Glass Breakers 2017: Kay Bea Jones
The professor of architecture at the Knowlton School continually dedicates her time and research to improving the communities around her. From addressing the needs of specific neighborhoods to addressing the needs of women on campus, Jones is a committed, inspirational Glass Breaker.
Since 2015, The Ohio State University has celebrated Women’s History Month with its Glass Breaker awards, highlighting and championing women faculty and staff members who not only shine in their own careers, but also have dedicated themselves to shaping an encouraging, empowering workplace culture for other Ohio State women.
Kay Bea Jones is a professor of architecture in the Knowlton School who dedicates her research and time to improving the community around her, whether that is addressing the needs of a Columbus neighborhood, or the needs of women on campus. A student of urban agriculture and the impacts of change in the American food system on urban revitalization, Jones was one of the authors of a HUD Community Challenge Grant working to create the Weinland Park Food District. As well, she helped grow the Women’s Grassroots Network in the 1990s and transition it into The Women’s Place, an organization devoted to expanding opportunities for women at Ohio State.
You’ve been actively participating in the Weinland Food District project from the beginning. Can you describe your current professional involvement?
“As a designer, I want to see it be beautiful. I want to see it contribute to the quality of everyday life for the neighborhood, not only for jobs and access to food, but providing something that’s really a beautiful place to go, a green space in an area that doesn’t have enough green, a place where people want to meet for festivals, for community gatherings, to enjoy the life of the community, and, you know, what better way to do that than food? So I’m really optimistic, but these projects take a long, long time. So issues of physical design, beautiful community design, long-term urban design and social justice bring me to dedicating my professional research efforts into this particular project.”
You’ve also been intimately involved with the Women’s Grassroots Network of the 1990s and its successor, The Women’s Place. Describe their role in the university community.
“We all were collectively disappointed at that time there were no women serving on the university's Board of Trustees, and the then university President Gordon Gee, a man you may have heard of, did not have any women in his cabinet. So, when we saw we had to have a voice about that and speak up and bring it to their attention, we knew we wouldn’t get very far as a group of ten, so letters were drafted that ended up with over 1,200 signatures of women on campus, women and men on campus, who said we need to rethink this, and they did. In a very short turn, women began to take on those positions of leadership. And of course, that’s the real key; we need to have women here; we need to have women speak up; and we need to have women take leadership. (The Women’s Place) was able to initiate programs like the President and Provost’s Leadership Institute, to continually train the pool of women staff and faculty that would grow into these positions so you’d constantly have a pipeline. It lets them raise their concerns and address their own career development and do so collectively with others, so it’s basically women advocating for women.”
As an architect, you are in a traditionally male-dominated field. What tips do you have for women who are embarking on such a field?
“Finding a mentor can be a critical step for a young woman because you have a lot of questions. I think knowing yourself — lifelong task for all of us, right? But a young woman who says, ‘first I have to know who I am and then I will figure out how the field will feed me,’ will work well within it. And that means finding your communities, and so, identifying who others are who think like you, men and women in the field, but especially that they think like you, that you share their interests. You have to make commitments; you have to make sacrifices. But I think the good news for talented women committed to making a difference in the physical environment is if you stay with it over the long haul, you ultimately get more control over your schedule, more opportunity to shape the job opportunity for you. You know, education is a great field, because you do have a bit more control over your time and you are able to bring your values to the activities you participate in, teaching, research, and so on.”
What advice do you have for women trying to reach leadership roles?
“Any struggle that you’re facing, you’re not alone. If you can find other people that have wisdom from having had an experience that is challenging and not welcoming, and you’re not being heard, and so on, you might get some good ideas about strategies. The hardest thing, I think for women who find themselves in a nontraditional field and surrounded by people that aren’t like them is just that; how can I be creative? How can I be open if I’m struggling to find a place for myself here?”