Wilkerson steps in for startUP

Priscilla Wilkerson

While this year’s Monroe County startUP class seems to be going strong with a successful golf tourney fundraiser held this past fall, the program has seen some minor turbulence over the past few weeks as the board has welcomed a new facilitator in the middle of the academic year.

The program’s most recent facilitator, Leslee Martin, had stepped into the role back in August. She replaced Jamie Matthews, who had held the position since the program began seven years prior.

After several weeks of trying to find a new facilitator, the board recently announced that Priscilla Wilkerson had been hired.

Wilkerson described how she has long been a Monroe County local, or at least adjacent. She grew up living in Dupo for the most part, though she was born in Cahokia and her family also briefly lived in O’Fallon.

She graduated from Dupo High School, attending Southwestern Illinois University for her associates degree and University of Missouri-St. Louis for her bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

Outlining her teaching career, Wilkerson said she taught third and first grade at a charter school in St. Louis, stepping away after she had her son. She then served as a full-time and part-time substitute teacher at Immaculate Conception School in Columbia.

Wilkerson noted that startUP is the first time in a while that she has had something of a structured work schedule.

She also offered thoughts on why she got into the profession to begin with.

“I like to talk, and I like to help others,” Wilkerson said. “I’ve always felt joy in working with children of all ages, though I chose elementary education because I was so young when I started teaching that I felt like I’d fit better with elementary education. Now that I’m a little older, I’m definitely more comfortable teaching older students and high schoolers. I have a high schooler myself.”

While her primary career has been spent as an educator, Wilkerson has owned several businesses in the community along with her husband Justin, who also serves as a startUP board member.

These businesses include Inline Data Systems in Columbia as well as Wilkerson Investments.

Wilkerson said she was drawn to fill the vacancy in the program as it seemed like a nice opportunity to put her business experience to use in an educational manner.

“I’ve been familiar with the program for a few years now, and I’ve participated in some of their events,” Wilkerson said. “It’s a program that I have great respect for, and I’ve always admired this group. Whenever the opportunity came up that they needed an instructor or a facilitator, I felt like that was kind of a calling for me to be able to give back to the community and to give to this program any knowledge and structure that I was able to provide.”

Wilkerson said she was hopeful about the next few months. As she described, this year’s startUP class seems to be in a decent place, with students currently preparing their individual businesses while also putting together another group event coming in late March.

“I feel like everything is going quite well for the beginning coming in mid-year,” Wilkerson said. “We’re working on getting to know each other and setting expectations for the remainder of the year. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to have a successful remainder of the school year. I think everybody’s getting along well and adapting to the change.”

Monroe County startUP Chairman George Obernagel spoke positively of Wilkerson – specifically pointing to her education experience.

“I really feel, talking to some of the students, they really like her,” Obernagel said. “She’ll work with them, and they’ll work with her, and we’ll have a great rest of the year.”

It was noted by Wilkerson and Obernagel that she is currently only set to serve in the position for the rest of the semester, though Obernagel expressed hopes she would stay beyond the end of this school year.

On Wilkerson’s predecessor, Obernagel commended Martin for her work on the program, adding that she seemed to be looking for other opportunities.

When reached for comment, Martin said, “It is a wonderful program, and I wish Priscilla the best.”

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Andrew Unverferth

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