Overcoming financial hardship

A scholarship and a faculty mentorship help Chris Jones (’21) double down at JMU

Like most students, Chris Jones (’21) came to James Madison University with the intention of getting everything he could from the experience. His goal for freshman year was to acclimate to college life, learn all that he could and delve right into the many opportunities the engineering program and the university in general offered. His family set up a college fund for him that financed his first year, allowing him to focus on his engineering projects and helping to start and participate in various student clubs and organizations. However, his family experienced some financial problems following his freshman year, which threw his plans to continue at JMU into jeopardy.

Jones was determined to remain enrolled at JMU, so he started looking at his options. “That's when I had to really look for scholarships, look for financial aid, because going into my sophomore year, I was really dependent on that. And there was a point where I was unsure that I'd actually be able to go to college sophomore year.”

Fortuitously, he met Adebayo Ogundipe early on at JMU when the latter came to Jones’ first engineering class to discuss a study abroad trip in Africa. That meeting with the engineering professor was the start of a fruitful mentorship. “It was a really great meeting. I kind of explained my experience with traveling. But that's kind of where the rapport really started was that first trip, and I just got really close with him. And I've been able to talk to him about pretty much everything. I mean, I had a lot of family stress that happened during my freshman summer, and I was able to open up to him. He has helped me with looking for scholarships, he has helped me with all kinds of opportunities.”

Ultimately, Jones applied for JMU’s Centennial Scholarship Program and heard back two weeks before the start of his junior year. “I ended up getting the scholarship, not realizing until I went to the meeting to sign the contracts with the scholarship … that it was going to take care of the rest of my time at JMU, which just took a huge weight off my shoulders,” Jones said.

“The amazing thing about Centennial Scholars that they've done is it's a mentorship program. It's not just a scholarship,” he explained. “I mean, the scholarship is incredible in and of itself. But they strive to create a community around the people who receive it. And it's just so welcoming; it's people that I could really relate to, just from kind of my background. It really felt like home and I didn't realize how much I would appreciate something like that until I had it.”

For Jones, the mentors he’s met at JMU are just as important as the funds he’s received to remain here. His continued success all started with the chance Ogundipe provided to travel to Tanzania and Kenya. “I wanted to do research with Ogundipe because we had a good rapport. And I was really interested in the kind of work that he was doing, because it's focused on a socio-cultural aspect of engineering, not so much a math and science technical component of it, which is where my kind of engineering ideals align.” He also credits Ogundipe with pushing him to try Track III in the Honors College, something he hadn’t known about or considered.

Jones graduated in May as an engineering major with four minors in AAADS (African, African American and Diaspora Studies), Geographic Science, Mathematics and Physics for Engineers. “Receiving my scholarships has allowed me to do this and more,” he said. “I have been able to participate in numerous extracurricular activities as well as make remarkable mentors who have pushed me to be a better student and individual.”

Since graduating, Jones has moved to the Boston area and hopes to become part of projects that will allow him to work with people all over the world. “I just want to use my engineering as a way to help and to progress us,” he said. “Throughout my time here, the one thing I can say that I've really learned is that engineering is so much more than just a math and science field. It's got this whole other component, the social cultural component. And, to me, that's huge. That means everything. You have to understand who you're working with, what their needs are, what their perspectives on things are before you can start to implement a solution.

His ultimate goal is to pass along opportunity to others. “I want to do international development work … and help communities abroad that are struggling,” Jones said. “Receiving my scholarships has truly changed my life. It has provided me with financial security that I have not felt in my life in a very long time.”

—By Elizabeth Nesseldrodt (’84)

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Published: Friday, October 1, 2021

Last Updated: Tuesday, January 3, 2023

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