Arts & Humanities

Aggie Profile: Paul Jones, From 'Rough Around the Edges' to 'Well-Rounded' Leader

By Tim Olsen |

Paul Jones speaking at USU's 2023 commencement in Logan.

Editor’s Note: As part of a series commemorating cultural heritages, Utah State Today is publishing interviews with a variety of Aggie alumni, faculty, staff and students. This interview with Fort Valley State University President Paul Jones is in observation of February as Black History Month.

Paul Jones is recognized for being a visionary leader and strategic thinker with an extensive background in higher education. With nearly 37 years of higher education experience, President Jones was appointed to take Fort Valley State's helm in December 2015 following a career that included leadership positions in Georgia, Colorado, Maryland and Utah.

Jones, an astute and affable administrator who is committed to the transformative power of higher education, has spent the last several years advancing FVSU’s standing as one of the nation’s most respected institutions of higher learning, including its consistent ranking as the top public HBCU, or historically Black college or university, in Georgia by U.S. News and World Reports.

Jones and his wife, Sylvia, were named 2012 Alumni of the Year at Utah State University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He earned a doctor of philosophy degree in education and human resource studies from Colorado State University.

President and First Lady Jones have two adult children, both graduates of USU: Isaiah and Daphne.

UST: Tell us about your leadership journey and where you are today in your field.

PJ: When I reflect on my leadership journey, my initial thoughts are that my journey could be described as fortuitous, by faith, or maybe even unconventional. Leadership found me early on, unexpectedly.

During a Black Student Union meeting there was a call for someone to run for a leadership position. As sometimes happens, I made a comment about the needs of our organization and the next thing I realized was that I was on the ballot and surprisingly won.

This role provided invaluable experiences in teamwork, goal setting and collaboration across the university. Additionally, my time as a student-athlete instilled numerous leadership lessons that resonate in my professional journey today.

Today, I'm grateful for the lessons learned along the way. From my humble beginnings as an admissions counselor to now serving as a university president, I've honed these skills and navigated a fulfilling career in higher education.

UST: What did you study at USU and how did your time as an Aggie prepare you for what you do now?

PJ: As an undergraduate, I studied communications and contributed to publications like The Cache Citizen [a weekly newspaper operated by USU’s journalism program in the ’80s and ’90s] and The Utah Statesman [USU’s student-run campus paper].

I then went on to receive my master’s degree in social sciences while studying history and political science. The preparation, mentorship and the collective experiences as a student athlete were immeasurable. USU transformed me from a “rough around the edges” first-generation student into a well-rounded man and leader.

UST: Who were your biggest mentors at USU and how did they impact your life and career path?

PJ: I was fortunate to have several mentors and supporters during my time at USU, but Dr. Ross Peterson stands out as the most impactful. He not only supported my academic pursuits but also nurtured my leadership development and helped me seize the opportunities available at USU. Today, he remains a mentor and friend whose influence has been profound, not just on me but on countless other students as well.

UST: How has your experience as an African American leader shaped your journey?

PJ: My cultural background, life experiences and ability to navigate diverse environments undeniably shaped my leadership journey. Being an African American leader has provided unique perspectives and challenges that have enriched my approach to leadership.

UST: What advice would you give to the next generation of aspiring Aggie leaders and/or students who are just starting out?

PJ: Embrace the magic of the USU experience. Get involved, enjoy every moment and focus on personal growth. Becoming the best version of yourself is key to making the most of your time at USU and beyond.


Tim Olsen
Managing Editor
Utah State Magazine


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