Wilson Jones ('85) might have grown up with North Texas State University in his backyard, but the Denton native says the school opened his eyes to see a world full of opportunity. Now he's helping the next generation of students learn to do the same and leaving a legacy at his alma mater.
Jones says his college experience was challenging. He struggled through school, working two and three jobs at a time to get by.
"I remember working late one night at a tire store and showing up late to my night class, dirty and stinky," Jones says. "I felt terrible walking into that room, so I sat in the back."
When the professor, Chuck Bimmerle, asked Jones to stay after class, he thought it was to be admonished. But the professor knew Jones was working hard outside of the classroom. Bimmerle told Jones he had a seat up front -- and that he was needed there. Even with the encouragement, Jones felt he did not have the energy to study like he needed and considered dropping out. The idea was to build up some money, then return to school and focus on his education instead of his jobs.
The night he planned to tell Bimmerle he was withdrawing, the professor said something that changed the course of Jones' life: He had struggled to get through college, too, and Jones needed to persevere -- he had a bright future ahead.
"At that point, how could I tell him I was quitting? I went home that night, looked in the mirror and said, ‘OK, you can do this. Someone believes in you,'" Jones says. "So, I hung in there and realized if you go that extra mile and put in the effort, even though it's painful at times, it will pay off in the long run."
He found his way, and the recently retired CEO of Oshkosh Corporation and his wife, Jane -- who also worked her way through college -- are helping current UNT students do the same. The couple recently gave the second-largest gift in the history of the G. Brint Ryan College of Business: $5 million to create The Wilson Jones Career Center.
This space in the Business Leadership Building, with construction expected to begin this summer, will provide more adequate and accessible support for career readiness at one of the largest business schools in the nation. Its focus will be on internship opportunities, something Jones was passionate about in his time at Oshkosh, where he made it a point to meet all 300 of his interns each summer.
"Jane and I were both first-generation college students and realize the importance of being prepared to start the career journey," he says. "We're proud to support a robust career center and know it will make a difference for UNT students."
This isn't the Jones' first time giving back to support student success at UNT. They have already created the Wilson and Jane Jones Endowment Scholarship, which is merit-based, and the Wilson and Jane Jones Extra Mile Scholarship, given to students who are working at least part time to support their education expenses.
Through the new career center, Jones hopes to help students find what they're passionate about, have some fun and achieve their goals. He is grateful for the foundation the university built for his life. And he has a message for his fellow UNT alumni.
"Be proud of the school you went to. Look where you are. Look what it's done for you," he says. "It charges me up to say I went to the University of North Texas."