and federal prisoners. I was able to get deputized at the age of 21, so I carried a gun and helped transport prisoners.”
Though the Grant County Campus now offers some degrees entirely on-site, at the time of Riley’s attendance students pursuing a bachelor eventually had to transition to the main NKU campus for higher-level courses. When Riley’s NKU experience expanded to Highland Heights, so did her career options.
“I was inducted into the International Honors Society, which I thought was a huge accomplishment, so my family and I went to the ceremony,” she says. “And at that ceremony on campus they had a mini job fair with companies recruiting. I picked up a flier soliciting business students to co-op opportunities that could lead to full time if their performance warranted it.” The flier advertised a position at multi-national consumer goods corporation Proctor & Gamble and, though she eventually did apply, Riley didn’t consider it an option—even when P&G called to schedule an interview.
“I thanked them but didn’t accept the interview because I was just promoted in my county job,” she says. “But on the way home from the main campus one night I was like, ‘What in the world was I thinking? I don’t even know if they were going to offer me the position, and I canceled the interview?’” Riley called P&G and asked to be put back on the interview schedule. “This may sound crazy, but it was the first time that I’d ever parallel parked outside of my driving test when I went to downtown Cincinnati for the initial interview,” she laughs. “That kind of tells you the town I live in. We don’t typically have to parallel park often—or ever at all, if you chose.”
She was offered a co-op position in Human Resources, which initially came with a pay cut from her county job and, more concerning, a loss of those two paid classes and books. Riley accepted, but she was nervous about her personal commitment to paying for school as she went. Cue the horses and cows.
Upon graduating with a B.A. in Organizational Leadership, Riley was offered full-time employment with P&G, and she’s remained with the company, where she currently works as a Human Resource Account Manager. And she’s quick to point to NKU as a linchpin to her success, which she’s leveraged to give back to the university—she taught business classes as an adjunct instructor until motherhood (she and her husband have twin boys), and she served as a bridge between the university and employment with P&G.
“I led our NKU school team recruiting efforts for P&G for almost three years,” she says. “I was able to target students on campus, recruit them into co-op positions, then hire them as full-time individuals. I’ve done a ton of classroom presentations. It’s come back full circle.”
Though she left her county job 12 years ago, she’s remained actively involved in her community, first serving a two-year term on the Williamstown City Council, then launching a successful run for the Grant County Fiscal Court’s District 1 Magistrate position, a position for which she is seeking re-election to another four-year term this fall. She can’t understate the significant role NKU played in her career and various community roles.
“Sometimes people are intimidated to pursue higher education. And sometimes I think folks don’t see themselves in that setting and don’t believe in themselves or think that it’s possible,” she says. “But I’m thankful that, many years ago, I made the decision to attend school at NKU.”