Jennifer Jacobs

Assistant Professor, Kinesiology and Physical Education

Jennifer Jacobs

What year did you start working at NIU?

Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
East Dundee

Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
University of Illinois (2009), University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (2011) and Northern Illinois University (2016).

In which department(s) do you teach?
Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KNPE)

What do you like about working at NIU?
I love the focus on being a strong teacher, an innovative researcher and a meaningful citizen. All three go hand-in-hand in inspiring my work with Project Flex, an incarcerated youth sports leadership program I co-founded.

What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
Prioritize out-of-class experiences as much as in-class experiences. Go read a book at the student center and strike up a conversation with a peer, try a new sport at the rec center or meet a professor for coffee at the local shop. You never know when your new best friend or next great opportunity will sneak up on you.

Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
Project Flex uses the power of sport to reimagine possible futures for incarcerated youth. We hire NIU grad students to lead programs in prisons and watch the magic unfold as they learn about themselves and inspire others through mentoring. It's been a wild ride from starting the program to now, six years later, thinking of the hundreds of youth who have gone through our program and all the graduate students we have recruited to work with us at NIU.

What do you enjoy most about mentoring students?
The in-between moments, not during presentations, not during grading assignments, but the small moments where they ask a question or say something, and you see their mind being stretched. It's so invigorating for me to observe that type of growth, and it inspires me to keep challenging students to find themselves in those moments.

What do you hope students take away from their college experience?
Empowerment — the belief that they have unique talents and capabilities that can contribute to our society in some way.

What is your favorite memory of NIU?
A couple times a year, we get the really rare and unique experience to bring leaders from Project Flex to NIU for a day (while they are currently incarcerated) and showcase what opportunities for education they can strive for after they are released. Our NIU grad students put together the whole schedule, and it's amazing to see these two worlds collide and witness how open, inclusive and welcoming our Huskie student body, staff and faculty are.

What’s one thing about NIU that’s surprised you?
How good the dining hall food can be.

What fulfills you personally and professionally?
Time with my Bernese mountain dog, hiking in mountains, traveling to new cultures and sitting around sharing a meal.

Which of NIU’s core values align with your own?
The pursuit of social justice.

Who has influenced your professional path?
My mentors and NIU colleagues, public figures Pat Summit and Maya Angelou, and my coaches from grade school, Ms. Tardiff and Ms. Hamill.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
I wanted to be the first woman in the NBA. My current job as a professor is better (and probably more challenging).

What community organizations are you involved in?
I’m a founder of Project Flex and a board member of the TPSR Alliance.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
Play pickleball!

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