As an alumna and longtime employee, Ericka Matthews-Jackson, senior director of undergraduate admissions, has always had more than enough Warrior Pride to share. This fall, however, she’s taken it to a new level: her husband, Ike, and their three children, Darian, Isaac, and Aubrey, will all join her on campus as students.
“I have always loved Wayne State – and it’s become even more special to me now,” she said. “There’s a whole new level of pride that comes from watching your family find opportunity and achieve their goals.”
Despite playful speculation otherwise from her children, Ericka assures that it’s a coincidence that all of the Jacksons’ unique paths have converged on campus at the same time.
“I promise, there was no grand, orchestrated effort to get them all at Wayne State,” she joked. “It happened organically – but I’m not all that surprised it did.”
A balancing act
While they met in high school, Ericka and Ike began dating as college students and got engaged while he was enrolled at Michigan State University and before she started at Wayne State University Law School in 1994. To help pay for his education, Ike worked full time on the midnight shift at the Lansing Post Office. When the couple moved to Southfield, he continued commuting to Lansing for work and school. Factoring in the commute and overtime, he’d arrive home around 4 a.m. and do it all again the following day. He eventually transferred to a position at the Detroit Post Office and began taking communication classes at Wayne State.
“My husband has always been such an incredibly hard worker — the hardest worker I know,” said Ericka. “And he prioritizes our family above everything.”
They were married shortly after her first year of law school and soon welcomed their first child, Darian. Ericka secured a job at a law firm when Darian was just three months old, and the couple continued to juggle their careers, education and raising a family.
“There just weren’t enough hours in the day,” Ike said. “With everything going on with the family and at work, I didn’t finish my degree. I know I should have finished at MSU. I’ve stayed in touch with my friends from MSU and I’ve watched my kids graduate – it has stayed with me.”
Ike ultimately left the post office to take a job with Ford Motor Company, where he worked for nearly 20 years before taking an early retirement in 2019. He spent some time resetting and relaxing before deciding to re-enroll at Wayne State.
While a lot has changed since he was last a college student, Ike is determined to finish his degree. He’s currently enrolled in a mix of online and in-person classes and pursuing a bachelor’s in communications in the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts. He plans to graduate this spring.
“There are some challenges – the reliance on technology is totally different. I remember having to bring your own No. 2 pencils for an exam, and now there are midterms that you take online,” he said. “It’s a learning curve, but I’ve also got a level of confidence as someone whose had some life and professional experience. And I’ve got all my kids in it with me – they’re my IT department, on-call 24/7.”
A family affair
While they’re at varying stages in their academic journeys and pursuing careers in different industries, the Jackson siblings are united in their support for their parents and each other – and they come by their green and gold pride naturally.
“Ike and I were both raised in homes that valued education, and we’ve tried to pass that on to our kids,” said Ericka. “Most importantly, we value family and we’re lifting each other up. We have each other’s backs.”
As kids, Darian, Isaac Jr. and Aubrey shared memories of growing up and coming to Detroit and campus for events like Noel Night and Take Your Kid to Work Day. They spent time at their mother’s office and recall high school friends receiving admissions letters with her signature. As young adults, the entire family now shares carpooling opportunities and study sessions, while helping each other navigate campus and Canvas.
“I have so much respect for my parents. I don’t know how they managed to keep up with our schedules – and their own business, too – when we were little kids,” said Darian. “I know that they’re part of the reason we’re all doing so well now.”
The eldest Jackson sibling, Darian, is entering her third semester as a graduate student in the master of law in human resources program. Initially following her father’s path to Lansing, she earned her undergraduate degree from Michigan State, where she thrived as an online learner when the pandemic forced virtual learning her senior year. After an internship at McLaren’s Insurance Company in Atlanta helped solidify her desire to work in human resources, she secured a job closer to home, where she handles everything from recruiting and hiring to payroll, benefits administration and more.
“Wayne State’s entirely online program was perfect for me,” she said. “I’m not dealing with test anxiety and I have more flexibility to grow my career at the same time.”
Her brother, Isaac Jr., is currently enrolled in his second semester in the Mike Ilitch School of Business’ post-bachelor certificate program in accounting. He earned a bachelor’s in April 2023 from Alma College, where he was a student-athlete on the soccer team. He’s studying for the CPA exam this semester while enrolled in a mix of online and in-person classes. Isaac Jr. will earn his post-bachelor certificate in accounting in December and already has a job lined up for January.
“My mom likes to predict things, and she’s always made sure I knew Wayne State was an option,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be a collegiate athlete and there wasn’t a soccer team – I participated in the Tuition Exchange program with Alma where I was able to play…and now I’m Wayne State after all.”
The youngest Jackson, Aubrey, is a sophomore majoring in marketing, also in the Ilitch School. She lives on campus in the Anthony Wayne Drive Apartments, where she also works as a desk assistant. For Aubrey, Wayne State was the first and only choice.
“There were other opportunities, but I didn’t even apply to other schools – I just knew this was the place for me,” she said. “And it’s been great so far. I know my mom always wanted all of us to go to Wayne, and I was the only one who took advantage right away. The rest, obviously, have come around.”
While most students living on campus enjoy a level of independence, Aubrey is navigating the shared collegiate experience with her family.
“I’m the baby of the family, and these are supposed to be my independent years and here they all are,” she joked. “I do find that living on campus still allows me some separation, but I can always go home, and the added support has been nice.”
Matching crewnecks and an unmatched bond
The family agrees that the experience is unique – and that no one is more excited about it than Ericka. In addition to their already large collection of WSU swag, the family received matching crewnecks last Christmas.
“She’s ecstatic – just through the roof,” said Darian. “She loves Wayne State and for good reason.”
Although the family won’t be likely to run into each other often on campus because of differing schedules – and they’ll all graduate at different times — there’s a new level of family bonding this semester.
“It’s special to have us all here at the same time, and I’m proud of each and every path that has gotten us here. Wayne State has provided me with so much opportunity over the years,” Ericka said. “This university truly has opportunities for everyone, and I’m thrilled my entire family can be part of it.”