May 29, 2019
School of Sustainability PhD student Leah Jones decided to run for 2019-2020 president of GPSA, Graduate and Professional Student Association at Arizona State University, because she wanted to make sure that all students’ voices would be heard and that minority students’ challenges would be addressed.
She won. Jones is now the first black president of GPSA, an accomplishment she called “bittersweet.”
“It’s encouraging to hold that title and to know that it is helping to increase the number of minority students in leadership positions, however at the same time I wish it hadn't taken nearly 15 years for a black president to be elected,” Jones said.
Jones, who was involved with GPSA for two years before being elected its president, said she observed that certain students’ voices were not always heard: “Some students of color said they didn't feel heard by the administration, women expressed a desire for greater resources to address the challenges they face as aspiring academics, and international students voiced challenges in finding internships that would support their visas."
Jones said she has a strong passion for graduate student concerns, and hopes to “advocate for increased support for students of color, hold the administration accountable to the efforts that are already in progress, work to increase the job and internship opportunities for international students, and make sure that all graduate student voices are heard.”
In addition to her positions in GPSA, Jones has held many leadership roles at ASU: graduate representative in the School of Sustainability, member of the committee that helped create the Sustainability Undergraduate Research Experience program, mentor for students in the Internship for Science-Practice Integration program in the Decision Center for a Desert City, and representative on the University Board for International Student Affairs.
Jones said these roles have allowed her to advocate for international students and improve the programming for their spring orientation, facilitate community building through planning monthly social events, and help execute professional development events. “Additionally, I have helped plan several of the ASU heritage month celebrations and been an informal sounding board for minority students,” she explained.
Jones is expecting to graduate in spring 2021. Before enrolling in the Doctor of Philosophy in Sustainability at ASU, she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in environmental science from the University of Virginia, a few hour’s drive from where she grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. Through her time as an undergraduate student, and subsequent experience working in Spain for a year at a small nonprofit organization that focuses on personal and professional development of college students and recent graduates, Jones said she “developed a love for the academic environment and a passion for sustainability, which led me to pursue my graduate degree here at ASU.”
Jones’s research is generally focused on water governance and sustainability. Specifically, she is examining the interactions between food, energy and water resources (also called the food-energy-water nexus) to understand how the management and governance organizations of those resources can collaborate to reduce unintended consequences. Jones plans to further study these governance interactions and collaborations in Cape Town, South Africa in the context of the 2018 water crisis in the city.
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