Jacob Wilson: 2016 STATEment Maker


"Ridiculously excited."

That’s how Jacob Wilson (political science and women’s and gender studies, ’11) feels about the Missouri Courage Scholarship awarding its first scholarships to seven high school students this spring.

In 2015, when officials in Dent County, Mo., announced plans to lower flags to half-staff in protest of the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, Wilson was inspired to act. A Dent County native, he set up a crowdfunding page online with the goal to raise $3,000 total in scholarships for LGBT students or allies.

He raised $12,000 in 12 days.

It’s one reason why Wilson won a 2016 STATEment Maker Award from the Iowa State University Alumni Association. The award honors young alumni who have made a difference in ways that reflect the scholarly, entrepreneurial, or service-oriented spirit of an Iowa State education.

In a way, community engagement is what brought Wilson to Iowa State.

"I was studying political science at another university, then left to work for a presidential campaign leading up to the 2008 Iowa Caucus," he said. "I ended up staying at the Iowa Statehouse working for a state representative, then worked for Planned Parenthood, then decided to finish my undergraduate degree at Iowa State."

Wilson quickly got involved in Greek and campus life and also found a new passion in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: women’s and gender studies.

"My adviser taught a queer studies course, where we learned critical theory, feminist theory, queer theory," he said. "It gave me an entirely new lens with which to view the world. I ended up taking two more women’s studies classes, and eventually I fell in love with the major. It is such a supportive environment and community of scholars who work to make a difference in the world and that’s what I wanted to do.”

While Wilson was at Iowa State in 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously ruled in support of marriage equality. Being in Iowa during that time further nurtured his passion for activism, he said.

"I got to see people talking to friends and becoming involved in their communities and talking to legislators, without which [the decision] may not have happened," he said.

After the initial donations poured in last year for the Missouri Courage Scholarship, Wilson formed a partnership with the nonprofit Pride St. Louis to manage and distribute the funds. Volunteers created a database of 450 high schools in Missouri with a goal to generate 50 student applications for the scholarship—they received 112.

Wilson hopes to meet some of the scholarship winners this summer in St. Louis, each of whom was chosen for their impact in enhancing the lives of LGBT people in their schools and communities. Along with the financial award, they will also receive leadership training and a support network as they transition to college.

"I’m extremely proud of the Missouri Courage Scholarship, but even more proud of our team of dedicated individuals who want to make a difference," Wilson said. "I hope this has in some way given hope and sent a message of love and acceptance."

Now a Ph.D. student at the University of Arizona, Wilson teaches an undergraduate leadership course and is researching the role of universities in helping college students become participants in civic and community engagement. For Iowa State student activists, he offers this advice:

"You don’t have to do it on your own. There are a lot of people out there in unlikely places who share similar values who need to be asked, encouraged, or inspired to get involved. A coalition of unlikely partners takes a lot of work, but once it’s done anything is possible."

Toughest ISU class he survived: "A political science research class. It was offered only at 8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I waited until my final semester to take it hoping they would change the time."

Nicest person he met on campus: "Chandra Peterson. She is my best friend and was vice president of the student body. She was not only the nicest, but also the smartest and hardest working person."

Favorite TV show in college: "The West Wing. It wasn’t on the air anymore, but I got a boxed set for my birthday and it became my favorite."

Advice for 20-year-old self: "So many things! To not be so hard on myself and know that mistakes will happen regardless. Sometimes not getting what you hope for turns out to be the best, and so many other amazing things will happen."

Jacob Wilson is one of six 2016 STATEment Makers from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Meet more LAS STATEment Makers:

Lopaka Baptiste, liberal studies ’06