Kevin Jones ’14, MBA ’18, a designer, marketing entrepreneur, and former NFL football player, was the commencement speaker for the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at the 2022 ceremonies on May 14.

Jones donned academic regalia for the event, held in Lane Stadium. It was a different look from the Hokie football uniform he wore close to two decades ago. Partway through his undergraduate studies, where he earned a degree in industrial design, Jones, a running back, made a successful transition to a seven-year career in the NFL.

How did he do it? In his commencement address, Jones described his youthful ambition to become a top-five sprinter in the country. His advice: “Dream big, then reverse engineer from that goal.” Jones and his father had an unconventional approach to his training. They made a “clapper” of two-by-fours connected with a door hinge that mimicked the sound of a starter gun. Then, pushing the boundaries of good sense, they attached a bungee cord and Jones to the back of the family car, adjusting the speed to make him run faster. 

Were they out of their minds? “Yes,” Jones said. And he encouraged the graduates to be out of their minds, too. Extreme thinking delivers extraordinary results.

Kevin Jones in commencement regalia standing at podium giving commencement address.
Kevin Jones speaks at the commencement ceremonies for the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. Photo by Luke Hayes for Virginia Tech.

His success was more than dreaming. It included sacrifice, too. Becoming a designer was Jones’s first goal, but the path to that goal was football. More than a game, it was a “way out of poverty and violence” and it provided a path toward a world-class education. Football, both at Virginia Tech and in the NFL, was the training ground for the designer he was to become.

Returning to Virginia Tech after seven years in the NFL, Jones pursued a degree in the industrial design program in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. This new degree direction meant that he needed to start over because his earlier studies had been in property management. “Can you imagine being 29 years old, married, with kids, and sitting in a studio for hours every week?” he asked. Pursuing his dream to become a designer required a rigor and sacrifice that was similar to his football training.

Jones was also the lead designer of “Gokies,” a keychain in the shape of a turkey track, designed to be shaken during “the key play,” a tradition that happens on third downs during Virginia Tech football games. The success of Gokies was the impetus for the launch of Joba Studio, a multidisciplinary design firm that is located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.

Jones describes himself as “the designer athlete” and acknowledges that training in both disciplines helps him solve complex design problems. His projects are as varied as designing children’s spoons, to developing designs for Virginia Tech athletics venues, including English Field At Atlantic Union Bank Park and the Merryman Athletic Facility.

Building on relationships fostered during an undergraduate internship in Switzerland, Jones collaborated with Swiss brand USM Modular Furniture at International Art Basel + Design events in 2020 and 2021 in Miami. The 2021 collaboration showcases the work of designers in the HUE+MAN Design Competition. The competition fosters diversity in the global design industry by supporting emerging designers of color with funding and mentorships. The work was recognized with Best in Show, Gold, and Mosaic awards at the 2022 American Advertising Awards (Western Virginia).

Split image with the left side showing many open cubes stacked from floor to ceiling with items on display and the right side showing a close up of one of the cube formations.
The USM Modular Furniture and Joba Studio HUE+MAN installation in New York. Photo courtesy of Joba Studio.

Jones describes himself as a creative soul and has claimed his roles both as an athlete and as a designer. Always striving for excellence, Jones is now pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental design and planning. The program is part of Virginia Tech’s multidisciplinary, practice-based Ph.D. program whose candidates create projects that align with the contributions they want to make in their field of expertise.

In his final remarks, Jones celebrated his unconventional path and encouraged graduates to “embrace the uncomfortable opportunities” on their life journeys. These areas of discomfort are fertile ground to develop relationships and character, which are the keys to future success, he said.

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