Jill Chappell-Fail: A Second Chance Can Lead to Success

Jill Chappell-Fail

Jill Chappell-Fail, a former Salkehatchie student, has found success working for the University on the Columbia campus.

Earning her first college degree didn’t come easily to Jill Chappell-Fail, but perseverance and a leg up from USC Salkehatchie helped make it happen. Now, with a master’s degree and a university career, she’s gone further than she had ever imagined. “I guess you could say it took me awhile to finish, and it wasn’t the smoothest journey, but I got there,” says Fail, laughing. “I started off beautifully at Salkehatchie, but I came to Columbia and crashed miserably the first time.” Chappell-Fail is referring to her initial transfer to the University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus in the early 1980s, where she was placed on academic suspension after her first year. “At Salk, everything was hands-on,” she said, talking about her disappointment when she first entered the journalism program. “Here, the classes were so large the professors didn’t know you and whether you were coming to class or not. It’s not that they didn’t care, it just wasn’t possible for them to have the same level of involvement.” She says she realizes now that she wasn’t taking college seriously enough, but at the time she was more interested in the social aspect of college life than her classes. While suspended, she spent some time in paralegal school, then began working for newspapers in the Allendale and Hampton area as a writer and photographer. She grew up in Allendale, working on her family’s peach farm, and was glad to be close to home, but she said she was starting to realize how hard “real life” could be. “You don’t really recognize the value of a degree until you are out there in the working world,” she says. After urging from her father, Chappell- Fail returned to USC Salkehatchie in 1983 to try her hand at college again. This time, she was more focused on her goals and earned a bachelor’s degree without difficulty. She designed her own specialty area with the BAIS, one filled with journalism and photography classes, leaning toward what is now media arts. She was involved with student government during both her times at USC Salkehatchie and served as SGA president when she returned to the campus. After completing her BAIS at USC Salkehatchie in 1986, Chappell-Fail went on to work as a graphic artist and reporter at other publications and for a public relations firm before moving to USC in 1991. She earned her master’s in library and information science from USC in 1999 and now works at USC Columbia as an information resources consultant at the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies. She also serves as an adjunct instructor for the School of Library and Information Science and the University 101 program. She might have come a long way from her days of academic suspension, but Chappell-Fail has never forgotten USC Salkehatchie, where she got her start. She says it was a wonderful place to meet people from nearby counties that she might have never met otherwise, friends she still has to this day. She recalls an SGA event when she was supposed to bring a pig for a barbecue. She says when she went to get the pig, they asked her whether she wanted it “dressed,” and not knowing that meant they would clean the pig and prep it for cooking, she said no, that they would do it. “So we ended up with this dead pig that hadn’t been dressed, with everything, all the innards, still in it, and we panicked,” she says, laughing. Another student whose father farmed called one of the farm workers to come help them, and he cleaned the pig in time for them to get it cooking. “That taught me right there not to assume you know what you’re talking about, and not be afraid to ask questions,” she says. “I should have just asked and saved us all a lot of trouble. But people still remember that. We had good times there at Salk.” These days, Chappell-Fail stays busy traveling and raising her four-year-old stepgrandson with help from her husband, Raymond. He plays in a band, and they used to spend a lot of time on the road, time she says she now devotes to the little one. She participated in an alumni panel at USC Salkehatchie in the spring and enjoyed returning to the campus to share her experiences with current students. That opportunity to share is one reason she loves teaching the University 101 course, which helps new students acclimate to college life and makes sure they know what resources are available if they need help. “I don’t care what degree you earn, the fact that you do it at all says a lot about you,” she says. “A degree opens doors, and you need it to move ahead in life. And there are so many areas of support these days, it’s amazing. To me, there’s no excuse for anybody failing out of college anymore with all of that help. But that’s what we do—make sure they know the help is there. If I can keep one student from going through what I did, of just giving up on school without trying to be proactive and seeing if you can get help, then I will have done something great.”