An 'unreal dream' becomes reality

November 15, 2017
Jason Jones.

“I had this childhood dream—this image of myself as a scientist,” says Jason Jones. “But it was never in my foreseeable future.”

Today, five years after returning from his second deployment to Iraq, Jones is pursuing a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Minnesota as a Ronald E. McNair Scholar. The federally funded scholarship helps low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented college students to pursue advanced degrees.

Jones is the first in his family to go to college. His parents divorced when he was 15, and thereafter he raised himself. “Life happened,” he says. “So I just kept moving forward.”

He tries to recall what sparked his dream—“I was gifted a small red microscope in maybe sixth or seventh grade. There was a creek two blocks from my house. I’d always escape there by myself. I’d take water samples and look at them under the microscope. That was my first taste.”

Jones managed to get his high school diploma and then worked at a rapid oil change for three-and-a-half years before enlisting in the military. His dream of being a scientist didn’t feel like a real option. Even the thought of applying to community college seemed insurmountable.

Finally a friend sat him down and said, “Jason, just go do it!” That simple sentence was all he needed to hear. But again life happened—as Jones was driving down County Road 81 to apply, he got a call from his sergeant asking if he wanted to go overseas. He turned the car around and packed his bags.

After returning from his first tour in Iraq, Jones enrolled at North Hennepin Community College. And yet again life happened. During his first semester, his son, Jason Jr, was born and Jones became a single father. He would be in community college for seven years.

Yet all the while his goal was clear: “I want to be a scientist. I’m going to the University of Minnesota.” When Jones finally made it to the U in 2013, he was ecstatic. “It was a proud moment. Persistence. It took me a long time to get here, but I didn’t give up.” Looking ahead to his career, he aims to become a principal researcher with his own lab, and to mentor students and teach.

“If I could reach that little kid who was me back then, and foster that seed, that would be awesome," he says. "That’s joy right there.”