Eric Jones ’87 is not a crusty, old dean. When talking about his new role as the dean for the class of 2016, Jones likes to invoke the “Simpsons” episode where Homer attends college and expects to find the “crusty, old dean” of pop culture legend. Instead, he is faced with a hacky-sack-wielding, bass-playing dude with leather patches on his tweed jacket.
Well, Jones doesn’t play the bass, but he does enjoy attending folk, bluegrass and blues concerts. He loves Dutch football, and he rides one of his 12 bikes to work every day. (He has one for every kind of weather and journey.)
Jones is the kind of man students aren’t afraid to get a call from. “I’ve tried to forge relationships so they view me as someone who they can come in and talk to and not worry that I am going to chew them out,” Jones says of his first-year students. “Do I chew people out? Sometimes. But I develop a good relationship with them beforehand. You don’t lead with the hammer in this position.”
No one who knows the easy-going Jones—the dean who always has a joke ready—would accuse him of leading with the hammer. He is a quintessential people person. His favorite part of the job—and of his previous role as interim dean of students—is developing relationships with students. Say a few words to him, and you’ll find yourself pouring out your whole history.
The Integrated Learning program, which began this year, pairs each class with a dean who follows the students through their fours years as Central. Jones describes his role as mentor and resource. “We have an environment here that values relationships,” Jones says of Central. “By going to the dean system, we have prioritized that.”
Jones’s duties as class dean began a year ago when he first starting making connections during Scholar Days, when prospective students visit campus to interview for scholarships. He continued his work through Orientation and Welcome Week. This fall, he visited every Intersections class, a required first-year seminar, to introduce himself to anyone who may have missed him. A few weeks ago, he convened the class at a luncheon in Graham Banquet Hall. Jones estimates that he knew something about 80 percent of the students present.
“I’d be surprised if someone didn’t know I was their class dean,” he says.
Each week, Jones meets with all the students on academic probation. Since so few first-year students are on probation, he invites anyone with an academic warning to meet with him. Almost everyone takes him up on it. Together, they go over the student’s progress and set goals for the week.
The most unpredictable but important part of his job is the students who wander into his office or call to make an appointment. They may be unsure about a major, need help finding a tutor or be struggling with homesickness.
“We serve as triage when the students need help but don’t know where else to go,” says Jones. ”I assess where they are and then get them to somebody else as soon as I possibly can.”
Jones refers students to professors, coaches, tutors, counselors and other members of Central’s large support staff. But it’s not a shove-them-out-the-door type of thing. He is constantly developing relationships with students that will last all four years and beyond.
“Eric Jones is a very realistic person,” says first-year Susan Elder, a member of his advisory board. “He understands that we’re college students, and we’re not perfect but we always try. He always knows exactly what to say to help—it could be about your class schedule or advice on the perfect Valentine’s Day present. He’s always there for us!”
Although partially intuitive, Jones’s capacity for support was gained while earning his master’s degree in counseling/professional studies from Iowa State University.
In some ways, Jones’s deeply empathetic side is inconsistent with his background. “I grew up in a very blue-collar environment where you had to fight to survive,” he says.
The youngest of five children who all attended different Iowa colleges, he chose Central on the advice of a high school coach who transferred from a Division I school and became an all-American: “At Central, you don’t have to sell your soul to play football.”
Jones did play football at Central—and enjoyed being part of such a successful program. But he wasn’t your typical jock. He had friends all over campus—from the music department, to the mock trial team to international students. He particularly enjoyed setting up for dances and other activities on campus.
Jones worked at a large university after graduation, and he noticed the difference in the campus culture he had enjoyed at Central. Instead of replying to his friendly “hellos” and waves, people looked away. He hardly ever saw the same person twice while crossing campus. So when he was offered the position of interim director of residential life at Central, he didn’t think twice.
Since then, Jones has held nearly a dozen positions at Central—including interim director of student activities, associate director of admission, counselor and director of academic support services. “I tell people I’ve been kicked out of every decent department of campus,” he jokes.
It would be more accurate to say that every department on campus wants him. The same could be said of his first-year students, who have responded well to the concept of a class dean.
“The first-year class has been very receptive to having a mentor,” Jones says. “Very seldom do I have a student say they don’t want to meet with me. They don’t know me. But they have been wiling to take that chance.”
Sometimes, Jones has to play the part of the crusty, old dean and give them an extra push. This fall, he emailed a student who was having trouble in class. The student admitted he wasn’t going to ask for help—but had been waiting for someone to offer it. Jones connected him with a tutor, and the problem was solved. The student’s takeaway: “Now, I know where to go.”
So does the entire class of 2016. His name is Eric Jones, class dean.