Norm Jones G’88, ’92
Norm holds a Ph.D. in workforce education and development and an M.A in public administration from Pennsylvania State University and a B.A. in English and linguistics from Morehouse College in Atlanta. He is currently the Associate Chief Diversity Officer and Deputy Director at Harvard.
Describe your career after leaving St. Francis:
I attended Morehouse College, having made a conscious decision to attend an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) because I wanted to be in a learning environment and community where I was not “the only” or “one of few” people of color. That four-year experience provided a context which sparked my interest in diversity and inclusion.
After completing a Master’s of Public Administration from Penn State University while serving as Special Assistant to the Superintendent of Schools in Harrisburg, PA I decided to break into higher education, having been pursued by Dickinson College to come and run its judicial affairs office in 2001. Doing student “discipline” in a college environment gave me a real appreciation for the learning process. The out-of-classroom experience qualifies as an educative process because it teaches us how to live civilly in community and understand democracy.
I joined the Harvard community last year as its first Associate Chief Diversity Officer and Deputy Director with responsibilities to oversee the day-to-day operation of the Office of the Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity and Equity.
What stands out about your time at St. Francis?
One of the most memorable aspects of my St. Francis experience was the extent to which I discovered my responsibility for learning. I’m not referring to just the level of rigor in the classroom, but to the very nature of what a college-prep experience aspires to provide. I remember having to prioritize free periods, and make choices about lunch in or out (and the money management associated with that), and decide how I would approach particular conversations with teachers. These were “grown up” choices that many of my peers in other schools (for various reasons) were not having to make. I gained perspective as an independent thinker at St. Francis. I remember getting feedback in my English composition book that had everything to do with the importance of substantiating my perspective. Not questioning my perspective, but compelling me to be thoughtful about owning it.
Can you name a specific teacher who particularly influenced you?
I hate to start listing people of influence because the truth is that I gained a great deal from every single teacher at St. Francis- even those with whom I never took a class. But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the profound impact that Debbie Bottoni had on me. Ms. Bottoni held me to an uncharted standard. I was an average student with average grades. But the work I produced in her class was always above average. I didn’t understand those grades to necessarily represent my capability. I saw those grades as outliers, exceptions. She thought otherwise, and told me as much (more than once!). Taking French with Debbie Bottoni was probably my earliest memory of seeing myself as capable of producing high-quality work and understanding that the production of that work was tied to something greater than a grade. I was honored to be the recipient of a book scholarship in her daughter’s memory because it reminded me that hard work is really about positioning oneself to be of use and service to others.
In what way was your time at St. Francis a determinant of your career path?
As is the case with many (probably most) students, my educational and career trajectories have been anything but linear. I would say that St. Francis helped me learn more about the way I think and more about my curricular passions. I liked English. I was pretty good at English. I spoke English and … I majored in English. What I discovered retrospectively is that writing as an acquired skill will delineate you as a particular kind of scholar. I had several classes at St. Francis that exposed a critical gap between my ability to speak and my ability to write. Throughout my career, I have been hyper-focused on appreciating writing as its own medium – not just a written version of the spoken word. The two are not mutually exclusive but stand on their own merits. Whether I’m writing persuasively, technically, in summary, or prose, I can recall opportunities to explore each of these “styles” across the high school curriculum. This continues to serve me well.
I started my job at Harvard just 12 days after my mother passed away. I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that in addition to Morehouse and Penn State, she would credit St. Francis School and St. Francis High School as engines that laid a very solid foundation for my viability in the workforce. My job at Harvard is about transforming organizational culture and helping communities examine their own juxtaposition to contemporary landscapes in the context of historical realities. My time and experience at St. Francis has allowed me to do this work.
What are you currently working on?
While at Dickinson, I founded an organization called MANdatory. It is an academic enrichment and leadership development program for men of color. If you follow the discourse around engagement of men in college and men of color in particular, the commentary is often about deficits: financial deficits, engagement deficits, cognitive deficits, etc. With the exception of athletics and certain dimensions of the entertainment industry, the culture is full of negative messages about men of color and success. I founded MANdatory to provide a space wherein men of color negotiating a predominantly white learning and social environment could process their experience in the context of identity (be it racial, socio-economic, or whatever felt “exposed”). Over 50 men have matriculated through the program and it has transformed the way Dickinson frames notions of equity and access as it relates to men of color and their membership in the academic enterprise. I’m working on an article that tells this story and offers a model for colleges and universities to engage men of color in a different space, a space that is about success and rigor as opposed to survival and retention.
Other than that, I am preparing to teach in Penn State’s first online Master’s in Organization Development and Change program. I’m passionate about all forms of education, from the Ivies to community colleges and virtual learning – so it’s important to me that I remain connected to various communities of practice in the field of education.
How do you define success?
I define success as the intersection of what makes one happy and what makes one a commodity. I have never defined success in the context of money but I do think there is an element of “return” that illustrates or measures the extent to which we are successful. To be a commodity is to be of value and to be valued. I think we know we are successful when we can establish our value outside of ourselves. To be seen or considered valuable by another is, at its very core, a pure definition of success.