Dylan Jones ’15 has plenty to be proud of about his time at Willamette University. He’s a star athlete, setting school records in football and helping the track and field team win races at conference. Academically, his newfound passion for environmental science led to an internship and research on water quality in local streams, garnering the respect of his professors.
But you might not know these things unless you inquire. Jones is relatively quiet about his accomplishments, describing himself simply as someone who strives to work hard in all that he does.
“There are folks out there who will tell you how smart they are, and then there are those who simply let their work speak for them,” says professor Joe Bowersox, Willamette’s Dempsey Chair for Environmental Policy. “Dylan is clearly the latter — he is a workhorse, not a showhorse. As a student, Dylan is not about flash — I have always appreciated his careful reflection, his inquisitiveness and his integrity.”
Even as Jones learned earlier this football season that he’d crushed the school record for number of yards rushed in one game — he ran 350 yards on 30 carries and scored three touchdowns Oct. 11 versus Whitworth University — the running back didn’t celebrate right away. Despite Jones's performance, Whitworth won 61-45.
“We had just lost the game, so it was like, ‘Yeah, I rushed for 350,’ but you can’t celebrate a personal accomplishment when you just lost,” Jones says. “Football is about the team.”
He credits that team for making his accomplishment possible. “There are great running backs who can do it all themselves, but I’m not one of those guys,” Jones says. “It was one of those games where we had good blocking on the edges, the perimeter especially, so once I got out there, all I had to do was run in a straight line to the end zone.”
Good thing he’s fast — very fast. Jones is a standout on Willamette’s track team as well, serving as a member of the men’s 4 x 100-meter relay team that won the Northwest Conference Track and Field Championship the past two years, and turning in impressive finishes in the 100- and 200-meter races.
And since the Whitworth football game, he has set two other school records: longest run in a game (98 yards in Willamette’s Nov. 1 win against Linfield) and most yards rushed in a season (1,376 so far).
“Dylan will graduate as one of the greatest running backs in school history — a testament to his work ethic and character,” says Dave Rigsby ’00, associate vice president for Advancement and former director of Athletics. “In the midst of a record-breaking season, I am struck by Dylan’s humility about his accomplishments. He is an outstanding teammate who does what it takes to help the Bearcats win.”
From the Field to the Stream
Jones, who is from Santa Maria on the central California coast, ran track and played football in high school and hoped to continue competing in at least one sport in college. He chose Willamette for the opportunity to do both, and for its strong academic programs — although he didn’t know at the time what he might study.
“When I was looking for a major, the courses for environmental science seemed interesting, so I took the intro class,” says Jones, a recipient of the Whipple Family Scholarship. “From there, I quickly realized that was what I wanted to do.”
He wasn’t environmentally conscious before attending Willamette — “I recycled, but that was about it,” he says, with a laugh — but a series of classes and professors introduced him to the complex array of issues that impact both everyday life and the long-term health of the planet.
Last summer, he saw first-hand how matters as diverse as invasive plant species, water quality and economic disparity can all converge in a seemingly simple place: a quiet stream.
He interned on the City of Salem’s stream crew, a group of 10 college students tasked with cleaning about 45 of the 90 miles of streams that flow through the city. He was outside nearly 40 hours a week, doing tough physical labor — hacking back invasive blackberry plants with a machete, removing everything from dead skunks to hypodermic needles from the water, and picking up the remains of homeless people’s camps along the banks.
That’s when he made an unexpected observation. “I got to see how people in different economic areas of the city interact with their streams,” he says. “In nicer, higher-income areas, the streams often flow through backyards, so they’re a lot nicer and well-kept. Then you go into a generally lower-income area, and the creeks are often not as well-cared for — you might find more trash or homeless activity along the sides.”
His work inspired him to develop a senior thesis examining the water quality in high-income versus low-income areas of Salem. “I want to learn what the data actually shows about the quality,” he says. “The city has monitoring stations at the beginning and the end of the streams, but I want to see if there’s a more immediate effect in particular areas.”
Bowersox points toward Jones’s research project as an example of the student’s thoughtful and inquisitive nature. “Given what climate change has in store for natural resources in the American West, I am confident that Dylan soon will be one of those critical decision-makers and professionals helping our region deal with this emerging crisis,” he says.
Not surprisingly, Jones is more modest in describing his future. He talks about moving to Washington state after graduation to work as a forest firefighter — something that would keep him in the Pacific Northwest outdoors that he has come to love, while providing the team-based environment he craves from sports — before seeking a long-term career, possibly in forestry.
He credits his Willamette experiences — in the classroom and on the track and football field — for giving him the knowledge and confidence to succeed in whatever he pursues.
“I’ve really morphed as a person since high school — I found out a lot about myself by moving away from home, coming to a new state and attending Willamette,” he says. “I’ve gotten an amazing education, and everything I’ve done here has made me self-reflect and grow as a person. That tremendous self-growth has been the most valuable.”