Para M. Jones is a Stark County girl through and through. She was born here, attended college at the University of Mount Union and has spent most of her career living and working in a place she’s proud to call home.
Jones, the president of Stark State University, worked in corporate communications and marketing—at Roadway Express and Goodyear Aerospace—before finding her passion in education.
In 1987, Jones was a new mom to twin boys and looking for a job with less travel. At the suggestion of a friend, Jones applied for (and got) a position as the director of marketing at Stark State.
“That was the beginning of my deep belief and passion and experience with community college,” Jones said. “ It was practical, affordable, aligned with business … It was education that made a lot of sense.”
Jones worked her way up to Stark State’s vice president for advancement, planning and college relations. She also taught business classes at Stark State and at Ashland University. She’s also earned a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska and an MBA from Ashland University.
In 2009, she departed Stark State to take a position as president of Spartanburg Community College in South Carolina.
By 2012, she was back home, taking over as president of Stark State.
“I guess they call us boomerangs, though mine was a short stay elsewhere,” she said. “I was delighted to come back.”
The university focuses on affordable, quality education that leads to careers, she said. As president, Jones is responsible “for our students and their successes”—their ability to graduate, go to work for companies in the region and be successful at those jobs. She also heads efforts to coordinate Stark State’s offerings and programs with the business needs of the region. That includes fostering partnerships, such as Stark State’s relationship with the Northeast Ohio Medical University, which give students opportunities to further their education or enter the workforce, she said.
Jones stays active outside of work—she’s a member of numerous regional organizations—and loves exploring Stark County. When she has a free weekend, she gathers her girlfriends for walks through their respective neighborhoods. It’s a mobile alternative to brunch and a way for everyone to catch up, she said.
“I think Stark County is beautiful,” she said. “I’ve always said the problem with us in Stark County … is that we tend to understate everything. We don’t recognize how wonderful things are in our own backyard.”
Stark County has a lot to offer—it’s centrally located with many wonderful things to do and places to see, she said.
“I think we take it too much for granted.”
Jones lives in Canton and has been married to her husband, Greg, for 37 years. Her twin sons live in Cincinnati and New York, respectively. And Jones is preparing to embark on a new adventure this year: grandma to twin girls.
“It’s a new dimension in life,” she said.
We have so many good ones in Canton, we really do. What I love is that people love to eat in Canton and Stark County. We pride ourselves on our restaurants. But my overall favorite place is Bender’s. For so many reasons. The food is extraordinary but also the environment, the atmosphere. It’s old Canton. I walk in there, and I really savor the environment of old Canton.
Favorite Local event:
The Pro-Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival, of course. How could you not love that? Having grown up here, my mother was probably the biggest Stark County, Canton, fan in the world … I feel that was kind of ingrained in me. And my mother never missed a Hall of Fame parade. Never. It’s a big deal for us.
Favorite Lunch spot:
Often my favorite lunch spot is to have people on our campus, in our boardroom, and have our AVI Foodsystems cater a lunch to share our college with guests. If we got out … Here in the college area, everything from Samantha’s to Papa Bears. Papa Bears is one of our favorite places to go because the food is so good, and we love Italian. And Papa Gyros because I’m Greek, and you can’t beat Mediterranean food.
Spot to exercise:
Jackson Y, Jackson Parks and any park in Stark County. Any time I can take my shoes and walk, I’m happy. I feel that’s the best way to see our community.
Most memorable spot:
My most memorable spot when I think of all of Canton is the Carnegie Library downtown. I’m going back there for a fundraiser in a couple weeks, and I’m really excited by it. As a child, going in there was a magic place for me. There are beautiful places all around, but from the time I was a child until this day, I look and think what a beautiful place it is.
Favorite Volunteer opportunity:
I’m very involved in activities I think are aligned with our college mission … I’m obviously involved in the (Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce) and Stark Development Board, but also the Stark Education Partnership. Every opportunity where I can connect education and business and education opportunities for all of our students is really important to me.