Roni Jennings (’84) Inspired to Give Back

Women For Madison

Amethyst Circle Founder Roni Jennings (’84) remembers being one of only four women studying geology at JMU. “I showed up, curious and ready to work hard,” she says. “JMU met me where I was and did not limit me because of my gender.” 

Before JMU, others did try to limit her. In 1979, when the country faced an oil crisis and gas rationing, Jennings was making post-secondary plans. “I went for a sit down with my guidance counselor, an older gentleman,” she sighs. “‘I plan to go to college,’ I told him. ‘Oh very good,’ he said, ‘and what do you want to study?’ Jennings told him about her love for geology. “He looked at me and said, flat out, ‘Girls don’t study that.’” 

“But I was too stubborn,” she laughs. “I did it anyway.” 

Once at JMU, Jennings hedged her bets with an odd double major – geology plus English. “My advisors didn’t understand it at the time, but I needed the security of the English major while I also worked to prove myself in the sciences. I spent a lot of nights in Miller Hall drawing fossils and working, and I had amazing professors who were encouraging.” 

Armed with a bachelor’s in geology (and English), Jennings went on to live the versatility and value of a liberal arts education.  Her resume includes working as draftsman for a telecommunications company, a college financial aid officer, and college admissions staffer, before returning to science as a high school teacher. “The women who stayed in the science programs, let me tell you, it’s just amazing and remarkable to think of the things that they've done with their lives. Nothing short of inspiring.” 

Now, Jennings works to give others the same opportunities. “I want that for other people, for my high school students,” she says, “but there are still barriers to getting an education – not usually gender, more often it’s money.” 

She’s seen it many times: “I have students every year who show a lot of promise, but when they get the financial aid packages from different colleges, they feel deflated. There’s no way their family can do this.” That’s why the Amethyst Circle appealed to her. “The scholarships from Amethyst Circle are targeting that final hurdle,” she explains. “The last $5,000 – that’s the amount of money that can help a kid be able to say yes to JMU. To know they have that, and for all four years, it’s huge.” 

The Amethyst Circle has already provided 10 scholarships, but the goal is much bolder: $1 million in scholarships every two years. “This group of women is not afraid to aim big, to do something different,” Jennings says. “That resonates with me. As a teacher, as a mom, as a JMU grad, it’s like: yes, I need to do this.”

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Published: Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Last Updated: Tuesday, October 18, 2022

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