Jules Jones named 2021 Undergraduate Student of the Year
As Jules Jones reflects on her leadership journey at Virginia Tech, she is reminded of a quote from Maya Angelou: “A leader sees greatness in other people. He nor she can be much of a leader if all she sees is herself.”
While pursuing a degree in industrial and systems engineering and a minor in business at Virginia Tech, Jones has found her purpose in life: to serve others by positively influencing the personal and professional growth of others. Through her leadership experiences, she has been able to amplify her impact and live out her purpose and passion through mentorship.
This year, Jones was selected as the Undergraduate Student of the Year for the Class of 2021 at Virginia Tech. The Undergraduate Student of the Year award is the most prestigious nonacademic undergraduate honor presented to a graduating senior. Recipients are selected by a committee of students, faculty, and administrators, under criteria including achievements in leadership, service, and academics, exemplifying the university motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).
Admittedly, Jones said, her academic career at Virginia Tech began with feeling lost, nervous, and homesick. She struggled to identify her own purpose among 30,000 other Hokies. Eager to step outside of her comfort zone and begin her journey as a college student, Jones sought out the opportunity to join the First-Year Leadership Experience (FLEX), which is a yearlong developmental leadership program of the Student Government Association designed to help first-year students develop their leadership skills. She credits the program with shaping her into the leader, engineer, and student she is today.
"I believe leadership is the ability to motivate and inspire others toward a common purpose while discovering their own potential,” said Jones. “To me, good leadership is comprised of qualities including humility, confidence, initiative, curiosity, and empathy. There is no mold for leadership because it is unique to every individual’s journey. My journey continues to lead me to personal development and improved self awareness so that I am better able to serve others."
As a first-year student, Jones took the leadership skills that she acquired from FLEX and became a peer career advisor in the university's career and professional development office. She has advised and mentored hundreds of students on resume development and job search strategies, while also leading numerous workshops and presentations for students on career-related topics.
“I’ve learned that being a leader means inspiring, encouraging, and supporting others to achieve their own goals,” said Jones. “Leading can simply mean being vulnerable enough to share your own successes and failures.”
Becca Scott, the associate director for professional development and experiential initiatives in Career and Professional Development, describes Jones as “one of those kind, caring, authentic, smart, and outstanding students that makes her way into your life as an educator and you know you will never forget her.”
“She is a role model to students, an inspiring leader, and an empathetic peer advisor,” Scott said. “Her academic success, leadership qualities, Ut Prosim spirit, and countless contributions to the university and her fellow students over her years as an undergraduate should be recognized and applauded.”
With the desire to invest in future leaders, Jones founded the platform Project JOY: Jumpstarting Our Youth. She initially started the platform by introducing a children’s reading space inside a renovated classroom in her hometown. Jones met with community leaders to help bring her vision to life. From this experience, she was inspired to bring Project JOY to the New River Valley by creating a peer-to-peer pen pal program in the region while establishing resources to create a “Li’l Hokie Book Nook.”
“Being a mentor has allowed me to serve underclassmen by sharing my experiences to inspire, encourage, and support their unique endeavors,” said Jones. “Mentorship is one of the most important things to me, to be able to influence students to embrace their own journey and to be confident in the direction of their goals. It is the most exciting feeling to see my mentees achieving their goals and pursuing their dreams. Project JOY encapsulates my commitment to mentoring tomorrow’s leaders.”
In the four years that Jones has spent working to inspire, encourage, and empower her peers at Virginia Tech to be fearless in the pursuit of their dreams, she has culminated several awards and honors: the Virginia Tech Undergraduate Student of the Year Award; the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering’s Don Taylor Leadership Award; her naming as an Aspirations Fellow by Student Affairs; her induction into the Omicron Delta Kappa National Leadership Honor Society; her appointment to the Experiential Learning Student Advisory Committee; and two General Electric Impact Awards received during her internship.
Jones has also shown her dedication to leadership and service through participation in various organizations on campus, such as serving as secretary to the 2021 Class Office; serving as head of the event planning committee for industrial and systems engineering ambassadors; serving as public relations chair for the Virginia Tech chapter of the Society of Women Engineers; and serving as survivor/caregiver committee executive for Relay for Life.
Jones has accepted a full-time position at General Electric Power in its Operations Management Leadership Program. In the future, she aspires to obtain a master’s degree in business administration and eventually create her own start-up company that develops new technology to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities.
“Be kind,” Jones said when asked if she had any parting words for her fellow Hokies. “Maya Angelou once said, ‘Your legacy is every life you’ve touched.’ Open the door for others, smile, and lend a helping hand whenever you can. Above all, treat others with respect. Learn about other’s stories and reach out.”
— Written by Linda Hazelwood