A Foundation for Future Success
By Tiffany King
Brunswick Junior College alum Dr. Cindy Jacobs (formerly Cindy Shiver) looks back on her time at the College fondly. Building and maintaining relationships are a part of Jacobs' core values, and she was able to do just that while at BJC. Those values played a fundamental role in the development of her academic career.
Jacobs is a native of the Golden Isles and grew up on Jekyll Island. She lives on St. Simons Island and is a licensed realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Hodnett Cooper Real Estate. Before her career in real estate, Jacobs spent many years working in higher education, human resources and even served as the Vice President of Advancement at the College. In 1984, she graduated with an associate's degree in general education from BJC. She then attended Armstrong State University (now Georgia Southern University) and earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. Jacobs went on to obtain her master's in computing and education from Columbia University, then received a doctorate in leadership and organizational theory at the University of North Florida.
Her career in education started when she became a classroom teacher for a few years after earning her bachelor's. Jacobs transitioned to higher education and taught teacher education at Armstrong for eight years. During that time, she moved back to the Golden Isles from Savannah to teach at Armstrong's satellite campus for teacher students, which was located on the BJC campus.
"It was called the Brunswick Center. Armstrong taught more teacher education students here than they did on their Armstrong campus," Jacobs said. "We probably graduated 100 teachers a year out of this program."
Jacobs also served as the accreditation coordinator for Armstrong's teacher education program. The University of North Florida took note of Jacobs and hired her to coordinate their program for accreditation. While there, she earned her doctorate, which was paid in full by UNF. After earning her doctorate, she came back and took the position of VP of Advancement for a year, then returned to teaching at Armstrong.
"I was passionate about this College because it gave me a launching pad for my educational career. I'm a first-generation college student. Both my sister and I have Ph.D.'s but we're the only people in our family that have college degrees," she said. "Without Brunswick Junior College at the time, I wouldn't have launched into an academic career. It's a game-changer for me and for a lot of families. It was then and still is now."
Jacobs was also a School Improvement Specialist for the Georgia Department of Education, where she turned things around at failing schools to get them off the at-risk list. She did that for several years then did something unexpected.
"King and Prince Seafood were looking for someone to do that same kind of reorganization for their human resources department. I was hired to do that and worked for King & Prince Seafood for three years as their Vice President of Human and Social Capital, and I enjoyed that very much," she said. "Once I did what they asked, I moved onto my next endeavor."
And her next endeavor was real estate.
Relationships are Key
Jacobs' favorite memories of BJC revolve around the long-lasting and meaningful relationships she created with her professors and instructors. They continued to make an impact in her life even after she graduated. She shared a story of how while studying at Columbia University, she needed help understanding COBOL, a programming language designed for business, and called on one of her former BJC professors for help—Dr. John Hamilton, associate professor of physics. He was more than happy to help her and during an off semester, Jacobs returned to the College to learn the programming. Other professors who made an impression on her included Dr. Betty Jo Strickland, professor emeritus of English, and Dr. Faith Willis, associate professor of sociology, who held several other administrative roles. Jacobs liked what she saw in Willis. Although she didn't know what Willis earned her doctorate in, she wanted to be just like her and have a doctorate too.
"The power of relationships can't ever be negated. I don't think people realize the impact they have on developing students," she said. "I think the relationships that are built here are foundational to the development of the students sitting in the classrooms."
Another favorite professor of hers was Bill Hendrix, who is considered to be one of the most influential people in the development of art on St. Simons. She remembered how Hendrix loaded his art history students into his Rolls Royce and took them to Shoney's, where they commandeered a table and talked art history over coffee and breakfast.
"It was a great memory because I've never ridden in a Rolls Royce since. It was pretty amazing," Jacobs said. "Some of the art here (at the College) was probably either donated or curated by Bill and Mittie Hendrix. They were legendary—real characters and avant-garde."
Jacobs described biology professors Dr. Eugene and Charlsie Keferl as exceptional and really embedded within the community. She recalled Eugene Keferl saying "Hey Cindy!" whenever he saw her in the community—remembering her despite teaching thousands of students.
"That was always so sweet, and that's the beauty that I wouldn't have had at Columbia or UNF. That's the beauty of a small institution," she said.
Her time at BJC reinforced the concepts of hard work, academic rigor, and forming relationships. While some may think attending a smaller school is easier, Jacobs can attest to the rigor of her courses, which more than prepared her to keep up with her peers while she furthered her education in the ivy league. BJC instilled a good foundation, and the support system she created built an expectation of support throughout her academic career. Because she learned at the College that she could go to her professors for assistance and build relationships with them, she continued to do that at her other institutions.
"The doors were always open here, and all the professors knew your name. That habit of being familiar with each other enabled me to move onto my next academic institution, and expect and seek those relationships," she said. "Through that, you're able to maximize your academic opportunities because you're not intimidated by a closed door. I think the atmosphere at a smaller school plays a significant part in the development of your academic pursuits."
She describes BJC as a cozy, vibrant community where so many people can credit the beginning of successful academic careers. Jacobs said she was involved in so many things during her time at BJC which included being a cheerleader, participating in student government, and the Future Teachers program.
Going After Your Second Passion
Going into real estate can seem like a big pivot from being an educator, but for Jacobs, it was a long awaited dream come true. She knew that she always wanted to be a teacher, but she also had a passion for real estate—her father and grandfather were both builders. After marrying her husband, Jacobs decided to focus more on her first passion for education and keep her second passion on hold until it was time.
In her current role as a realtor, she enjoys the education process of helping buyers and sellers understand the nuances of real estate. Buying a home is one of the biggest financial decisions a person will make, and she believes it is a benefit to have an educator escort a new homeowner through the process. She uses her skills as an educator and researcher to help homeowners find a great home. She also gets to experience the joy connected to helping someone or a family realize their dream of owning a home.
"What I got to do for 25 years, I now use those skills to pursue my next passion in life," she said. "The funny thing about life is, as you get older, your passions change, and your work will change. I've had a unique and diverse career because I always explored my passions. Working at King & Prince was a big career change for me, but it was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed."
Her advice to students and other alumni is to find what you're passionate about—the thing that makes you light up every day. She also advises taking jobs you may or may not find interesting initially. Part of internships and work experiences is discovering what you don't want to do as much as it's finding what you do want to do, she said.
"Don't be in a rush to get out of college. Find what makes you happy and brings you joy," Jacobs said. "It may not be the greatest paying job initially, but if you work hard and pursue it with passion, then it will give you so much contentment in your life."
She truly takes this to heart as she is enjoying her second passion while building new relationships with people in her community.
Jacobs is married to Russell Jacobs and has two children—daughter Madeline, a graduate of University of South Carolina, who works as a revenue manager for The Four Seasons Hotel in Palm Beach, and son Parker, a student at the University of Georgia. Her husband is also an alum of BJC and continued his education at UGA. Outside of real estate, Jacobs is a UGA Master Gardener, a member of the Cassina Garden Club, and serves the community on various boards and volunteer roles.