‘Part of This Together’: Alumna Powers Global Engagement

Ruth V. Jones (BA 1971, Elementary Education), Ruth V. Jones Fund For Global Engagement

See also "The right tool for the job"

“Certain things choose you. The mission of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) fits with what I think is important.”

RUTH V. JONES is an avid supporter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) even though she herself is not an engineer. Jones, a University graduate in elementary education (1971), is passionate about education and about how international experiences shape students. Add to that the good work done by EWB, and, as Jones puts it, “Certain things choose you. The mission of EWB fits with what I think is important.”

The University of Minnesota student group of EWB involves students in engineering projects in developing countries. Students work with mentor engineers and local communities to build projects that improve the quality of life for the local community. EWB-UMN works with each community on a five-year time frame to ensure the projects are environmentally and economically sustainable. Some students are able to travel to the country where the project is located, and many more students participate in the stateside aspects, like design.

When Jones first learned about EWB-UMN (about twelve years ago), she began donating small sums, attending events, and helping students raise funds. She saw how the students’ global engagement on these projects — whether traveling overseas or participating stateside — helped them educationally

“Students learn so much more than engineering skills,” said Jones. “They learn to accept cultural differences and communicate across cultures as they work with on-site residents to implement project plans and make adjustments to fit local situations. They learn about our ‘First World’ material wealth as compared with the material wealth in communities with whom they work. They learn to be less materialistic and more humanistic. They are humanized in ways which may not be as possible — or as fast — without stepping away from our ‘First World’ for a while. This aspect of the student global engagement and educational experience is invaluable.”

This year Jones stepped up her giving, endowing the Ruth V. Jones Fund for Global Engagement. This fund supports University programs such as EWB-UMN that engage students to create a better world through engineering projects that help communities around the world improve access to clean water.

“My decision to contribute to EWB-UMN has been vindicated many times over the years as I’ve witnessed, through regular reports, the success that this group is having both on campus and around the world. It has therefore been both a privilege and a joy to be able to offer annual financial and ‘cheerleading’ support to this fine group.

“Given my experience with EWB-UMN to date, the setting up of an endowment to support their work has been a logical ‘next step’ in my commitment to them.”

Ruth grew up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Following high school graduation, she attended and graduated from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where she had many educational opportunities, including her first international experience: a junior year abroad in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Ruth had many rich experiences during that year that contributed to her global education.

“While exploring London before continuing on to my studies in Aberdeen, I discovered a neighborhood near St. Paul’s Cathedral that — 13 years after the end of World War II — still consisted of blocks and blocks of bombed-out destruction. The impact of WWII hit me in a way that it hadn’t until then. Once in Aberdeen, I met and heard the stories of British and other European students whose childhood sleep had been routinely interrupted with the violence of wartime bombings. I met and got to know students from former British colonies whose university educations were being funded by the British government. Following their graduations, these students would be returning to their newly independent countries to take important leadership positions in their respective governments. My formal studies were constantly supplemented by many eye-opening adventures that broadened my education in immeasurable ways.

“Following Bucknell and a year of graduate study at Penn State, I worked for the Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C., for several years, mostly on stateside administration of foreign aid development projects in Pakistan. I also volunteered, tutoring needy students. I relocated to Minnesota in 1968 to teach, did extra coursework at the University of Minnesota during summers for a few years to get permanent teaching certification, and taught for 30-plus years, enjoying summers with educational coursework and/or travel.

“I’ve done volunteer educational work in Thailand, Turkey, and Costa Rica. I continue to participate actively in our community, often taking leadership roles in organizations in which I believe, such as the University’s Women’s Club, which raises money for scholarships for deserving undergraduate women. As a strong conservationist, I have worked for decades with a number of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Minneapolis Audubon Society, and the Cedar Lake Park Association.

“I continue to be an unapologetic idealist, and my volunteer work continues to be in the area of teaching and learning, often across international lines, an interest that seems to be part of my DNA. I chose teaching as my profession because of my love of and commitment to teaching and learning. I believe that when students make commitments to learn about and help communities in some of the many ‘worlds’ beyond our borders, they provide themselves with opportunities that will launch them for broader leadership in society following their years of formal education.”

“A student does not need to travel overseas to learn humanity, perspective, and compassion. But traveling overseas, students are provided with opportunities to learn some of these things faster and deeper. Groups like EWB-UMN provide students with unique opportunities to experience our interconnectedness. We are all part of this together; we are all interconnected.”

“My decision to contribute to EWB-MN has been vindicated many times over the years as I’ve witnessed, through regular reports, the success that this group is having both on campus and around the world. It has therefore been both a privilege and a joy to be able to offer annual financial and ‘cheerleading’ support to this fine group.”

While all EWB-UMN projects make worthwhile contributions to the communities in which they take place, Jones is most passionate about supporting projects to develop safe, potable water. This passion, too, stems from her own international experiences.

In her many travels, Jones has often seen communities without reliable sources of clean water. One scene she will never forget is of a small ghetto situated along a busy road in Thailand whose only water source was a drainage ditch fed by run-off from the road and also from the service department and parking lot of a car dealership that abutted one side of the community. “I’ll never forget those experiences, seeing how others often live without necessities as basic as potable water. What I saw was so heartbreaking and so unnecessary. We must work to change this.”

Ruth Jones describes herself as a practical idealist. She surrounds herself with like-minded, energetic world-changers. Shortly into a conversation, she will be making connections, thinking of people who should meet and what amazing things might happen if they did. She is an excellent role model and cheerleader for CEGE students and an excellent and very welcome partner for CEGE as we train students to deliver innovative and inspired engineering for the benefit of society.

See also "The right tool for the job"