Beloved assistant dean of technology remembered

Assistant Dean of Technology Jevon Jackson (left) helped students sharpen their software engineering, artificial intelligence and other technology skills.

Jevon Jackson was not averse to hurling out a dad joke.

“One of the things I am best known for in my classes is how corny I am,” the beloved Grand Canyon University software engineering associate professor declared in 2021. “I LOVE to tell dad jokes. I embrace it and encourage others around me to do so, as well. After all, cheese doesn’t only belong on a burger!”

It's one of the things his students and colleagues in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) will miss about Jackson, who a little more than a month ago took on a new role as assistant dean of technology.

Jackson, 40, passed away unexpectedly last week after suffering a stroke, leaving behind his wife, Natalie, a GCU master’s degree in nursing alumna, and four young children: Aiden, 14; Victoria, 10; Isabelle, 7; and Lucas, 7.

Jackson also mentored students in the Research and Design Program and led the AWS Deep Racer program.

His funeral will be 11 a.m. Aug. 26 at Kingdom in the Valley Christian Church in Phoenix, preceded by a viewing at 10 a.m. A wake is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25 at University Memorial Center in Phoenix.

Mark Reha, Program Chair for the Software Development Program, helped persuade Jackson to teach at GCU and was glad he did. They hit it off through a shared love of sports, music, technology and family and became fast friends.

“I know for a fact that students loved having Jevon as their leader and teacher because, over the years, I have had many of those same students in my classroom,” said Reha. “For the past six years, Jevon and I sat together at our college graduations. He was so proud of his students, and graduations will never be the same for me. He will be personally missed by myself and the entire faculty in our college.”

“There was so much that students loved” beyond those treasured dad jokes, said Katherine Urrutia, Technology Program Manager. “I think the main thing that pops up in my mind is that he was always so caring and took the time to help.

“There is a time that I remember in which a student opened up to him about financial hardships and how he and his family hadn’t had a meal in a few days. Jevon reached out to everyone and made sure that the family had support so that they did not have to go through that again.”

Jackson, who worked as a systems analyst and software engineer before starting at GCU as an adjunct faculty member, considered his role as a teacher one of his greatest accomplishments.

He soon rose to become a full-time faculty member and program lead of the bachelor’s and master’s programs in software engineering.

“I love having the opportunity to change the lives of people on a grand scale,” he told GCU News in 2021. “Being a professor allows me to assist in molding the minds of today but forever change the landscape of industries for tomorrow. … There’s no better way to be productive than to replicate yourself 100 times over.”

He remembered a moment as an educator that was impactful to him when, in his first year of teaching at GCU, he created an activity for a database class that incorporated the Bible.

“One student grabbed hold of that idea and decided to expand upon it and asked me how. I introduced him to machine learning, and he created a capstone project out of it. That one small activity caused the student to find his true career path, and now he is thriving at a Fortune 100 company.”

Jackson credited God with his blessings and talents and left this quote on his whiteboard.

Jackson’s genuine connection with his students stemmed in part from how adept he was in the technology field. He was a leader in establishing the bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in software engineering. But he also gave his time outside of the classroom.

He stepped up for students in the Research and Design Program, which offers undergraduates the chance to do research, an opportunity students often do not get until graduate school. As a mentor in the RDP’s Computational Science Exploratorium, he was part of the Cloud Computing Lab, Music Plugin & Optimization Lab, and Computational Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning and Robotics Lab.

He also mentored high school interns in the summer who were interested in developing their artificial intelligence skills and led the Amazon Web Services Deep Racer Program, in which students use a type of machine learning, called reinforcement learning, to “teach” AWS model cars to race.

“Jevon never shied away from taking on additional responsibilities,” said colleague Rob Loy, Executive Director of Advancement and Innovation for CSET, who remembers one time when the two started a conversation about ideas to improve students’ experiences to better prepare them for their career. “The conversation started around 4 p.m., and we ended up talking until well past 5 p.m.

A guest looks over a presentation by Kaiya Cross and Jevon Jackson entitled “Autonomous Vehicle Through Machine / Reinforcement Learning With AWS Deep Racer” during the CSET Research Symposium & Honors College Showcase this spring.

“He genuinely cared about serving everyone’s needs.”

Not that Jackson knew as a young man that teaching would become his life’s passion.

The classically trained pianist, when he was just 10 years old, performed for the New York governor at the governor’s mansion.

He never strayed far from his musical roots.

“He was SO talented,” said Urrutia, who shared that Jackson played keyboard in the CSET Band. “He knew how to play so many instruments."

Not only was he proficient on the piano and taught his children how to play, but he also taught them to play guitar, bass and drums, and to sing.

“Shredding with other skilled musicians is one of the best things to do … ever,” he said.

What Loy also shared about Jackson is how much he loved his family. He talked about his family, especially his children, a lot to students and faculty.

“Personally, I loved that he was so positive,” Urrutia said. “He always asked how your day was and also just smiled. He was a ray of positivity.”

He reflected that positivity in his deep sense of spirituality.

All of his blessings and accomplishments, he said, he owed to God.

Associate Dean of Computer Sciences and Technology Dr. Pam Rowland shared a Bible quote from Jackson’s whiteboard that he loved: “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord” (Psalms 31:24).

“Jevon impacted everyone that he came into contact with,” Rowland said. “He had such a kind, serving heart. His love for the Lord, his family, education and students shined brightly. I so enjoyed working with Jevon. His creative spirit and technological knowledge gave students amazing opportunities.

“Two quotes I will never forget are: ‘Jevon, like heaven with a “J,”’ and ‘Thank you, God, for this day that you have given us but was not promised.’”

Loy said about that long conversation to improve student experiences, “Some of those experiences, he had just started to implement when he passed away. The technology students will see his impact for years to come.”

A memorial scholarship is being started in Jackson’s name. To make a gift to the Jevon Jackson Memorial Software Engineering Fund, click here.

GCU Manager of Internal Communications Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at (602) 639-7901.

Related content:

GCU News: AI interns hit the gas on machine learning

GCU News: Scholarly research on display at symposium, showcase

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