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Work in alumni office gave seniors new perspective on college

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Marquis Jones and Cyntoya Simmons helped build URI’s Alumni of Color Network

KINGSTON, R.I. – May 12, 2011 – There is strength in numbers, which seniors Marquis Jones and Cyntoya Simmons learned during their time at the University of Rhode Island.

Through their internships in the URI’s Alumni Relations Office, Jones and Simmons have helped build the University’s Alumni of Color Network into a campus asset for alumni, students, staff and faculty of color. The network provides professional and personal development, networking, advocacy, and community-building opportunities.

The two worked closely with Michelle Fontes-Barros, assistant director of Alumni Relations to develop what is now a thriving organizational support system.

“When Michelle first brought the idea to me, I was a little hesitant. I wasn’t sure how it would work out,” Jones said. “After a while, it really started to come together. Everything is hard at first, but you can really see how it works and how you can make things better moving forward.”

Founded in 2007, the organization has been steadily building its membership. Several events the group held this year have had strong attendance, including a panel discussion in March that filled the Galanti Lounge of the Robert L. Carothers Library and Learning Commons.

“When the ACN started, the events would have a handful of people here and there, but a lot of the events we’ve had this year have been very successful,” Simmons said. “The support we are getting from current students and alumni keeps getting better.”
The experience has influenced both students. For Jones, who came to URI on a basketball scholarship, getting involved helped him grow away from the court.

“This University has been a real life changer for me,” said Jones, an English major from South Plainfield, N.J. “The personal growth that I’ve experienced through networking with the Alumni of Color Network and getting to know alumni from out of state has been great. It has really opened my mind up to more possibilities, because you never know who is going to be able to help you down the road.”

After graduation, Jones will pursue a professional basketball career, most likely in Europe. He knows, though, that he has a degree to fall back on whenever he returns stateside.

“When I came to the University, I didn’t want to pick a major that was going to be easy so I could just skate by,” Jones said. “I wanted to study something I enjoyed that would also challenge me. I wanted to get my degree in something I enjoyed that would also give me other opportunities. If you can read and write well, you can take that in a lot of different directions.

“Right now, graduation is kind of like a nervous, anxious feeling, because you don’t really want to leave the University, but you know that this is the next step in life. I mean, I have to grow up. Hopefully I’ll be able to play overseas for a little while and get myself financially stable and then come back and get a good job.“

For Simmons, an East Providence native and journalism major, URI has become a home she loves, even if she didn’t want to come here initially.

“At first, I didn’t think URI was the right fit. Being from Rhode Island, I didn’t really want to stay in state,” Simmons said. “Before I came, my plan was to start here and transfer out. When I got here, I found it was the right place for me.”

Besides the ACN, Simmons was also involved with the all-female student group Powerful Independent Notoriously Knowledgeable (P.I.N.K.) Women. She served as the group’s president during the 2009-10 academic year.

“What college has taught me about myself is that writing is just one of the things that I like to do,” Simmons said. “For a career, I would rather go into student affairs, especially after working in the Alumni Center. With the ACN, seeing the faculty and student involvement gave me more insight into the URI campus. P.I.N.K. Women really gave me a perspective on the importance of giving back to the community and being there for others.”

After working for a year following graduation, Simmons plans to attend graduate school for student affairs at either George Washington University or North Carolina State University.

Both intend to stay involved with the ACN after they leave URI, so they can help future students the way their own mentors have helped them.

Pictured above
University of Rhode Island seniors Marquis Jones and Cyntoya Simmons helped develop URI’s Alumni Network of Color. URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.