By Jorge Castorena
Jill Campbell waved her hands in rhythm – her right middle finger in a bandage. She danced as her women’s choir sang the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love.” “Beautiful!” she shouted.
As rehearsal began and the girls found their way into Akers Auditorium, the meeting-place for class, Campbell greeted them with a big smile and asked them about their day. She was holding the “Chapel of Love” sheet music in her hands and said to the girls, laughing, “I am so excited about singing this.”
This is Campbell’s first year as the assistant professor of music education and voice at Asbury University. According to Dr. Mark Schell, the chair of the music department, she was the perfect fit for the job in terms of experience and qualifications. “It’s like she had the job description for 10 years and spent all of that time preparing for it,” he said.
She has a music education degree, has worked with various choirs, taught in the public school system at the elementary and middle levels and has taught college classes. “She’s exactly what we were looking for,” added Dr. Schell.
But for all of her experience, nothing has prepared Jill Campbell for being a college professor – for teaching students about life, music and God – quite like the car accident that nearly claimed her life 10 years ago.
“It changed my life completely,” she said. “It made me a lot more resilient, it’s made me tougher, it’s put life into perspective.” Campbell has two sons, Andrew, 7, and Nathan, 5.
During the accident and its aftermath, she thought she’d never have a family. “My accident makes the little things, like reading the ‘Thomas the Train’ books at night for the hundredth time, seem a little sweeter.”
When she got to the hospital, she was asked by the doctors where her shoes were. “I don’t know. I had them on when I got in the car,” she replied to them. The force of a semi that ran through a stop sign, t-boning her, was strong enough to take the shoes off her feet. “The doctors said almost always, if a person’s shoes come off during an accident, they don’t have a pulse,” said Campbell.
The accident cracked Campbell’s skull and severed parts of her right hand. She underwent several surgeries, reconstruction of her right hand and three years of rehabilitation and therapy. The only visible remnant of her accident is that her middle finger sticks up all of the time, and she keeps it wrapped in a bandage as it was left hypersensitive.
“Of all the fingers,” she said, laughing. “Imagine teaching elementary school children.” Among students and colleagues, Campbell is known for her energy and her smile. “My accident taught me to love life, to laugh more,” she said. As is typical for professors at Asbury, there are students constantly coming in and out of her office, especially to sit on what has been coined the “laughing couch.”
“Students just come in here and sit and talk with me when they want to laugh.” During her first year at Asbury, Campbell has connected well with students and has quickly gained fame in the community. In just one semester, she nearly doubled the size of the women’s choir.
“She has such a passion for learning and for teaching,” said Dr. Schell. Campbell describes her view of students and teaching style as very deliberate “because you just don’t know how long you have here,” and she pushes students to impact others. It is through music, she says, that God has always spoken to her, and so teaching it and teaching students how to teach it seemed a natural path to take.
Campbell also loves to watch students grow and loves to challenge them. “I want my students to take advantage of life, to never take it for granted,” she said. “I want to teach them to love people and to do all things with excellence. Why else are we here?”
Because of her Christian upbringing and experiences – not least of which was her accident – Campbell wishes to always share the Gospel with students. “The Gospel is the most important thing,” she said. Campbell believes that she was given a second chance after her accident and that it was God who brought her through it.
“I am an evangelist cleverly disguised as a college music professor,” she said.