Bruce Milton Cole graduated from Humboldt High School in 2005 as a shaky, mediocre student. Today, he is finishing his Ph.D. in Spanish literature at the University of Tennessee after finding support from several teachers at Jackson State Community College who showed him how to succeed.
“Jackson State was basically where it all began for me,” Cole said. “It was my cradle. It’s something I’ll always carry with me. My professors gave me the tools to get where I am, and I think those tools will last a lifetime.”
Cole failed seventh grade, and earned average grades throughout high school. He was distracted and didn’t want to do the work. Although he was intelligent, he was a mediocre student, and his grades were inconsistent.
“I was not doing the best I could do,” he said. “As a student, I was basically lost.”
His performance was a reflection of his environment. Most people he knew never left Humboldt, but he wanted more, so he enrolled in Jackson State because it was nearby.
“I knew I wanted something, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had no idea what I was getting into.”
He took an important step by enrolling, but he continued to perform poorly during his first two semesters. The environment at Jackson State was different from high school, though, and he found teachers willing to provide him with a one-on-one experience.
“The more I got to know some of the professors personally – not just as professors, but as genuine people who wanted to see me do well – the better I did academically,” he said. “Many professors there helped me tremendously to realize my goals and my self-worth.”
Professors such as Teri Maddox, whom Cole called his guiding light, and Mary Wadley, Kim Warren-Cox, James Mayo, Michelle Camp, Claude Bailey and Tim Britt turned his academic career around.
“They were always willing to help me,” he said. “They expected something of me, and I think that is very important.”
Throughout his journey at Jackson State, he also found encouragement from his parents, Theresia Hobson-Cole Jones and Bruce Milton Cole, Sr., who never went to college themselves. They were very supportive of his efforts, especially Cole’s father, who often gave him advice about endurance.
In 2008, Cole graduated from Jackson State with an associate degree in English. He overcame his anxieties about finishing school, and he continued to perform well academically.
He enrolled in Middle Tennessee State University where he changed his major to Spanish and earned his bachelor’s degree in two years. “I finished exactly when I should have finished.”
Two years later, he earned a master’s degree in teaching with an emphasis in Spanish from Middle Tennessee State. After that, he entered University of Tennessee’s Ph.D. program, studying Spanish literature. He has one year to go.
When he finishes, Cole wants a professional career in academics. He wants to provide other struggling students with the tools they need to succeed.
“I plan to teach. I plan to do research. I like to think there is a place somewhere for me at a college like Jackson State where students may need that one-on-one teaching approach.”
Cole can identify with students searching for consistency in their performance and he can provide a unique perspective as a professor.
Looking back, he said he is grateful for his Jackson State experience, and he would recommend the school for anyone in Tennessee looking for an education.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same way,” he said. “If you want to get there, even if you don’t where that is yet, Jackson State will get you there.”