Letitia Jones faced tremendous obstacles to graduate Rutgers – and she overcame them all

Letitia Jones, who earned a geology degree at Rutgers in 2016
Photo: Courtesy of Letitia Jones

'I want more girls to pursue their goals and I want to help them along the way. I just hope my story can inspire other young girls to keep pushing.'

- Letitia Jones

Shortly after graduating from Rahway High School, Letitia Jones left home.

“By 18, I had my own apartment and was working three jobs,” she said.

She worked at a day care center, a beauty supply store and as a toll taker on the Garden State Parkway. But Jones always knew that someday she would get a college degree – no matter how long it took.

And now, at the age of 30, she is a Rutgers graduate after receiving her bachelor’s degree in geology from the School of Arts and Sciences in New Brunswick in February.

Jones’s interest in science began in childhood. She loved the TV show Bill Nye the Science Guy and her frequent visits to the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. But it was a National Geographic story that sparked her interest in geology.

“The article was about an African-American science teacher from New York who went to Antarctica,” she said. “It really blew my mind that there were women out there doing these things, especially a woman who looks like me. I thought if she can do it, I can do it, and that’s what got me going. I knew from that day forward that I would pursue a degree in geology.”

Jones’s journey to her college degree is the epitome of perseverance. While working, Jones took classes at Union County College, but had her eye on Rutgers. The first time she applied, however, she was rejected. She did two more years of coursework at UCC, applied again, and in 2011 Rutgers accepted her.

“Rutgers is a very prestigious school,” she said. “It was a goal of mine and I worked hard. I didn’t take no for an answer.”

Once at Rutgers, her undergraduate days were far from tranquil. Jones, who was married and had a 4-year-old, became pregnant with twins during her sophomore year and was placed on bedrest. She almost lost twins Geffrey and Kaya, now 2, before they arrived prematurely on Sept. 5, 2013.

While caring for her children, Jones managed to take four classes that semester and to help care for her niece, Marley, who came to New Jersey from Haiti after the deadly 2010 earthquake. She also continued her part-time job working at the state Department of Environmental Protection in Trenton, where she assisted with inspections, reviewed well records, helped create a well driller manual and created 63 maps for the department’s website. Jones landed the paid job, which lasted from June 2012 to January 2015, after she researched and emailed head geologists in the DEP’s Division of Water Supply and Geoscience and inquired about positions.

Gail M. Ashley, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the School of Arts and Sciences, enjoyed having Jones in her geology class and served as her undergraduate adviser and mentor.

“Letitia is one of these eternally optimistic people, she always has a positive attitude and she’s a real self-starter,” Ashley said. “She had this really strong interest in science and so she pursued her college courses despite a number of 'life events' that might have stopped most people. She’s extremely resourceful and tenacious. She just kept going and I think that kind of determination deserves a lot of credit.”

Today, Jones is working at Liberty Science Center as an interpretation associate, teaching children about science in interactive labs. She completed a teacher preparation course at Kean University in February and recently passed the middle school science teaching exam. She plans to take the alternate route to teacher certification.

Despite all the demands on her time, Jones finds time to help others. She volunteers as a mentor at the Linden chapter of Someone’s Daughter Inc., a nonprofit organization that seeks to educate, encourage and empower young girls.

Her ultimate goal is to teach middle school science and write children’s science books.

“I want more girls to pursue their goals and I want to help them along the way,” she said. “I just hope my story can inspire other young girls to keep pushing.”

For more information, please contact science communicator Todd B. Bates at tbates@ucm.rutgers.edu or 848-932-0550.