Dr. M. Colleen Jones’ career as a faculty member in business started with a coin flip when she was pressed to choose a major at the University of Iowa -- it ended with a flourish upon retiring from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business Administration this past spring leaving a lasting impact on everyone she touched.
“I liked English but if I took accounting, I could go back to Kansas City and help my mom open her own business,” Jones said. “I flipped the coin and chose accounting as my major. I got in an experimental class on quantitative methods and it all came together.”
What ultimately came together was a teaching career which allowed Jones to share her talent of bringing out the best in other people. Teaching was always her first love and it shows in the students she taught.
“Dr. Jones takes a personal interest in fostering the development of students,” said Doug Fernaays, a 2011 management graduate currently working as a consultant at Accenture in Austin, Texas. “She’s very fun, engages the class and really knows what she’s talking about.”
Her motivation was to inspire excellence in the faces she saw in the classroom.
“I love seeing people discover things about themselves and about the world they didn’t know before,” said Jones. “I wanted students to take responsibility for their learning. I wanted students to think.”
Her teaching focused on leadership, organizational behavior and development, with research on access and advancement of women and people of color in executive positions.
“Dr. Jones’ leadership class teaches you about your own style of leadership and how to adapt them to your situation,” Fernaays said. “We worked in groups and learned about how leadership styles work in the corporate environment.”
Throughout her teaching career, Jones encouraged students to participate in projects in the Lincoln community. Tying classroom assignments to practical influence in the community showed students how to make positive change in the world around them.
“Students should recognize the real needs of the community and be aware of the community make-up,” Jones said. “It helps them be better prepared for business or for an organization to serve those real needs.”
Her student projects involved everything from analyzing local nonprofit grant proposals and selecting the most deserving recipients, to learning the supply chain of what it takes to implement a recycling initiative.
Perhaps her biggest legacy is her work at the Jones Scholars Learning Community where she currently serves as president after the death of her late husband, Dr. Melvin W. Jones in 1999. The community is home to students of any major interested in making the most of their first year of college through a focus on leadership, academic excellence and service to others.
Jake Kirkland, a colleague at the Jones Scholar Learning Community and a senior career advisor at UNL, has seen first-hand the lives Jones has transformed.
“Colleen has always been active in creating a climate of outstanding achievement in everything she does at UNL,” Kirkland said. “She accomplished this by celebrating the legacy of Melvin, and building a tradition focused on academic excellence and civic responsibility for students.”