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OCCC’s Dr. Mautra Staley Jones on Educational Leadership, Innovation, and Student Success

Dr. Mautra Staley Jones

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Key Points:

  • Dr. Mautra Staley Jones, appointed as Oklahoma City Community College’s president in March 2022, is the first African American female president of any institution of higher education in Oklahoma that is not an HBCU.
  • Led by her, OCCC prioritizes “Student Success, Community Enrichment,” with 87+ degree and certificate programs for over 18,000 students, emphasizing practical skills and critical thinking.
  • As Oklahoma’s top micro-credential provider, OCCC prepares 13,000+ yearly for leadership, with its online psychology degree ranked top ten nationally by Forbes Advisor.

In Oklahoma’s core, Dr. Mautra Staley Jones, the newly appointed President of Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC), is transforming higher education. Her historic presidency breaks barriers and creates empowering, inclusive paths. Her initiatives shine as innovative beacons, aligning academic programs with practical applications.

Dr. Jones propels OCCC forward with top-tier programs like the Gray Frederickson Digital Cinema Program, a celebrated cybersecurity curriculum, and expanding faculty work in AI, to prepare students for a dynamic global job market.

Guided by her vision, OCCC is a melting pot of diversity, reflecting Oklahoma’s vibrant communities and fulfilling its mission: “Student Success, Community Enrichment.”

In a recent interview with The Education Magazine, Dr. Jones shared her perspective: the strides made to cross the finish line will define your journey. The starting point is a moment; the finish line is where history is made, she said. “How we finish the race is more critical than how the race began. Run steadfastly, extending assistance to as many as possible throughout the journey.”

TEM: Dr. Jones, could you enlighten us on the genesis of Oklahoma City Community College and the breadth of academic offerings available?

Dr. Jones: Since its founding in 1972, OCCC has become essential to the nation’s educational landscape, serving over 18,000 students annually. Our mission, “Student Success, Community Enrichment,” reflects our dedication to fostering individual aspirations and contributing to community prosperity. We offer an extensive selection of more than 87 academic degree and certificate programs, preparing students for further education and immediate career entry.

At OCCC, we’re committed to academic rigor with real-world applications, spanning disciplines such as Arts, English, Humanities, Business, Information Technology, Health Professions, Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Social Sciences. Our focus is on nurturing practical skills and critical thinking to align with the dynamic demands of the job market. We strive for accessibility and affordability, maintaining a high standard of education. We’re here to educate and empower, and we invite your readers to explore OCCC, where their future is our purpose.

TEM: Please share insights into your educational and professional background and what drove you to pursue a career in educational leadership.

Dr. Jones: In March 2022, I had the distinct honor of being appointed as the president of OCCC, marking a historic moment as the first woman and person of color in this role in the college’s history. This also represented a milestone for Oklahoma, as I became the first African American female to serve as president of any institution of higher education in the state that is not a Historically Black College and University (HBCU).

My passion for educational leadership stems from a deep belief in education as a catalyst for personal empowerment, social equity, and economic prosperity. The opportunity to guide an institution that significantly influences countless students’ futures, equipping them with the tools to realize their aspirations, was a compelling draw for me.

As president of Oklahoma’s fourth-largest educational institution, I actively engage with various business, community, and philanthropic organizations. These engagements provide valuable insights and avenues to champion educational policies and initiatives that bolster community growth. Additionally, they enable me to establish partnerships that serve our students and the broader community, further solidifying the college’s integral role in the educational and economic spheres of Oklahoma.

TEM: In an era where educational institutions are numerous and diverse, what unique value does OCCC offer that truly sets it apart from the rest?

Dr. Jones: Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC) stands out not only for its accolades but also for its innovative programs. We’re at the forefront of cybersecurity education, designated as a National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense. OCCC recently hosted the Responsible AI in Higher Education Symposium, in collaboration with POIETO, to provide over 300 higher education professionals with a micro-credential to grow their awareness of how AI can be incorporated into college coursework and student support services to promote our students’ success. 

In today’s digital age, we are giving our students the tools to safeguard information—a skill more valuable than ever. Our nursing program is ranked 6th regionally, reflecting our commitment to rigorous academics and preparing graduates for essential roles, particularly in the post-pandemic era.

