MSU's newest Truman Scholar provides voice for the underdog

After seeing another girl bullied on the playground as a child, Natalie Jones found her life’s calling.

“I remember coming home from school and telling my parents, ‘This is not right.’ Since then, I’ve always been passionate about the underdog,” Jones said. “Growing up as an African-American woman in Mississippi, I’ve seen on a large scale what it means to be marginalized and underrepresented. That’s shaped my passion to fight for others.”

A native of Flowood, Jones enrolled at Mississippi State to pursue a degree that will help her spur change. Now, as the university’s 18th Harry S. Truman Scholar, the senior English and sociology double-major is on her way to a career in public policy advocacy that will not only allow her to say “this is not right” but do something about it.

Established in 1975 as a memorial to the nation’s 33rd president, the Truman Scholarship is considered one of the country’s most prestigious awards for students dedicated to public service. Providing recipients $30,000 to cover graduate-study expenses, it is highly competitive, meaning only those applicants with exemplary public service credentials are selected. Jones is Mississippi's only 2016 Truman Scholar.

“In an academic setting, especially in the honors college, I think it’s important to have an environment that is conducive to growth and challenge,” Jones said. “Working on this diversity initiative has been a gratifying way to reach out and empower students with different perspectives and backgrounds.”

The inaugural recipient of the university’s Dr. Brad Roderick Moore Memorial Presidential Endowed Scholarship, Jones has been busy building a reputation for service since arriving at Mississippi State. She established herself as an influential member of the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College’s Diversity Task Force and says she enjoys lending her perspective and working to ensure voices of students from all walks of life are heard.

"In an academic setting, especially in the honors college, I think it’s important to have an environment that is conducive to growth and challenge,” Jones said. “Working on this diversity initiative has been a gratifying way to reach out and empower students with different perspectives and backgrounds."

Jones expressed particular appreciation for the guidance of honors Dean Chris Snyder and Tommy Anderson, associate professor of English and the honors college’s director for prestigious external scholarships.

“Natalie’s selection as a Truman Scholar is a clear sign that our students are as prepared as any in the nation to have a significant impact in their communities,” Anderson said. “Her intelligence, willingness to challenge discrimination, ability to develop solutions to unfair institutional practices, and ability to find solutions to our state’s most pressing problems make her an agent for change.”

In addition to Shackouls Honors College experiences, Jones has learned the value of self-sacrifice through her work as a New Maroon Camp counselor and member of the Roadrunners student-recruiting group, Dean of Arts and Sciences Student Advisory Council, MSU Student Associations Executive Council and the Society of African American Studies.

Giving of herself, especially in support of a larger cause, is something she finds refreshing and rejuvenating.

“I love being in environments where I can engage with people from completely different backgrounds because it gives me perspective,” she said. “It can be challenging when you are passionate about social issues that evoke strong emotions from those with differing opinions. However, it is empowering to work with people who are equally passionate about different social issues and equally committed to spending their lives making life better for everyone.”

“I’m a pastor’s daughter, and I’ve grown up working in communities,” Jones said. “I’ve always had a servant’s heart. All of my organizations at Mississippi State require a lot of time and commitment. I never mind the sacrifice because I am passionate about working with others to make a difference.”

Jones said being a Truman Scholar helps her view the world in a more well-rounded way and furthers her drive to serve.

“I love being in environments where I can engage with people from completely different backgrounds because it gives me perspective,” she said. “It can be challenging when you are passionate about social issues that evoke strong emotions from those with differing opinions. However, it is empowering to work with people who are equally passionate about different social issues and equally committed to spending their lives making life better for everyone.”

After completing her bachelor’s degrees, Jones will begin working toward a master’s in public policy and later a law degree. She aspires to one day use her knowledge and experience to facilitate educational improvements in her home state.

“Mississippi State has been a great incubator, giving me experience for what I want to do on a broader level,” she said. “It’s important to me to commit the intellectual resources I’ve gained through my experiences to help make Mississippi better.”

By Sasha Steinberg | Photo by Megan Bean