Once a 13-year-old girl folding t-shirts in a Brazil sweatshop, Director of Finance of Extended University and International Programs Jaqueline Connell knows about the magic that can happen with enough drive and a college degree.

“I am a very big believer in education,” Connell said. “Higher education changed my life. I came from a very, very, very poor family. I have worked since I was 13 in sweat shops making way below minimum wage. When I was 14 and a freshman in high school, I used to work from 5 in the morning until 1:30 in the afternoon, then go to high school from 7 to 10:30 at night.”

Connell’s job now is to help CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) students arrange the financing to afford an education—which she believes is the best investment anybody can make.

“I believe education is the only way to take a person from poverty to a better life,” she said.

Connell’s own story begins in the Brazilian territory of Santa Catarina, where she was born in 1978, the second of two children. Her mother had a high school education but her dad had to go to work after 4th grade. Connell would later become the first in her family to attend college.

The family lived in a modest home fronted by a dirt road, where her parents still live today.

“Growing up we didn’t have soda,” Connell said. “We had rice and beans and hopefully some meat. I grew up in the ‘80s under a military dictatorship. I remember for example, my parents would send me to buy milk and I had to stand in line because they rationed it.”

Her arms ached from folding t-shirts all day in a garage-sized room with 20 other people, but she had plans to become a flight attendant.

“Through my years in high school I worked and saved money to attend flight attendant school,” Connell said. “I got in! My first day of work as a flight attendant was also my first day ever in a plane. In 1998 when I started flying, it was glamorous, it was surreal.”

Her life took another turn in 2000 when she was about to start doing international flights from Miami and Paris, so she entered a four-week international exchange student program in order to learn English.

“I came to Ventura County to stay with a family and learn English. It was my first time coming to the States,” Connell said. “I was 21. I decided to come back for six months.”

She took English as a second language through Oxnard College so she decided to enroll, and became a student assistant while earning her Associate degree in Business.

In 2002, she married the son of her host family, and the U.S. became her home. The couple had a daughter, now 17, and a son, now 13.

In 2007, Connell enrolled in the Economics program at CSUCI, becoming a full-time student while working 40 hours a week and raising a daughter. She graduated with honors in 2009 when her daughter was 3 ½ and she was nine months pregnant with her son.

 “I walked the graduation line on May 15 and my son was born on May 29,” Connell said. “I remember accepting my diploma from Dr. Rush and I kept walking!”

After a divorce in 2011, Connell enrolled in an online Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) program and in spring of 2013, was hired by CSUCI as a budget analyst.

She remarried in 2014 and in 2015, the couple welcomed their third son, who is now 6.

Over the next several years, she moved up the ranks to join International Programs and Extended University as its director of finance.

“Jacky has a unique talent that allows her to translate financial information into terms that anyone can follow,” said Dean of Extended University Jill Leafstedt, Ph.D. “She is able to make sense out of complicated processes and simplify workflows unlike anyone I have ever worked with. I believe her background and personal experiences allow her to put her feet in other people’s shoes and organize information in a way they can easily understand.”

Connell believes every twist and turn in her life led her to where she is today, helping light the way to a better life for all CSUCI students.

“People say they can’t afford to go to college, but being in financial aid for so long, I can tell you, you can afford it. We can help you,” she said. “Student loans are a good investment. People get car loans all the time and nobody says a word. But an education is one thing they will never be able to take away from you.”

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