13:40 PM

From Tragedy to Determination: Dr. Kristen Jones is achieving her Dreams

Kristen Jones '03 with service dog, Stetson, from Service Dogs Inc.Struck by a catastrophic injury at 17, University of St. Thomas-Houston alumna Kristen Jones '03 struggled to overcome a harrowing experience. With daring and determined courage, she graduated from college, aware that a quality life would depend on her continued resilience. 

The accident reshaped her life—transforming Jones into a political advocate, special education professional and public servant, who assists those with disabilities. Armed with her scholarly knowledge and experience traversing the pitfalls, she dedicates her life to paving the way for others who need an advocate.

A Dive into an Unknown Future

In 1997, Kristen Jones entered UST as a freshman with bright hopes for her future. One hot day, she decided to dive into a family backyard swimming pool causing an accident that severed her spinal cord leading to permanent paralysis. Instantly, her life changed.

"Formerly, I was an ambulatory person on my own two feet, and now, a disabled person in a wheelchair," Jones said. "What a shock for a 17-year-old young woman just beginning my freshman year at UST, barely starting out in life."

Picking up the Pieces

For Jones, there were many bumps in the road. Picking up the pieces of her life and moving forward was to say the least, complex. The first challenge was, now what?

"Initially, my vocational rehabilitation counselors and others had a limited opinion for my future prospects. However, that made me even more determined that I still had a future," Jones said. "I knew for me, now as a person with a disability, there was no way to become self-sufficient and achieve my goals than to obtain a college degree. The one thing acquiring a disability gave me was the determination to achieve and do more than was expected of someone in my situation. My disability made me get serious about a path ahead and become more determined than ever to make something of myself." 

As a Catholic, Jones had a deep faith in God. She attended St. Anne's Church in Houston. "Faith was an important part of accepting the situation I was in and praying for a resolution, not just for physical healing," Jones said. "Healing would require a miracle, which was asking more than I could expect. I needed a way to move ahead with my new life as a person with a catastrophic injury and to accept the situation as a given."

 Education is Personal Power

With determination, friends, colleagues, mentors, personal care attendants, and family, Jones graduated with a B.A. in General Studies focusing on political science and special education.

While at UST, Jones found mentors at the School of Education, with the help of then Dean Ruth Strudler and now retired Professor Liz Borreca, who helped give her the confidence she needed. After graduation, she continued to take master-level classes at UST until she transferred to a Master's program at U of H.

Today, Dr. Kristen Jones holds an M.Ed. in Educational Psychology/Special Education (2006) from U of H. While pursuing her Master's degree, she became a certified special education teacher. In 2012, she earned a Ph.D. in Multicultural Special Education with a focus in Vocational Rehabilitation and a minor in Disability Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. 

Jones wrote her doctoral dissertation on Racially/Ethnically Diverse Young Adults with Developmental Disabilities: Lived Experiences of Self-Determination. The focus of this research was to understand the lived experiences of self-determination in individuals who are racially/ethnically diverse with developmental disabilities in their personal/home life and school/work life.

Evolving Career: Being of Service to Others

Jones notes that having advanced degrees has opened doors to opportunities that might not otherwise have been available to her and continues to do so. "For example," she said, "I'm able to teach and utilize my advanced degrees and skillsets to climb the career ladder. As I see it, my advanced degrees allow me to achieve things and be of service to others." 

Jones serves as the Exceptional Care Quality Assurance Analyst for the [Texas] State Office Placement Division of the Department of Family and Protective Services, Child Protective Services in Austin. 

"This is a new leadership position working with the Single Source Continuum Contractors and the CPS State Office to secure placements for children and youth with exceptional needs that cannot be met appropriately through use of a regular rate structure," Jones said. "The exciting part about my job is I still have the opportunity to work with youth with disabilities but with the added challenge of working in foster care. I am in a position where I can shape the system for children and youth, giving me an opportunity to give back to the community." 

"Because of my career path, I am able to achieve financial stability. For example, I purchased a wheelchair-accessible home in Round Rock, Texas, a little over a year ago and was recently elected president of my condominium association.”

Self-Determination a Lifetime Pursuit

Jones stays politically active and also teaches at the university level in addition to her full-time job, which means staying connected to decision makers.

"Now, more than two decades after my disability," Jones said, "I am a person with an advanced degree; a demanding full-time job; personal connections with resources; an outstanding support system; life experiences; and personal awareness. Nevertheless, I continue to face significant challenges and struggles in remaining self-determined."

Jones feels strongly that self-determination is about inclusion in society, enabling all persons to access opportunities to achieve to the highest level of their abilities.