AFTC honors Black History Month: Thurmasia Jackson

  • Published
  • By Tiffany Holloway
  • Air Force Test Center

Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month is celebrated annually to showcase the achievements of African-Americans.

For the entire month of February, we will celebrate up-and-coming black leaders within the Air Force Test Center. Today, we highlight Thurmasia Jackson, AFTC headquarters during a question-and-answer session with Tiffany Holloway, AFTC public affairs director.

Tell me a little about yourself.

My name is Thurmasia (Thur-MAY-c-uh) Jackson and I am the Division Chief of the Resources Management Division in the Engineering and Technical Management Directorate at AFTC.  I was born in a small town in Northern Louisiana called Jonesboro but raised in Baton Rouge.  A fun fact is that I am named after my father Thurmon. Another fun fact is that my father did a stint with the NFL. I have one sister. I am married with three (adult) step-children.  I graduated with a BS in Civil Engineering from Southern University A&M College, which is a Historically Black College & University in Baton Rouge.  Both my parents and sister graduated from Southern and so did an uncle and aunt who heavily influenced my decision to become an engineer.  My aunt took a career path that I wanted to emulate.  After multiple summer internships with Procter & Gamble and the Department of Energy, I interviewed for a full-time position with Robins Air Force Base in February 2000.  Once offered the job, I started in June.

What’s the most challenging part about recruiting for Engineering? What’s the best part?

Recruiting for scientists and engineers is extremely challenging.  The overall turnout of students, especially in popular areas like cyber and electrical/electronics engineering, is not enough to meet the demand of industry.  We are all vying for the same group of students and it can be quite difficult to communicate to them how much of a viable employer we are especially compared to others in the same hiring space.  We may not always be able to compete salary-wise but the Air Force provides great opportunities for our newly hired Science and Engineers – it’s about knowing how to frame that information to make it as enticing as any other offer they may receive.  I’ve personally approved more than 1000 hiring actions in my career and by far, the most satisfying part of that was getting to meet the new hires and hearing how much they enjoyed their job.  Also, seeing them grow in their careers and the reward of seeing what they have contributed to the mission. It makes me feel like I had a small part in getting them to that point. 

How’s the push for recruiting minorities in Engineering going? Is COVID creating an additional barrier in terms of in-person events? Have you been going virtual? Is it working?

Minorities in engineering is always a hot topic.  There is always discussion of how do you expand your recruiting footprint as an enterprise to specifically target those groups while trying to ensure that the culture of your organization is an inclusive place for them.  Listen, it’s difficult. It’s hard enough trying to get enough S&Es to fill your jobs but it’s even harder when you attempt to drill down into that candidate pool and target certain groups.  Even though traditional universities have increased their minority populations and S&E graduates, when you look to hire S&Es who are minorities the Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions still produce more than any other school for their respective groups.  We have got to make a conscious effort to ensure we always have HBCUs and HSIs as a part of our annual recruiting cycle.  In my almost 15 years in talent acquisition we have made some strides but we can do much better. 

COVID has definitely changed the landscape of recruiting and let me say this, recruiting works best in-person. Yes, we have the tools in place to recruit virtually but you can’t replace the dynamics and energy of in-person events.  The volume of people we interact with in-person events is also 10 times more than virtual.  We are making it work for us but we are looking forward to when all events are back to in-person.

What can educators do to make sure their students meet the qualities that we are looking for here at AFTC in terms of engineering related careers?

Educators can really just make sure that students have the proper foundation before they enter into a technical field.  You don’t have to be great at math and science but you do need to have a good comprehension of the skillsets or it will be a struggle the further along you progress.  In addition to those technical skills, there is a need for students to be well-rounded.  As they move along in their career, they will be expected to present on a regular basis, communicate (written and verbally) and to be team players.  Encouraging students to be involved in extracurricular activities that assist in building on these skills is extremely important. 

Why it is important to celebrate Black History Month?

Black History Month gives us an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the contributions of blacks throughout history.  It also provides a time to educate others on the influence of our culture and allows us to increase the awareness of the unique challenges we face as a people.  I would also hope that this month allows others to feel comfortable enough to ask about or discuss what it’s like to live as a black person in America.  We can make great strides when we try to understand what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes – it sounds (and is) so simple but can be extremely impactful in how we begin to move forward as one country. 

If you could go back in time to give teenage Maci a few words of encouragement, what would you tell her?

I refer to this quite often the older I get – Sometimes you must be willing to let go of the life you planned so as to have the life that is waiting for you. This is something that writer Joseph Campbell believed in. Everything will be as it is supposed to be once that is accepted and realized.  I have one more thought, nothing is as bad as you think it is in that moment.