Profiles / Rising S.T.E.M. Stars

Ralph Jones Jr.

17 Year-Old Engineering Student Entering his Second Year at FAMU

When Ralph Jones Jr. entered Florida A & M University as a freshman last fall, he was sixteen years old. The young engineering student generated quite a bit of press when he turned down the opportunity to attend Harvard University, and 42 other institutions in favor of a historically black school. Tallahassee’s WCTV first aired the story in October 2010 and it quickly went viral. People reached out to Jones via social media to express various opinions about his choice, some even going so far as to contact him by phone to warn him that they thought he’d made the wrong choice. The attention bordered on being overwhelming for the young prodigy, but attention is not something with which he is unfamiliar.

Raised in Atlanta, GA, Ralph Jones Jr. has always demonstrated an exceptional propensity for learning. His mother is a first grade teacher and his father was a college professor for quite some time, so he credits his parents with impressing on him the value of being well-educated. By the age of four, Jones was a first-grader, proficient in arithmetic, reading at a ninth grade level and able to solve basic algebraic equations. He entered high school at the age of 12 and did his first round of SATs at the age of 14 where he scored 1,910 out of 2,400 possible points. Working with SAT math prep teacher and FAMU alumnae, Kemberlee Pugh Bingham, Jones was able to raise his score to 2,120 inside of a year, an accomplishment which got the attention of several institutions including Howard University, Fort Valley State University, Morehouse College, University of Alabama, Stanford University, Pennsylvania State University and Harvard University.

His decision to attend Florida A & M was a well-planned one, fueled by location, community, opportunity, and research on the institution’s engineering program. In a 2010 interview with The Root, Jones explains.

“I think that my motives behind choosing were a little bit different than other people’s [motives]. One, I looked at distance from home. Florida A & M is about 300 miles away from my hometown of Atlanta, so that was something that was really important to me, whereas if I had gone somewhere that was considered an Ivy, that would have been a good 2,000 [miles away].”


He also cited the strength of FAMU’s engineering program and a feeling of awe and sense of family he gets at FAMU that he hasn’t experienced at any other institution.

His decision to attend Florida A & M also coincided with financial reasons. As a recipient of the Life Gets Better Scholarship, the University offered Jones $120,000 in scholarships to cover his entire four years of education, inclusive of a stipend, room and board, tuition and fees, books, a laptop and other incentives. Shortly thereafter, Jones learned he was also a National Achievement Scholar.

In his Freshman year, he was extended an invitation to intern with Lockheed Martin, an opportunity he’s sure he wouldn’t have had if he had attended Harvard instead. “Everything that I have worked for has helped me earn my place here,” says Jones. “I am going to earn my right to stay here and when I graduate, I am going to have earned my degree.”


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