How TJ Jones went from Naval Cook to Future Turfgrass Manager


At NC State, you’ll learn things you never thought possible. Being here provides a great opportunity to expand your knowledge.

An avid outdoorsman and former Navy cook, TJ Jones realizes his ambition to become a turf management professional.

During Celebrate Diversity Month, we honor this impressive student who began his academic career at the Agricultural Institute (AGI) at age 24.

AGI attracts students from various parts of the state and provides hands-on education and skills training in the agriculture industry through its two-year degree programs. The institute’s six academic programs provide students with the practical knowledge and experience needed to succeed in agriculture and related industries.

Scheduled to graduate in December 2022, Jones’ journey reveals a message of hope that following your inner compass can lead to a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment.

The call to serve

Hailing from Grays Creek Township south of Fayetteville, North Carolina, Jones has always loved the outdoors. His participation in FFA in high school sowed the seeds for his future career aspirations.

After high school, Jones joined the United States Navy.

Military service offered Jones the chance to go beyond the confines of his hometown. During the five years Jones served, he attained the rank of NCO 3rd Class E-4 and served as a marine cook. As a kitchen shift captain, he oversaw operations and helped provide meals for more than 4,000 sailors on USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and USS Ronald R. Reagan.

Throughout Jones’ military service, he completed a total of three deployments. In addition to serving as barracks superintendent at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Jones has traveled to France, Italy, Bahrain, Dubai, Australia, Singapore and the Philippines.

From sea to land

But staying in the Navy was not Jones’ ultimate destination. “In Fayetteville, you go out. If you stay, there isn’t much. I wanted to become something more.

His close-knit family motivated Jones to find his purpose closer to home. “I wanted to stay in the navy, but I’m a family man,” he says. “Having this support system finally convinced me to leave the Navy.” Jones relied on that family support to guide him forward, despite his uncertainty.

Ready to pursue a new path, Jones conducted informative interviews with agricultural professionals. Several people he interviewed had ties to NC State. The university’s globally recognized reputation for excellence in faculty and research caught Jones’ attention as he considered future possibilities.

Ultimately, AGI’s turf management degree program impressed him as his first professional choice.

On leave from the Navy, Jones began his first semester.

“I’m glad I joined the army and so came to NC State. If I had entered straight after high school, I don’t think I’d be this mature,” Jones recalled. “I think being older gave me an advantage. I have a goal. It’s all about state of mind. »

Get into the weeds

AGI prepares students for careers by offering top-notch, industry-specific programs. Yet courses are not the only ingredient of a successful academic program. An accessible and engaged faculty can improve the student experience and significantly increase their level of success.

Not only are AGI courses connected to Jones’ daily life, but the real-world impact of faculty research made a strong impression.

Jones took Plant Identification, taught by associate professor of horticultural science Brian Jackson. The course examines the identification, adaptation, cultivation and use of ornamental trees, shrubs, vines, ground covers and herbaceous plants. “Taking this course and being in the elements to study these unusual plants was intriguing,” Jones recalls. “This course kept me on my toes!”

Jones also participated in an integrated pest management plan as part of the Advanced Turf Management course led by Grady Miller, professor of turf management and extension specialist. Professor Miller has carried out consultancy work at an Italian football stadium and has also traveled to Beijing to help prepare sports grounds for the 2008 Olympics.

The Advanced Turf Management class selected a problematic weed from a specific type of grass and learned how to control it, mechanically or culturally. The method blocks off an area of ​​grass and keeps it dry to prevent compaction and allow growth. As a result, the grass competes with weed roots and drowns out the pest.

“It’s exciting because that’s what I’m going to do professionally,” says Jones. “If I become superintendent of a golf course, I will have to develop these IPM plans for weeds, insects or diseases. It is very applicable. I don’t feel like I’m doing something I’ll never use.

A hole in one

To complement his classroom training and professional preparation, Jones knew he needed more industry-specific training. With the help of AGI’s assistant manager, Alyssa Degreenia, Jones landed her first summer internship at Gates Four Golf and Country Club.

Degreenia was instrumental in helping him create a resume and cover letter that positioned him for a job in turf management. “I come from the Navy and I’m going to a completely different field, but I learned a lot at Gates Four Golf and Country Club, and I’m grateful.”

Jones plans to intern at Gates Four again in the summer of 2022.

Do it!

Jones won’t graduate until December 2022, but his time as an AGI student has served him better than he imagined.

He credits his success at NC State to his relationship with the faculty. “Faculty will provide you with abundant knowledge,” he assures. “The experiences and opportunities you get here are unique. Be all ears and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Get to know your teachers, stick around after class and ask questions.

When asked what advice he would give future students considering the program, Jones says, “Do it! At NC State, you’ll learn things you never thought possible. Being here offers a great opportunity to expand your knowledge.

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