SE: When Wildcats Return to Manhattan, Opportunities for Development Await

Julian Jones has an open-door policy – one that would probably make whoever invented the concept of an open-door policy just a little bit jealous.

“Even when I’m the phone or something, I try and leave my door open because I don’t want student-athletes to ever think that they can’t come in,” Jones said. “The biggest part of my job is that interaction with those student-athletes and showing them that I’m always available.”

Jones and the Academics & Student-Athlete Services office provide assistance with just about every aspect of the student-athlete experience at K-State. From academic counseling and professional development to mental health resources, there are countless reasons that someone could walk into Jones’ office.

His job is to be prepared with the resources that they’re looking for.

As student-athletes prepare to return to Manhattan for voluntary on-campus activities in the coming weeks, they will find a development program that Jones has continued to revamp since arriving at K-State from Clemson in 2019. 

Some of the principles that guide Jones in his role as Assistant AD for Student-Athlete Development can be found in his five pillars for the program: professional development, leadership development, personal development, diversity & inclusion and community service. 

“Those are some of my own personal values, but that’s also the standard that student-athlete development professionals utilize,” Jones said. “At K-State, it’s about that family attitude.”

Programming begins as soon as student-athletes arrive on campus for their freshman year, when Jones wants to make resources available to student-athletes right off the bat. Jones said he hopes to meet with every freshman one-on-one to get to know them and their career goals. 

During that first year on campus, student-athletes will have access to professional resources from practicing an elevator pitch to dining etiquette and personal finance coaching. 

Through a four-year personal & professional development preparation plan, Jones and his team will cover everything from fashion in the workplace to establishing credit. A partnership with Meritrust Credit Union will give K-State student-athletes access to even more financial resources. 

“They might not even know what they want to do career-wise yet, but I want to get to know them as people and let them know all of the different resources that we can provide,” he said. 

Helping students adjust to Manhattan and campus life has also been a focus for Jones. 

A native of Cincinnati (his official position on the city’s famous Skyline chili: it’s good), Jones came to K-State after almost two years with Clemson. Since arriving in Kansas for the first time, Jones can relate to student-athletes who might not be familiar with the Flint Hills before college.

“We have a lot of student-athletes from Kansas and so Manhattan might be the biggest place they’ve ever been,” Jones said. “And then we have some student-athletes who come from bigger cities and this might feel small. Being able to help them make that transition is huge.”

Jones has also invested much of his time at K-State to developing the athletic department’s Diversity & Inclusion program, which provides student-athletes with guidance opportunities and can direct them to different resources and campus organizations at K-State. 

Perhaps nothing underscores that focus better than the fact that Jones is supposed to be in Rwanda right now, leading a group as part of the Cats Across Continents program at K-State.

Beyond creating an environment that celebrates diversity, Jones said he recognizes the importance of his role as a resource for black student-athletes at K-State. 

“A lot of these black student-athletes are coming into a place that’s predominantly white and they’ve never been in this type of environment before,” he said. “I think that’s where my role is important.”

Organizations such as P.A.L.S (Positioning Athletes for Life-long Success) and the Black Student Union can provide support for student-athletes of color when they arrive at K-State.

Jones said that helping student-athletes take advantage of those resources is an important pillar of the development program. Just a few months ago, Jones took a group of students to the 2020 Black Student-Athlete Summit in Austin, Texas.

“That’s why we have that pillar of diversity and inclusion,” he said. “To help them navigate that environment and find people who are inclusive and can support them.”

Mental health is another important piece of the student-athlete development program. 

Jones said that his partnership with K-State Director of Mental Wellness/Sport Psychology Anne Weese has been an effective way to bring a conversation around mental health to different campus organizations and into his one-on-one meetings with student-athletes.

“I go introduce them to Anne and get her involved in our P.A.L.S. group for black student-athletes,” Jones said. “I’ve tried to showcase that myself by talking about things that I need and if I needed help here’s how I would utilize those resources.”

The final pillar that Jones has looked to emphasize in Manhattan, community service, was evident over the last few weeks as several K-State athletic programs received end-of-season recognition. 

The community service app Helper Helper recognized K-State Soccer as one of the top ten women’s soccer programs in the country for hours of community service performed. 

K-State Tennis received an Honorable Mention from the ITA and Helper Helper ranked K-State among the Top 60 athletic departments in the country for community service throughout 2019-20. 

“We definitely doubled our numbers as far as service,” Jones said. “I was happy for our soccer team and so excited that they got there. “

 The next few weeks will be pivotal for K-State Athletics, as student-athletes return to Manhattan from across the globe for the first time since COVID-19 brought the spring season to a close in March.

No matter what games and practices look like this year, Jones and the Academics & Student-Athlete Services staff are working to make sure some things around Manhattan won’t change. 

“The personal and professional development is what I’m most excited for this year. We had a really good turnout before all of this happened,” Jones said.  “I’m looking forward to doing everything. Hopefully we get to come in and have the whole year to provide these resources.”

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Source: Kansas State Sports