When Roman Jones first started at Rocky Mountain College, he didn’t have much confidence in himself. He was good at classwork, but didn’t feel assured in his abilities outside the classroom.
The Californian chose Rocky, and started attending in 2015, because he liked the intimate campus, small classes and the opportunities to make real connections with his professors. Jones felt like he needed a support system.
As a child Jones and his family moved around a lot. His mother was in the military, keeping Jones from developing a home base and support system aside from his closest family members. That was something he didn’t realize he was lacking until he came to Rocky.
“I never really felt like I had a large network of people that can say, ‘you can do this,’” he said.
That encouragement was what he needed to open up. His new-found support system motivated him to try new things and challenge himself, he said.
One of those challenges was exploring writing. He hadn't done much of it, but a professor encouraged him to try it his freshman year, he said.
On the advice of a friend, Jones began to write for the student newspaper, The Summit. This year, he was editor-in-chief for the paper, and he published original poetry in the student journal, “The Rocky Mountain Review.”
Precious McKenzie, an English professor and adviser to the student paper, tried to nudge Jones to pursue writing full-time. Instead, Jones opted for a minor in the subject. Jones is determined to use his biology major to become a doctor one day. For now, writing is just a creative outlet, he said.
Through writing Jones began to develop more confidence in himself and his abilities, he said. As more people began to engage with him, he started to respond back.
Since his freshman year he worked at the Billings Studio Theater in the box office. That job allowed him to explore the arts and culture scene in Billings, he said.
His sophomore year he peer-mentored through the Rocky Connections: Peer Mentoring Program. And last year Jones mentored for the Bears and Cubs program though Rocky. The program pairs mentors with at-risk children from Highland Elementary School.
“The more I mentored or did this and that, my confidence started to grow. I was like, ‘hey I’m good at this,’” Jones said.
Helping people just made him want to help more. “It was kind of like dominoes,” he said.
“He genuinely cares about helping other people,” said Nick Plunkey, an English professor and director of the Writing Center.
Since last year Jones has tutored his peers through the Writing Center. Despite his busy schedule, Jones takes the extra steps to help his peers, Plunkey said.
“More than any other tutor he always seeks to help out students, even if he doesn’t have a shift that day,” he said. “It’s especially important late in the year when we need a tutor to cover a shift or take on extra appointment. Roman is frequently the tutor that steps up.”
As editor of The Summit, Jones has gotten to explore leadership. He shrugs off the accolades, saying his support team is responsible for the paper’s successes. His adviser, McKenzie, doesn’t.
“He was a phenomenal student leader,” she said. “He does it with a very calm and thoughtful manner. And everyone respects him because of that.”
Jones credits his friends and family for his successes. He knows he wouldn't have tried to join The Summit without his friends pushing him.
“I just want to emphasize the fact that there are so many people behind me that have supported me, believed in me and pushed me,” he said. “If it weren’t for them I wouldn’t be there now.”
After he graduates Saturday, Jones is taking a weeklong service trip to Antigua, Guatemala, with the GOD’S CHILD Project. Jones and 13 other students will spend the week volunteering in the community and building homes.
After that Jones will return to California to be closer to his family, he said. He’s planning on taking a year or so off before heading to medical school. While the goal is to be a doctor, he aims to earn some money and gain some experience in the medical field first.
Graduation is bittersweet, he said. He’s sad to say goodbye to his support system, but the effect they’ve had on him will last a lifetime.
“By being surrounded by people who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself — that pushed me,” he said. “That pushed me to become better.”
Jones will graduate from Rocky with a bachelor’s in Biology and a minor in English. He's one of 276 students graduating from Rocky this year. The 137th Commencement is Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Fortin Education Center.