When Jess Foster ’20 withdrew from Furman University in 2011 due to health reasons, she didn’t know if she would ever return.
During her recovery, she began freelance writing to earn some money and get some work experience. After a few years, she was hired by a web design agency in Australia, working remotely on project proposals for potential clients. Over time, she began managing websites for the agency’s clients.
Foster also taught herself how to build websites and started her own web design business, Imagine Higher, four years ago.
But her desire for a college degree never went away.
“I didn’t think I’d go back to Furman. I was doing OK without a degree. But as time went on, I felt something was missing in my life, that something was left unfinished,” Foster said. “I missed college, going to classes, and doing all the work, which I found very fulfilling.”
Seven years after she left Furman, Foster re-enrolled. She will graduate with a degree in history in May.
“To have a second chance to get a college degree, I’m so grateful for that,” said Foster. “I’m thankful for Furman allowing me to pick up where I left off. I feel like I realize more the value that Furman brings.”
Foster, a Greenville, South Carolina, native, first attended Furman in 2009. After graduating this May, she plans to attend graduate school at Clemson University to earn a master’s degree in history. Eventually, Foster would like to earn her Ph.D. and work as a professor or a researcher.
Meanwhile, she continues to run her business, Imagine Higher.
“My business is paying the bills right now,” she said.
Foster said that her degree in history meshes well with her experience in business. After all, she said, a history major teaches you how to articulate your ideas.
“History majors do a lot of writing. Being able to write well is a skill that applies to a lot of different jobs, including web design,” she said. “When I am writing a project proposal for a potential client, I need to communicate to them how I will help them meet their business goals.”
In the meantime, Foster’s academic focus has been European history, with a particular emphasis on the Holocaust. She has worked as a student assistant in Furman’s the Special Collections and Archives. During a Summer Research and Creative Fellowship with that department, she investigated the campaign strategies of Carroll A. Campbell Jr. and Max Heller during the 1978 congressional election.
“In her Special Collections Summer Fellowship, she compiled a mountain of evidence, some of which she never used in her paper. But all that extra work was not wasted – It helped her see more clearly what was the important story in the election,” said Furman Professor of History Steve O’Neill. “And with that insight, Jess was not afraid to challenge what big-time pundits and scholars had said about the election. Then, she provides the evidence to back that up.”
Foster’s fellowship resulted in her essay, “The Forgotten History of the 1978 Election for South Carolina’s Fourth District,” which has been accepted for publication in the Furman Humanities Review for 2020.
The achievement meets one of Foster’s long-term goals as she prepares to graduate.
“I never thought I’d be back here,” she said. “But I am so happy I am.”