Today, we are Oklahoma’s largest provider of micro-credentials, helping over 13,000 individuals last year alone, and we are adding new micro-credentials and forging industry partnerships to ensure our students are ready to lead in their fields. Forbes Advisor has recognized our online associate degree in psychology among the nation’s top ten.

Furthermore, OCCC is an emerging Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), evolving with Oklahoma’s growing Hispanic community and creating a supportive, inclusive environment. We strive to be more than an educational institution; we aim to be a partner in real-world preparedness and a community advocate.

TEM: As the leader of the institution, could you outline your key responsibilities and how they impact the college and its students?

Dr. Jones: At the core of my role is guiding OCCC not just to fulfill but to foresee the educational demands of our varied student population. I hold a firm belief that education is not one-size-fits-all.

OCCC therefore offers programs tailored to meet the unique needs of every student, irrespective of age, background, or academic ambition. In addition, we have established seamless transfer agreements with numerous four-year institutions to ensure our students can continue their educational pursuits smoothly.

Moreover, our faculty and Student Success Advisors are instrumental in offering tailored academic and career guidance. Our dedication is rooted in engaging with students where they are and equipping them for where they want to be.

TEM: As you reflect on the mentors who have illuminated your path, could you discuss their enduring impact on your philosophy and approach to leadership?

Dr. Jones: I grew up and was nurtured in Ardmore’s close-knit community, where my grandmother, the matriarch of our family, raised me. Her wisdom has always guided me. She taught me to dream without limits.

She always said, “Mautra, dream big dreams. Whatever you want in this life, you can have—and do not forget to honor God. You give Him the glory in all that you pursue.”

Alongside her, my husband, The Honorable Bernard M. Jones II, and our three beautiful children have been my rock. They remind me of what truly matters when the noise of life becomes too loud. Their love, support, and encouragement enable me to keep pushing the boundaries and blazing new trails in educational leadership.

TEM: As time progresses, how do the needs of students evolve, and what measures are your institution taking to address these changes?

Dr. Jones: We are committed to empowering and investing in our diverse community of students, faculty, and staff with the necessary resources to excel and prosper.

Innovation is key in our approach to education, ensuring we offer programs that cater to a wide range of aspirations, from certification to degree completion and beyond. Our campus is a global village, home to students from over 40 countries, enriching our community with a multitude of perspectives.

Moreover, we strive to meet students at every point of their educational path, offering a variety of classes and transfer options that align with their goals. Our mission is to be more than a college—we are a launchpad for our students’ aspirations, helping them soar to new heights.

TEM: In light of the current educational landscape, what challenges are being addressed by OCCC to foster positive change?

Dr. Jones: For many, affordability is a significant barrier to higher education, and OCCC tackles this challenge head-on. As the most cost-effective institution in the state, we have held our tuition and fees steady for the past six years.

Beyond maintaining affordable rates, we’ve also established a comprehensive scholarship program and a robust financial aid system to ease our students’ financial burdens. We have increased our fundraising work to expand support services for our students’ needs in mental health, food insecurity, and access to technology and educational resources that allow them to succeed. 

Our course scheduling is flexible, encompassing both online and on-campus options, and our partnerships with local entities are strong—both steps towards an education that’s relevant now and adaptable for the future. At OCCC, we’re actively crafting solutions for the educational challenges of today and tomorrow.

TEM: Balancing professional and personal life can be challenging. How do you manage this, and what do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Dr. Jones: Balancing my role as president of OCCC with my personal life is a delicate dance. It’s an honor to lead the college, but I’m also a wife, mother, friend, mentor, and community servant to those I am appointed to by God.

I know that I am not alone in shouldering such responsibilities. Many inspiring women dance this delicate dance. For me, prayer and self-care during downtime is key. Of course, jazz music and praise and worship are personal indulgences.

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How we finish the race is more critical than how the race began. Run steadfastly, extending assistance to as many as possible throughout the journey

ALSO READ: The 10 Inspiring Education Leaders, 2024

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The Educational landscape is changing dynamically. The new generation of students thus faces the daunting task to choose an institution that would guide them towards a lucrative career.

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