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Alesia Jones, MBA, remembers what it felt like to sit in the office of her academic advisor in the middle of her junior year of college. Changing majors this late in the game felt like the best and scariest decision all wrapped in one. Panic bubbled in her chest, but deep down, Jones knew she was strong enough to reach her goals.

She was three years into achieving her degree in finance. Finance certainly met her passion for data and numbers—only something was missing. It took completing her first finance internship for her to recognize the missing component.

"I really love data, but I miss the human connection," she wondered aloud to the advisor. Jones said that, seemingly without much thought, the advisor suggested a path in human resources.

Alesia Jones is a Black woman with a big smile, wearing a navy jacket and hot pink blouse and brooch. Looking back on a 30-plus-year career in human resources, Jones said flippant advice is sometimes exactly what sets you on the right path. Jones recently retired after spending 28 years at UAB, including her final 12 as the institution’s senior HR leader. She helped launch several monumental initiatives at UAB, in addition to creating and helping fundraise for a scholarship for UAB students studying to earn a degree in HR.

Two years after she retired, UAB and the Collat School of Business are honoring Jones and all her hard work by renaming the scholarship to the Alesia M. Jones HR Endowed Scholarship.

Blazer Beginnings

At the advisor's counsel, Jones changed her major to general management with a concentration in personnel management so she could take HR-related courses. During the first semester with her new major, she took a compensation course and felt like she had finally found where she belonged. It was data and numbers, but it was also people-focused and problem-solving. This love for compensation would follow her throughout her career.

"When I got into HR, and realized there was a component of HR that dealt with numbers, data, and people, I thought, "Oh, my God, this is everything,"' Jones said with a laugh—poking fun at her own "nerdier" side.

But Jones had trouble finding a job in human resources after college. Although she had shown a great work ethic in college, most of her internship experience was in finance. Through a connection she made with someone at The University of Alabama, she met Roger McCullough, who was then assistant vice president of HR at UAB. He instantly saw her potential.

"From the very beginning, I could see immediately how smart she was and how articulate she was," McCullough said. "Her demeanor is so great. She didn't seem to get thrown by things."

Jones accepted a recruiter position in UAB's temp service. But her skill in compensation and benefits caught up with her. Two years later, she was promoted to compensation analyst. Being a self-taught programmer, helped her to implement a new compensation system. She credits McCullough—who ran the compensation department at the time—with pushing her to grow in her career.

"He helped me in so many ways," Jones said. "He told me the things I was doing right, encouraged me try new things, and when I failed, he gave me constructive criticism."

Jones continued to work at UAB for 11 years before working at BellSouth and BE&K for five years. She returned to UAB in 2005 as executive director of HR. She served as Interim Chief HR Officer for a year prior to being promoted to chief HR officer in 2009.

"Compensation has been one of the areas of HR that I have touched my entire career," Jones said. "For all but those first two years of my career, I have either been directly responsible for doing compensation work, or the compensation function has reported up through me."

When Jones got her promotion, McCullough said he wasn't surprised at all.

"I told people, "She will go to the top one day," McCullough said. "Almost from day one, I could have told you that's exactly what was going to happen."

Paying it forward through a scholarship

Jones found her career in HR to be more fulfilling than she could have foreseen. While at UAB, she had the idea of creating an endowed scholarship to "pay it forward" for all the mentorship she received during her career.

"I wanted to find a way to give back because of the career and the field that had been so special to me and had created doors I didn't even know were possibilities for me and provided the opportunities to work with all of these amazing leaders at UAB," Jones said.

Jones made the initial gift to create the HR Endowed Scholarship in the Collat School of Business, continues to provide an annual gift, and left a bequest in her will to support the fund. To reach the endowment level, she contacted her peers to ask them to support the scholarship. Many of them helped, and the scholarship was quickly endowed.

McCullough, the first person to see her potential at UAB, was the first person who donated to the scholarship.

"HR was my field, and it was a way for me to give back," McCullough said. "But my contribution was in honor of Alesia, much more so than it was to the field itself—that was secondary—mainly it was in honor of her."

Two years after she retired, UAB is renaming the scholarship in honor of all she did at UAB.

Big initiatives at UAB

And she did a lot. Jones led several crucial initiatives during her time as chief HR officer. Some of her most memorable achievements are those that could not be accomplished in HR alone. One of the most notable programs was paid parental leave. When Jones read the research conducted by the Commission for the Status of Women, she learned no other state employer offered paid parental leave at the time. While a daunting task ahead of her, Jones believed that if UAB initiated this change, others in the state of Alabama would follow.

"I had several people who said, ‘Well, Alesia, it might be easier if we just do maternity leave,’ but we wanted to put together something inclusive," Jones said. "It's important for children to be able to have time with both parents, their fathers as well as their mother, so we knew we had to do more than just maternity leave."

Jones said she remembers the moment she knew all the hard work was worth it. One night at dinner, a lady approached Jones' table and mentioned how thankful she was for UAB's parental leave policy because her daughter wanted to start a family and needed an employer who would support her as a working mother.

Jones also led the initiative for weather groups while at UAB. This program helps inform which departments are released due to inclement weather. Prior to the weather group initiative, communication about changes in operating hours, due to inclement weather, for example, was often unclear.

"Communication can be very confusing for an organization as complex as UAB. The needs of the academic enterprise and those of the clinical enterprises can be different. These groups created a tool to help reduce that confusion, Jones said."

In addition to these programs, Jones helped launch the ONE card—an access card for employees, faculty, staff, and students that allows entry into buildings and can be used for identification, parking and holding meal plans.

"At one point, people had an average of nine cards," Jones said. "The goal was to reduce the number of cards that faculty, staff and students needed. We aimed to get the number to one and called it the ONE card.”

Blazers are better together

But Jones would say she didn't do any of these things alone. She had an amazing team and supportive colleagues. She and her team found motivation for their work knowing the people they supported are changing the world.

"What makes UAB a great place are the people - those who teach students, take care of patients, provide life changing research, and all the other job functions across the UAB enterprise," Jones said. "Our HR team created the right infrastructure for faculty and staff, and all levels, to be the most successful. It was the honor of a lifetime.”


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