Crystal Jones​​

The Ashe Academy Board President
B.A. Behavioral Science, ​California State U​niversity, Dominguez Hills

What did it mean to you to become the first of your family to earn a degree?
It meant everything. The path to my degree was long and, in some respects, unconventional. My parents supported me every step of the way. Seeing the pride on their faces was the culmination of my hard work and made it well worth the journey. I lost both parents a few short years after receiving my degree, and I will be forever thankful they were able to see me cross that stage in my cap and gown and hear my name being announced to the crowd that day.

Why was earning a degree important to you?
​From the time I graduated high school, my parents made it crystal clear that I was going to be a college graduate. While I complied with their wishes, I’ll admit that initially I was ambivalent. When I enrolled at CSU Dominguez Hills, I was working full-time and attending college at night. I had been a part-time student for two years when my mother asked me, 'When exactly will you be DONE?' I was unprepared to answer. My only real “plan” was to finish college, eventually, because it was what my parents wanted, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. My mother’s question was my “come to Jesus” moment. It made me realize I had to stop thinking of college as something I was doing just to make my parents happy and figure out why I wanted to do it for ME. As a part-time student, I could finish eventually. However, working a demanding full-time job (I was an accounting manager) would divide my loyalties. So, I quit my full-time job and made it my mission to complete the (estimated) remaining two years of classes in one year, by any means necessary. I needed to not only make my parents proud, but I also had to finally finish what I started for me.

What was the most challenging aspect?
The finish was the most challenging aspect of obtaining my college degree. I began my freshman year of college at UCLA. I moved to Northern California a year later and attended Sacramento City College full-time. After two years there, I returned to Southern California, started working full-time and enrolled at CSUDH as a part-time student. When I made the decision to quit my full-time job and complete my remaining classes in one year, I knew it was an ambitious plan. I had an estimated two years’ worth of classes remaining. I knew it meant doubling and perhaps tripling the normal course load per semester. I think the toughest semester was the one where I was enrolled in 24 units. I had eight classes and five required final papers with a minimum page count of 20 or more. Getting through this experience required extreme planning and a lot of caffeine. It wasn’t easy, but I got by with hard work, perseverance, creativity and understanding the value of a nap!

How did you use your degree to become a leader in your community?
​Being a leader in the community can take many shapes. It can be as simple as sharing career advice or mentoring the young people in my life. In my professional life, there are three community-leadership moments that stand out. The first is my work with United Education Institute (UEI) in support of Rhino Records’ IT intern program, which lead to me being named to UEI’s inaugural advisory board for both the Los Angeles and Van Nuys campuses. The board provided feedback and input to UEI that would lead to improvements for the school’s Network Technology Program. The second highlight is my participation in my present company’s African Descent Network’s Education Committee. This group’s mission is to support programs that provide mentoring and education opportunities for students of African descent. Finally, I am the president of The Ashe Academy’s Board of Directors. The Ashe Academy is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide mentoring and post-secondary education scholarships for students of color who are seeking careers in the arts and STEM.

How have you used your experience to assist first-gen students?
​While leading Rhino Records’ IT intern program, a majority of my interns were the first members of their families to strive for any kind of post-secondary education. I was passionate about providing a real-world working opportunity for female students and students of color through UEI’s Network Technology program. Instead of having technology interns do meaningless busy work, I felt it was important for me to create a real 360-degree experience. I wanted interns to not only walk away with meaningful work experience; I also wanted to provide them with résumé assistance as well as letters of recommendation. My passion for providing opportunities and mentoring for interns sparked a fire that has led to my current work as the board president of The Ashe Academy. Its mission to provide access and opportunity to children of color seeking careers in the arts and STEM helps to fuel my passion for leading and guiding the next generation.