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New provost prepares to join Drake

Deneese “Dr. Dee” Jones is counting the days: 39.

Thirty-nine days until jazz music, echoes from Old Main 202.

Thirty-nine days until her new title decorates Old Main 202 — Provost Deneese Jones.

For Jones, toe-tapping tunes and shiny nameplates can’t top Drake University’s academic community, though.

“I’m looking forward to be able to connect to that academic excellence I’ve read about and engaged with,” Jones said. “There’s an excitement for me to be involved with a university that’s on the move. Drake is on the move.”

Every day Jones moves closer to June 1, her first Drake workday.

Months before June 1 earned countdown caliber, a search firm contacted Jones, 59, about Drake’s vacant provost position.

Curiosity led Jones to Drake’s mission statement.

“I went to the website, and that’s when I saw the mission statement, and I said, ‘Wow, this really connects with me,’” Jones said.

After winter break, Jones announced her resignation at Longwood University’s College of Education and Human Services. After serving students and faculty as dean of the college for seven years, Jones’ resignation cued a bittersweet reception, particularly for her secretary, Peggy Ward.

“We always knew that Longwood was not a final destination for Dr. Jones, but it was with very mixed emotions that I received the news,” Ward said. “Selfishly, I’m a little sad that we won’t be working together, but I’m also very grateful for the opportunities and skills that I have been given.”

Despite Jones’ approaching departure, Drake’s attitude eases the goodbyes.

“It helps a lot to know that Drake University is a great place with many opportunities and that the people are really nice,” Ward said.

For Longwood Associate Dean Wayne White, Jones’ people-oriented approach unlocks potential.

“She is very relationship-oriented and has proven to be excellent at moving people in her circle to their highest potential,” White said. “I have enjoyed working with her and will miss that experience.  She is a remarkable lady.”

Though Longwood’s Farmville, Va., campus is 1,049 miles from Drake, geographic distance and relationship distance are not cause and effect for Jones.

“I am just happy to realize that I continue to gain life-long friendships that cannot be dissolved by time or place,” Jones said.

Academia didn’t always generate happiness for Jones, though.

While enrolled at a Dallas elementary school, officials placed Jones in special education due to a speech impediment.

School officials eventually placed Jones in a gifted program, but the mistake sparked her passion for education.

“There’s a lot of baggage that goes with that,” Jones said. “That started my focus on literacy. That started me on my journey.”

After graduating from high school, Jones earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Texas Woman’s University in 1974.

Jones entered teaching with confidence and curiosity thanks to TWU.

“It gave me a strong sense of self in the academic world,” Jones said. “I had very strong female professors who stretched me, who allowed me to ask questions, who challenged me.”

While studying at TWU, Jones met her husband, who studied at Texas A&M University. The pair has two adult daughters, Stephanie and Monica, and three grandchildren.

Jones earned a master’s degree in education from her husband’s alma mater, Texas A&M in 1988.

Three years later, Jones again walked across the Aggies’ stage when she received her doctorate in curriculum and instruction.

While transforming her shaky academic start into academic gusto, Jones’ writing career emerged.

“From when I was a little girl, I felt like words must have been powerful because they changed my life,” Jones said.

Jones’ childhood diaries evolved into personal journals, which she keeps even today.

Her writing isn’t under lock and key, though. Jones, an avid autobiography reader, hopes to publish her story.

“I do have a motivation to share my story,” Jones said. “If I create something that affects one individual, and it changes their life, then it’s worth writing.”

Jones’ academic writing includes three textbooks, 18 scholarly articles, 15 book chapters and one instructor’s manual.

Writing another book chapter isn’t atop her to-do list, though. Instead, Jones’ new leadership means writing a new chapter in Drake academics.

With responsibilities ranging from residence life to new academic programming, Jones’ job is critical on campus, said Associate Provost for Curriculum and Assessment Arthur Sanders.

“The provost is the chief academic officer of the university,” Sanders said. “She, in some ways, is right below the president. The provost is in charge of the academic division, so whatever is related to student learning falls under the provost.”

Before tackling residence life and academic programming, though, Jones’ countdown continues.

Thirty-nine days until Jones is officially a part of Drake’s academic community.

“People are people wherever you go,” Jones said. “It’s about the people for me. Not the climate, not the land, not the food. It’s about the people.”

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