Interview by Derek Grosso
Name: Jackie Merkle
Profession: Diversity, Inclusion & Community Relations Consultant at Grange Insurance
Education: BA – History at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); MAT – Teaching Secondary Social Studies at University of Southern California (USC); MA – Educational Administration at The Ohio State University (OSU); PhD – Multicultural & Equity Studies in Education at The Ohio State University (OSU)
Community Involvement: Central Ohio Diversity Consortium – Board Member, Women for Economic and Leadership Development – Member
Quote: “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect.” – Brené Brown
Give us a snapshot of your career path: I started my career teaching social studies at a charter school in East Los Angeles. Barely 21 years old, I taught a wide variety of classes to over 100 juniors and seniors, including an AP class in my first year! It was absolutely exhausting but also unbelievably rewarding and fulfilling work. It was among these incredible students that my future career path of diversity, equity, and inclusion was born. My students asked me why they didn’t get to learn about people who looked like them and their contributions to our country’s history. It was right then and there that I knew I wanted to be a part of advocating for all and ensuring there would be history, stories, and experiences that reflected everyone in our schools. So, I started researching PhD programs and entered one that fall at Ohio State.
After two years of going to school full-time and working as a graduate teaching and research assistant, I started a role at a local school district as the Curriculum Supervisor of Equity and Inclusion, supporting the work I had dreamed about only a few years prior. I spent five years in that role, leaving as an assistant director. Words cannot express how much I grew as a person and professional during this time in my life. I learned so much about my own strength and resilience, as well as my ability to truly listen and navigate various pressures, opinions, and perspectives.
In some ways, leaving that role was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But it taught me that sometimes you need to make the hard choice to leave so that you can learn, grow, and apply your passion in new ways.
I have been at Grange Insurance for over a year now and I am blessed to have an incredible mentor and sponsor in my boss, Priscilla Hammonds.
What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek?
Currently it’s my 10-month-old! I rarely set an alarm anymore and truly enjoy spending the mornings with him before I start the workday.
When you spend every day doing what you love, it rarely feels like work. Plus, working for a company with incredible coworkers and a culture focused on wellbeing makes the workweek fly by.
What advice or mentors have helped guide you along the way?
At various stages of my life, I have had different mentors that have supported me, advocated for me, and guided me along my personal and professional journey. As a former educator and administrator, there were so many students that served as mentors along the way. There is no one who informed my path to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion more than the students I have had the pleasure of getting to know. My former colleague and friend, Heather Cole, has been one of my biggest advocates and champions along my professional journey. Through every bump in the road, she has been there to give advice and remind me of how my skills and passion uniquely position me to handle some of this profession’s greatest challenges. I can never thank her enough for all she’s done. Fellow board members and officers from the Central Ohio Diversity Consortium such as Priscilla Hammonds, Jeff Hammonds, Adrian Sullivan, Shayne Downton, Tim Harman and more have supported me as I navigated my way from advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the schools to the corporate world. One of my current colleagues at Grange was an amazing source of support in the immediate aftermath of having my son. She offered the following words of wisdom that I still think about daily, “comparison is the thief of joy,” as I navigate being a working mom. She helped me shake off my insecurities and embrace my inner strength during the early days.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind?
Recently I’ve started taking group tennis lessons at Olympic Indoor and Whetstone Park of Roses. I really enjoy learning something new and exercising in a fun way. Every evening, our family takes a walk around the neighborhood with the stroller and our dog, Zeke! I enjoy wrapping up the day with a little fresh air and some 1:1 time as a family.
What are a few of your favorite local spots in Columbus?
Local Bar in the Short North will always be one of our favorites. It was one of our regular weekend spots and where our friends and family joined us after we got engaged. For many years, you could catch us playing trivia every Thursday night at Zeno’s in Victorian Village. Some other favorite spots: Mitchell’s Ocean Club, Brassica, the Columbus Zoo, and Columbus Brewing Company + Roosevelt Coffee House.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
At the age of three, I famously told my mom that I wanted to be a tightrope walker. I have no idea where I got that from, but I am so glad my career path took me somewhere else! As a teenager, I thought I was going to end up a lawyer because I was in debate club and enjoyed the competition of putting forth and defending an argument. As my mom used to say, “I loved to argue!”
What books or podcasts are you reading/listening to right now?
In 2022 I joined two book clubs: one of which no one reads the book (I found out the hard way!) and the other one we pick a book and then everyone reads something different by the time we get together. It’s a fun social outlet and I’ve been enjoying listening to audiobooks with my library card.
I recently listened to a historical fiction novel called Fast Girls by Elise Hooper, which was about the 1936 Women’s Olympic Track & Field Team. I would definitely recommend it. Most often, however, you can find me listening to crime novels or The Daily podcast, among a few others.
What does it mean to you to be chosen for the Next Up Columbus award?
I am incredibly humbled and honored to be recognized as one of the Next Up Columbus Award honorees. When I look around at the strong, impactful, and innovative nominees, I feel blessed to be in the company of such deserving leaders who are making a significant impact in our local community. Receiving this award furthers my resolve to advance the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion and solidifies the important role I will continue to play in advancing inclusion, belonging, and wellbeing for all in the Columbus area.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them?
Columbus is a beautiful, diverse, and vibrant place that is buzzing with culture, music, food, and impact. The pulse is all of us. It is how we come together to make our community a better place, it is how we share our stories, lives, and passions with one another. It is our community spaces where we gather together to invest and give back.
The Next Up Columbus Awards highlight emerging leaders who are connectors and ambassadors in central Ohio and who are making a positive impact on the future of Columbus. The Columbus Young Professionals Club would like to offer special thanks to our 2022 co-presenters, Discover Financial, Ohio Dominican University and Spectrum for their support of this year’s awards program. Meet the entire “Class of 2022” »