With no money for college, Terri Jones turned to the United States Air Force for tuition dollars through the GI Bill but got more than she bargained for – both educationally and in the military.
Today, Col. Jones is commander of the Ira C. Eaker Center for Leadership Development at Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base and is a Troy Trojan through and through. The Center provides leadership education, functionally aligned technical training, professional continuing education and civilian undergraduate education to the Air Force and other Department of Defense personnel. In all, it educates more than 30,000 students in the classroom and via distance learning each year.
“I was raised by a single mother in a working-class neighborhood in West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee, WI. I enlisted at 22 in order to get the GI Bill and I fully intended to return to Wisconsin after my four-year enlistment and go to college there,” she said.
When the time came to re-enlist and to choose a college to attend, the “clear choice” was to attend TROY and join its Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Detachment 017.
“I started to see my enlistment as much more than a way to earn money for college,” she said. “I began to see and feel the importance of serving one’s country and its citizens, and that it is a privilege – not a right – to wear the uniform. To this day, when I’m thanked for my service, I respond with, ‘it is my honor and privilege to serve’.”
While stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, Jones started attending evening classes on base at either Eglin or Hurlburt Field, and the transition to the Troy Campus seemed like a natural fit.
“TROY accepted all of my transfer credit from its Eglin Air Force Base campus and the reasonable tuition and low cost of living in Troy, coupled with my GI Bill benefits and a part-time job in the Veterans Affairs section of the campus Financial Aid Office made my dreams of earning a bachelor’s degree and a commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force a reality,” she said.
“My TROY degree enabled me to earn a commission in the United States Air Force, one of the greatest accomplishments and proudest moments of my life,” she said. “If I hadn’t lived this life myself, I might not believe that someone from humble beginnings could enjoy such success. TROY was the springboard for all the success I’ve had in life and will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Jones, who enlisted in 1987 “with three college credits to my name” not only completed her undergraduate degree at TROY but has since earned three master’s degrees. It was her time at TROY, however, that served as the underpinning of her academic and career success.
“What I remember, and cherish, most about my undergraduate career was the intimacy of the experience. The campus was very walkable, and class sizes were small enough such that the professors knew their students well,” she said, comparing it to her first college experience out of high school, where Jones said she was “lost in the crowd.”
“My TROY experience was quite the opposite,” she said.
In fact, to this very day, her favorite teacher on campus was Dr. Fred Cain, a management professor in the Sorrell College of Business.
“Dr. Cain had a knack for making even the driest of material fun to learn, and his witty sense of humor and ‘Cain Theories’ made me look forward to attending his classes,” she said. “There’s no reason learning can’t be fun, and making it so aids the learning process.”
Her experiences at TROY, combined with her Air Force duties as a top educator, gives her a great framework from which to advise students and military personnel alike.
“To today’s TROY students: Enjoy your time at TROY and appreciate just how special this experience is. Troy University provides its students a quality education, personal attention and an experience filled with diversity in all its forms,” she said. “I never felt ‘invisible’ during my time at either TROY campus I attended – a stark difference from the first university I attended following high school. I credit the environment at TROY and the faculty and staff with helping me reach my goal of earning a bachelor’s degree.”
For military members pursing an education, her message is simple: It’s worth the sacrifice.
“It’s never too late to pursue an education. Although going back to school might be more complicated as we age and we have more things to balance in a 24-hour period, it is possible. It may mean having to prioritize school ahead of other, equally important things in your life, but that sacrifice won’t last forever.
“Once you’ve attained your degree, you’ll have it forever and will be able to re-focus your attention on the things you may have set aside . . . In the end, the degree you earn will be well worth the short-term sacrifice and hard work,” she said.