Alumni Voices|

College of Arts and Sciences

icon of a calendarNovember 22, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Michael Downes

Full Circle

Two friends journey from being on academic probation to aiding those in similar situations

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Robert Hall

Jonathan Parks, CAS ’05 and ’09, and Jamar Lockhart, CAS ’05, met in high school, attended the same college and faced similar academic challenges. With help from each other and those they met through OU, they were able to overcome their struggles and are now giving back to those in similar situations.


Lockhart’s transition to high school was a difficult one. He was off to a brand new school district, not knowing anyone in his class.

“My first year of high school I was actually a sophomore,” says Lockhart. “Being in a new school, not coming in with any friends that you know, it was tough. And then September, my parents passed.” He took the next couple months off, but returned to Detroit’s Communication and Media Arts High School (CMA) full time in January, where he met Parks for the first time.

“Jonathan was a jokester,” Lockhart says laughing. “He would call me over to where he and some guys were sitting and he would play a prank on me and I’d fall for it every time, but he was always welcoming.”

From there, the friendship grew. The next step was college and both quickly fell in love with Oakland University. It was the only university Parks visited his senior year, drawn in by the fact that Oakland was small enough for him to feel heard but big enough for him to feel like it was part of a bigger universe.

“My senior year our class took a field trip to OU,” says Lockhart. “It was my first time on a college campus. The atmosphere, the campus itself was gorgeous and from there I only had my sights on OU.”

Although the two friends were both accepted into OU, Park’s path to the university had an extra step.


In the summer of 2000, Parks was placed in Oakland University’s Student Success Services, a federally funded outreach program where students get acclimated to college life and courses and even earn college credits before the start of their first semester. After earning eight credits, he was officially a freshman at Oakland University, reuniting with Lockhart and setting off on a similar path.

“Initially my major was business administration,” says Lockhart, “but I fell in love with communications classes and the professors early on. From there I made it a point to focus on communications.”

“I wanted to go into business, I wanted to be a doctor and I wanted to teach,” Parks says with a chuckle. “It wasn’t until a meeting with an adviser who told me, ‘Well it sounds like you like talking — you should consider going into communications,’ that I shifted focus.” Figuring out the right area of study wasn’t the only challenge these two faced their freshman year. Both recorded below a 2.0 GPA, landing themselves on academic probation. They had one semester to turn things around.

“Students have two semesters of being on academic probation; if they don’t get their GPA above 2.0, they are academically dismissed from the university,” explains Krista Malley, Ph.D., the director of student success for OU’s Office of Student Success. “Once a student is dismissed, they can either appeal and have a chance for reinstatement or apply for reinstatement consideration after two semesters pass.”

Lockhart and Parks, along with a friend from high school, Shay Bailey, started a study group with fellow students Michael Williams and Stefen Welch and began holding each other accountable.

“We had study sessions,” explains Parks. “Our study group started taking the same, or similar, classes and having competitions to see who could get the best grades, pushing each other and holding ourselves to a higher standard.”

“I took all art courses the next semester and that was done by design because art was something I was interested in,” says Lockhart. “I needed something I was interested in and good at to help springboard myself and my GPA.”

Having a strong nucleus of friends, faculty and administration was the push that both Lockhart and Parks needed. The two continued to lean on one another and got themselves back on track.


During his final years at Oakland University, Parks got involved in student congress and was named student body president in both his junior and senior years. He graduated with a liberal arts degree, but the post-graduation job hunt wasn’t as successful as he hoped. However, a run-in with an OU professor helped change his future.

Dale Nesbary, Ph.D., now the president of Muskegon Community College, was an associate professor and director of the Master of Public Administration program during Parks’ time at Oakland. Dr. Nesbary had recognized Parks from his work with student congress, and the two chatted in depth about his future plans.

“He asked me if I’ve thought about grad school,” recalls Parks. “I hadn’t, but he sat me down and talked to me about the public administration program. I ended up applying and was enrolled into the master’s program shortly after.”

Dr. Nesbary worked with Parks to help find him funding for the program through grants, scholarships and the King-Chavez-Parks Future Faculty Fellowship (FFF). Because of these efforts, Parks was able to earn his Master in Public Administration in 2009 with zero debt. Shortly after graduating, Parks received a job as a coordinator for MI GEAR UP at OU.

“Before that call, I was in and out of jobs,” says Parks, “but since then, it’s been nothing but an upward trajectory.”

The Michigan Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (MI GEAR UP), is a federal grant program focused on increasing the success of low-income students at the postsecondary level. The program is a competitive grant program that works closely with underrepresented middle school and high school students. It provides resources for tutoring, mentoring, academic preparation, financial education and scholarships to help provide education to low income and disadvantaged first-generation students.

After being put on academic probation, Lockhart got involved as a peer-mentor for MI GEAR UP at OU. “I was working with middle school and high school students in the Pontiac and Auburn Hills area,” he says. “I was giving younger students tidbits and advice on how to be successful. It was an interesting position because it was almost like giving myself advice.”

After graduating with his degree in communication, Lockhart applied for a job within the admissions office at OU, but was not offered the position. “I was devastated, I loved OU. I just knew I wanted to continue my journey there, but it wasn’t in the cards.

”Lockhart landed on his feet and got a job at Delta Airlines. He was there for only a couple of months before getting an offer as the art instructor for Detroit Enterprise Academy, teaching students in K-8. He was able to share his love and passion for art with young students, some of which were taking their first art class.

“Dealing with students with raw artistic talent pushed me and inspired me to give them every opportunity to succeed,” he says. “I wanted to share the knowledge I had learned from OU and provide that to them.”

The faculty and staff around Lockhart quickly changed from just being co-workers to feeling more like family. But, while he loved his job, he received a phone call nearly a decade later from an old friend that provided an opportunity too good to pass up.


Parks moved on from his role as a counselor at OU to become the director of Wayne State’s MI GEAR UP program. One of his first moves was reaching out to an old friend.

“Jonathan called me and told me he had a position for me at Wayne State as part of their GEAR UP program,” explains Lockhart. “It took some convincing from John. I definitely had some trepidation working with my best friend. It wasn’t an easy sell. I was happy with my environment and helping students.”

Two key factors played into Parks’ pitch to Lockhart though: the first was a pay raise, the second — and more important — was ensuring Lockhart would still have face-to-face time with students. Lockhart was sold.

Lockhart was introduced as the program coordinator for Wayne State’s MI GEAR UP program and recently was promoted to the interim director, working on hiring and training the staff as well as getting some time with students.

With his staff set, Parks took some time to reflect on how far he’d come. “It was full circle,” says Parks, “I’m now the director of the GEAR UP program, overseeing a similar program to the one that helped me get into and through college. Wow!”

He and Lockhart continue to hold each other accountable, but the goal is different. Instead of focusing on their own success, the most important thing now is the students. And they do everything in their power to propel them.

“When people tell me they want to go to grad school,” says Parks, “I do what Dale Nesbary did for me. I help them find fellowships and funding to get them through similar things I applied to. I share what I can to help out.”

The two longtime friends both realize that without people to help them along the way, their stories would be completely different. All it took was for someone to reach out and take a chance on them, and Parks keeps that tradition alive.

“Once every three years,” says Parks, “I call someone and say, I’ve got a job for you and it’s yours if you want it.”

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