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Young ODU Engineering Graduate Pays it Back by Establishing Scholarship at her Alma Mater

When she grew up in Norfolk, Toykea Jones' parents told her she could be anything she wanted to be. It was all a matter of effort.

Though divorced, Alisa and Darryl Young worked extra hours so Toykea wouldn't have to take a part-time job, and could concentrate on her studies.

"Their goal was to make sure that I had a better life than them. Even though we didn't have a lot of money, because my mother was here and my father was in Pennsylvania, both of them still pushed me to go to college," Jones said.

A graduate of Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, Jones earned scholarships to pay for her undergraduate chemistry degree at Old Dominion University. She paid for her master's degree in environmental engineering with a combination of the 2004-05 Hampton Roads Sanitation District Scholarship and student loans.

"Even when I attended ODU, my parents made a way so that I could focus on my schoolwork, and didn't have to work," said Jones, who received her degrees from the university in 2003 and 2005.

The "investment" by her parents has paid off. Jones is 11 months into a rewarding job as an operations team leader in the Consumer sector of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in Los Angeles. More importantly for Jones, the life lessons instilled by her parents have prepared her for a lifetime of giving back.

And at 29, she's well under way. She recently created the Toykea S. Jones Endowed Scholarship in Engineering at ODU, which will be awarded annually to a sophomore engineering student with good grades, from one of the area's local public high schools.

"I want to give back to a financially needy student - someone who is where I once was back in 1999, someone who wants to do something with their life, but just needs a bit of help," Jones said.

Jones was hired by Johnson & Johnson right out of college, after making contact with the company at a National Society of Black Engineers job fair in Boston. She was hired into the Engineering Leadership Development Program, which recruits and trains the next generation of technical leaders for the company.

It's a two-year program with three, eight-month rotations. From ODU, Jones moved to Fairfield, California, to North Brunswick, New Jersey, to Hayward, California, finally settling in Sacramento, California at the end of her program for a year and a half.

Jones said her ODU degrees have served her well so far at J&J. "My experience, concentrated in the Pharmaceutical and Consumer sectors, has given me strong project management, regulatory compliance, technical and leadership skills," she said.

A year and a half after completion of the leadership program, Jones was promoted to an operations team leader within the consumer sector in 2009, with more than 30 employees reporting directly to her, plus an even larger number of temporary workers.

Jones hopes that her career at J&J is merely a starting point to an exciting work life, and a lifetime of making a difference. She currently mentors young students, and hopes one day to create a nonprofit organization that supports underprivileged youth going to college.

As the first person in her family to receive a college degree, Jones has proven inspiring to her own family as well. Since she graduated from ODU, her father and two cousins have returned to college.

"Each of them later told me I played a significant role in motivating them, and I couldn't be more proud," Jones said.

She's grateful for the support and positive influences she has received from her family.

"Since before I graduated, I've always been doing things to try and give back, because so many people have been in my corner, rooting me on, trying to stay supportive. And my parents have always told me you have to give back," Jones said. "My community involvement is a part of me, it's who I am."

Jones said ODU was the perfect place for her to go to school. She could stay close to home (she's very close to her younger brother), but still have a degree of independence. "I actually stayed on campus, but could drive home to see my mom and brother any time I wanted," Jones said.

More importantly, she said, "My perception was that ODU cares about their students, and they're going to be in your corner, and want you to graduate.

"All of my friends who came to ODU, we all graduated. Every single one of us. I got accepted to other schools, but chose ODU. And am I ever glad I did."

This article was posted on: April 22, 2010

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