Jill Barson Gilbert's career in environment, health, and safety spans more than 20 years. Now, through persistence and with help from San Jacinto College, Gilbert can add a degree in art and design to her resume and list of credentials.
"In my family, we expected that we would go to college," she said. "My parents both worked in technical fields. Even though there were four of us kids, we knew we'd pursue college degrees."
She earned her first degree in zoology with minors in chemistry and psychology from Miami University and set out to find a career in a technical field.
An environmental career
Gilbert started working in a chemical company and soon moved to the environmental group, discovering an emerging field within the industry that would eventually become her life's work.
"I really enjoyed working on the environmental side of things," she said. "When I considered going to school for an MBA, my father told me about a new environmental master's program at the University of San Francisco."
Gilbert enrolled and became one of the first graduates from USF's Master of Science in environmental management program.
After years working for the chemical industry and as an environmental health and safety consultant, Gilbert became the director of product management for environmenta health and safety applications at the Oracle Corporation.
"I learned a lot during my time at Oracle and software implementation firms and eventually started my own company," Gilbert said. "I used my industry and consulting experience and the knowledge I'd gained about environmental health and safety software."
Lexicon Systems LLC started operations in April 2002, focusing on the selection and implementation of environmental health and safety software. Twenty years later, Gilbert has taken a step back from the daily operations.
What to do in retirement?
In 2009, Gilbert decided to challenge herself to learn a new skill she could use in retirement.
"I wanted to see if I could learn to draw. It wasn't something that came naturally to me, and it required effort, but I did it," she said.
Gilbert signed up for continuing and professional development night courses at San Jac and took a year of drawing, eventually cycling through all the art offerings and registering for credit courses.
"I learned about the art and design technical program, which combines creative and software skills," Gilbert said. "It was a perfect fit for me."
Through years of working toward her degree while running a business full time and traveling nationwide for work, she earned her Associate of Applied Science degree in art and design from San Jac in 2018.
Today, Gilbert works as a freelance graphic designer and volunteers her talents to non-profit organizations. Giving back is important to her, not only through her work as a designer but also financially through the San Jacinto College Foundation.
"My goal is to give back at least the amount I was given in art and design scholarships," she said. "I'm fortunate that I have the means to give back to the College. We see firsthand how important it is to continue supporting education in our community."
As a non-traditional student, Gilbert has wisdom to share with those looking to enroll in college later in life.
"Pick a program that aligns with your interests and don't be intimated because of your age," she said. "Some of the best students I've worked with in class were dual credit students 50 years younger than me. We can learn from each other and find common ground."
Now Gilbert is focused on merging her talents and business acumen in a new endeavor — Iconic Design — offering consulting, design, and marketing services to a range of clients.
"One day I will retire but not today," she said.
To find a list of San Jac's lifelong learning courses, visit sanjac.edu/admissions/how-to-apply/continuing-ed-student/.