Paving Her Own Path
November 14, 2023
By Laura J. Cole ’04 ’08MLS
Tiffany Jones ’16 started at Rollins a few months after giving birth to her daughter, knowing she wanted to change directions but feeling nervous about returning to college. Fast-forward seven years, and she’s now thriving in her dream career at Google.
At 24, Tiffany Jones ’16 was married with a toddler and five years into a career as a surgical technologist that she didn’t love and couldn’t see any options for advancing in. She wanted a change, but the prospect seemed daunting.
“The idea of starting over after having earned a technical degree in my field and having a career was overwhelming,” she says. “I wanted to pursue international business because I thought I could make a difference and still be in a role of helping people, but we had work and bills and our son.”
She decided to try anyway and enrolled at Valencia. Three years later, she had earned an associate degree, but not before giving birth to her second child, a daughter, the same spring she graduated. A few months later, she started a major in international affairs through Rollins’ Professional Advancement program, which she had selected because of its reputation, flexible evening courses, small class sizes, and affordability.
“I grew up thinking Rollins was a pipe dream for me,” says Jones, who is now an export compliance program manager at Google in Atlanta. “But the advertising as an educational option for working adults spoke to me, the international affairs major focused on cultural awareness, which I knew would open more doors than focusing strictly on business, and when I met with an advisor, I was sold.”
Flexible, Personalized Learning
When Jones started at Rollins, she stopped working the first year to focus on her studies and to take care of her daughter who was only a few months old. Her husband worked full-time, meaning she took care of both kids during the day, and he was able to watch them in the evening when she had classes.
“That flexibility to have different shifts, so to speak, definitely helped us manage everything and helped me balance school, the house, the kids, and all the other hats I was wearing,” she says.
But that doesn’t mean balancing everything was easy. Jones admits she struggled with guilt and questioned whether pursuing a degree was worth the time away from her family. That’s where she says Rollins’ small class sizes and personalized attention really benefited her the most. In addition to her husband, Jones’ professors and classmates became her support system.
“I am blessed to have a really supportive husband, who was instrumental in me actually achieving all my goals. If it wasn't for his help, I don’t think I could have done it,” says Jones. “But I also turned to my classmates who were on a similar journey and my professors who knew what I was going through, and they all made me feel like I belonged and that I could finish my degree. We traded tips about raising kids and good day cares and found times to meet up for study groups when it worked for us and our families. They became my extended family and biggest cheerleaders.”
Preparation to Advance
Jones took full advantage of the opportunities available to her at Rollins. She participated in a work-study with the Office of Social Innovation (now known as the Social Impact Hub), where she helped organize the College’s first sustainability fashion show, and she completed internships with the American Lung Association, Clean the World, and Northrop Grumman, an experience that introduced her to a path that would become her career.
“The woman who became my manager at Northrop Grumman said having Rollins on my resume helped separate me from the other candidates and helped me land the internship, which became a permanent position,” says Jones. “She was the one who suggested I consider being a compliance officer, which combines international business—dealing with international regulations—and government defense contracting, something I never even dreamed of doing.”
Jones ended up working at Northrop Grumman for seven years, earning three promotions and advancing to a senior principal international trade compliance analyst before landing her current position at Google. While at Northrop Grumman, she had the opportunity to work with government officials from around the world and directly apply the lessons she learned in her major, which include understanding terrorism, learning about the politics of Eastern Europe, China, and South America, and studying cultural awareness and understanding.
“Working in defense contracting, with the U.S. government and foreign government relations and policies—all of my classes came full circle for me,” she says. “Even today at Google, I work with people in China, Brazil, Europe—all over the world. Understanding cultural empathy is critical, and I see people making mistakes in that realm every day. Because of the education I received, I feel confident in navigating cultural and political sensitivities.”
A Dream Within Reach
Growing up in Central Florida, Jones says she’s always been aware of Rollins’ top-ranked reputation—which includes being named the No. 1 regional university in the South by U.S. News & World Report—but never thought she’d be able to afford a Rollins degree. That all changed when she was researching schools to complete her bachelor’s and came across the College’s Professional Advancement program.
“That’s when I discovered there was a way I could actually pursue a Rollins education,” she says. “Rollins gave me a path to a high-quality degree in Orlando that was comparable to what I would’ve paid to attend other schools in the area but with opportunities I don’t think I’d have gotten anywhere else.”
Jones received some partial scholarships but did have to take out student loans. Nearly a decade later, she sees the cost as an investment in herself—one that she says is paying dividends.
“I looked at the student loans as an investment in myself and my family,” she says. “When you look at where I am now—working for Google—and where I was when I changed careers, it’s life-changing. My salary far exceeds those loans, but also the experiences I had at Rollins and the caliber of education I received that led me here are unmatched—and invaluable. My children got to see their mom fulfill her dreams, and my daughter thinks it’s so cool that I work for Google, even if she doesn’t understand what I do. She’s proud of me, and I know I’ve opened doors for her she might not have otherwise. Those are the benefits and rewards that you can’t even envision when you’re in the thick of it and wondering if it’s all worth it. Trust me, it is.”
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