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By Laurie Davies
Mautra Jones, EdD, enjoys the art of building. Building communities. Building programs. Building people. And as the eleventh president of the 17,000-student Oklahoma City Community College, she now gets to build on its legacy.
At 43, Jones is the first female and first person of color to lead “O Triple-C,” as locals call the fourth-largest higher-education institution in Oklahoma. Jones is also the first African American woman to lead any higher-education institution in the state of Oklahoma that is not an HBCU (historically Black college or university).
Oh, and Jones was also named National Mother of the Year in 2021 by American Mothers. Fittingly, she learned of the honor in between her kids’ soccer games.
Considered one of the youngest thought leaders in Oklahoma, Jones sometimes turns her own thoughts to the journey that, outwardly anyway, seems like a meteoric rise.
For her, the trajectory to leadership feels more like a group project. “People have believed in me, lifted me up and ensured my success,” she says. “I’ve had incredible mentors, bosses, friends and educators. I think about the teachers who saw the potential in me and who cared. The qualities that people put into me — it’s life-altering and will impact generations to come.”
Sure, Jones has always been optimistic and full of life. That, she attributes to her personality. Her template for integrity and perseverance she owes to her grandmother, a native Oklahoman born in 1934. Now 88 years old, her grandmother didn’t have access to the educational and professional advancements Jones has seized. “For her, my success — and the success of my siblings — are some of her dreams realized,” Jones says.
Raised by her grandmother, Jones grew up a student of the strong morals, values and emphasis on community service imparted in her home. These lessons have played out in diverse ways in Jones’ adult life. Jones has served at-risk teens and was appointed by Governors Kevin Stitt and Mary Fallin to provide oversight of the juvenile affairs system for the state of Oklahoma.
She also serves as a board director for a number of organizations, including BancFirst and BancFirst Corporation; South Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce; American Mothers, Inc.; Oklahoma Hall of Fame; StitchCrew; and Oklahoma Philharmonic Society.
While impressive, her speaker bio, leadership achievements and list of community recognitions are perhaps as long as the list of challenges she faced growing up. The difficulties she maneuvered “could have caused me to check a dozen boxes,” Jones says. “If you look at stats from those who grew up in the socioeconomic bracket I grew up in …”
Her sentence trails off for a few seconds while she considers how to finish her thought.
“I want people to understand that no matter what you’ve gone through, it is for a purpose. I didn’t experience the heartache and lack of resources for no reason,” she finishes.
In fact, her difficult childhood forms the backbone of what makes her strong. “I am an overcomer. I am not a victim, I am a victor,” Jones says. “I am grateful for my struggles. Sitting where I sit now, it all makes sense.”
Where she sits now is at the forefront of a community college whose students are much like she was when she set out to get her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism at University of Oklahoma, which she earned in 2002. “A lot of the students we serve at OCCC have obstacles that stand in the way. I know what it’s like to long,” Jones says. Part of what drives her is knowing she can help steward the journeys of students who face the same hurdles she did.
“She is especially concerned with helping students who are first-generation students,” says Robert Ruiz, executive director of external affairs for OCCC. “Understanding the needs of non-traditional students and trying to close achievement gaps — so many things at OCCC line up with her values.”
In fact, OCCC announced the forgiveness of $4 million in student debt through its Fresh Start Initiative in July. “Dr. Jones really hit the ground running as president of OCCC. She has gone nonstop as far as positive impact,” Ruiz says.
Ruiz came onboard as Jones’s second hire when she joined OCCC. “I’ve known Dr. Jones since she was just Mautra in college,” he says, noting that she was driven then just like she is now. “She is a lifelong learner,” he says, adding that her graduate degrees aren’t the only proof of this. “She wants to brush up on her Spanish, so I’ll be helping her with conversational Spanish — just because she wants to better serve our Hispanic students.”
Jones’ own trajectory might also encourage the students she serves. After getting her journalism degree, she went on to earn her MBA from University of Phoenix in 2006. She had just been promoted to a newly created director of marketing position, and she needed business skills — fast. “I was so impressed with University of Phoenix. I literally walked into University of Phoenix, met with a counselor, and got signed up within the same day or two.”
She remembers one instructor was a statistician who worked on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Another worked at MassMutual in finance. “The business savvy and knowledge I gained — I was able to apply things I learned in the classroom immediately in the workplace.”
In 2020, she went on to earn her Doctorate of Education, Leadership and Learning in Organizations from another university.
A woman of strong faith, Jones says it’s through prayers, God’s grace, supporters, educators, family members, mentors and mother figures that she has been able to accomplish anything at all. Her faith especially helps her tune out the noise inherent to being in leadership. “I don’t let negativity pour into my soul or the work I do,” she says.
How does she balance everything?
“Every day is different,” she says, noting that she tag teams with her husband, Judge Bernard Jones. Her husband is a trailblazer in his own right: He was the first African American to become a federal magistrate judge for the state of Oklahoma.
Today, Judge Jones serves on the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma — an appointment that has a touch of destiny. Mautra Jones explains: “Bernard’s great aunt was an educator who sued Oklahoma City Public Schools back in the 1940s for equal pay for teachers of color. One of her attorneys at that time was [late Supreme Court Justice] Thurgood Marshall. She sued in the very courts my husband serves in today.”
Between his schedule and hers, college and community, faith and family, the Joneses divide and conquer and make family life, community commitments and their careers work.
“You don’t become a college president at 43 by happenstance. A lot of work went into getting me here, and I didn’t arrive alone. My husband is walking alongside me, I have support systems and, at OCCC, I have a great team,” Jones says.
Right now, she plans to just keep building.
“It has taken drive, grit, faith and fearlessness,” she says. “Some people say I’ve arrived and it’s all about me. It’s not. I am here to serve.”
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