Most recently in her time at NIU, assistant professor Jennifer Jacobs has launched a sport leadership program at a local juvenile detention center aimed at helping incarcerated young men get their lives on track.
Through this sport leadership program, called Project FLEX, Jacobs and colleague Dr. Wahl teach adolescent males various sports and life skills, like leadership and responsibility.
“It’s the most promising group of youth I have ever worked with, but it’s also very difficult to witness their immense, unlocked potential and observe how their situations have dictated so much of their opportunities,” she said.
Jacobs first came to NIU in 2012 as a doctoral student in Educational Psychology, with a vision of helping young people through sports. But she also had another goal — to stay close to her hometown of Chicago so she could continue running youth programs she’d already established. About a decade ago, she started a summer camp in Chicago for kids in an underserved area.
“It uses the same approach of teaching life skills through games,” she said. “It’s especially meaningful because I started it in the neighborhood I grew up in, which is known for being one of the most ethnically, religiously, and socioeconomically diverse places in the country. It makes for a really empowering and rich atmosphere.”
Now an assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE), she’s running a similar program at NIU. She and her students lead an afterschool boxing body empowerment club at the local middle school.
“We teach girls the sport of boxing as well as how to understand, respect, and empower their bodies,” she said. “Boxing is a perfect sport it teaches them how much strength they have — both mental and physical. It is amazing to see their faces light up after they throw their first punch.”