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Alum. Profile: Jediah Jones, from Robertson to Capitol Hill

Apr 26, 2017

Posted in: News

By William Lineberry

In celebration of VCU Alumni Month, we here at the Robertson School will be publishing a series of profiles on a select number of our alumni. One profile will be published for each remaining week in April.

The timing could have been better. In fact, it would have been better at any point before the Great Depression. Jediah Jones (M.S. Robertson School, 2011) was preparing to graduate from George Mason University with her bachelor’s degree in 2009 and the U.S. economy was wavering at a historic low.

With the likelihood of landing a job in her field of study diminished by the historic economic slump, Jediah began reconfiguring her post-undergraduate life. And it was this reconfiguration that would land her in the VCU Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture and eventually what would land her a job in state-level politics and, eventually, a job on Capitol Hill.

Jediah knew she wanted to work in politics--more specifically in the planning and communications sector of the political realm--so she developed a strategy to make this a reality. Step one: Apply to graduate school for public relations. Step two: Reach out to local politicians in the Richmond area and start building connections on a local and state level--immediately. Step three: After completing one and two, get a job in politics using her education and experiences from steps one and two. It would be a lot to do, but she knew it was possible and she knew it was where she wanted to be.

Jediah stands with Congressman McEachin as he delivers a speech.
Jediah stands with Congressman McEachin as he delivers a speech.

After graduating from Mason, Jediah left northern Virginia and began putting the new plan into action. She moved to Richmond (her hometown) and began applying to graduate programs. One of those applications was to the Strategic Public Relations Master’s Program in the Robertson School. Everything about the program made sense to Jediah--the emphasis on strategy, the proximity to her home base, the professors, all of it. She was accepted into the program and began classes in July 2010. Step one was complete.

Running parallel to her acceptance into graduate school, Jediah also reached out to her local House of Delegates representative and her district’s state senator to let each of them know that she was around to offer her services as a staff member, or to serve as a volunteer. The idea was to gain an opportunity to work in the state level so she could better familiarize herself with the processes and procedures.

The response was instantaneous. Virginia House of Delegates Representative Betsy Carr (69th District) took Jediah up on her offer. And soon after starting graduate school, she began volunteering on Carr’s team. When Carr was campaigning, Jediah was canvassing neighborhoods. When Carr was in session, Jediah was there to help with the workload.

This was an invaluable time for Jediah and her nascent career in politics. She credits her time in Carr’s office as a formative experience and as an experience that confirmed in her that she wanted to pursue a career in politics. It was also during this time that Jediah and Carr developed a deep professional bond that would have a lasting influence on Jediah long after she left her post in Carr’s office.

“She became a mentor to me and I very much value the insight she provided into the world of politics,” Jones said of Del. Carr. “I became very close with Del. Carr and her staff. I learned a lot from each staffer and will always appreciate the opportunity.”

Step two was complete.   

Jediah was almost through her time in the VCU Robertson School’s Strategic Public Relations program and also nearing the end of her tenure at Carr’s office when the opportunity arose for her to work for state senator Donald McEachin (D.). Jediah jumped at the opportunity to take her first full-time role on a politician’s team.

Step three was falling right into place. The plan had worked flawlessly. The steps had just landed her a job right out of graduating with her master’s degree. The catch was step three wasn’t the last step for Jediah.

Working for McEachin, the campaign and a victory

After graduation, Jediah began working in McEachin’s camp as his legislative and constituent services director.  She did it all over the next five years: scheduling, shepherding constituents through the legislative process, ensuring witnesses were present to testify for each bill, handling casework, representing the Senator at various community events and everything in between.

When McEachin was in session, Jediah was inundated with work, more so than usual. This was the routine for five years, until in 2016 when McEachin decided he would throw his hat in the ring for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for the 4th District of Virginia.

The decision to run for a seat in the U.S. Congress reverberated right to Jediah and presented a new challenge to both her and her colleagues: win a congressional election. Now, immediately following McEachin’s time in the legislative session, Jediah and the rest of his political team would focus on campaigning for the next six months. A congressional campaign and (hopefully) a job on the Hill would end up being the fourth step.

Jediah talks with Congressman McEachin during a press briefing on the Affordable Care Act.
Jediah talks with Congressman McEachin during a press briefing on the Affordable Care Act.

Working on the Hill had long been on Jediah’s mind. Before coming to VCU, she had worked there during her time at George Mason as a press intern for the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. The ultimate goal was to get back to the Hill as an official staffer. And with McEachin’s decision to run for a seat in the House, it looked like the possibility of her return to the Hill return was becoming a reality.

“It was an exciting time, but it was also a very stressful time,” Jediah recalled. “Right after session, we went into campaign mode. We got through the primaries in June and then after that, the campaign continued to go on pretty strong up until November."

On Election Day, McEachin won his election, defeating Republican nominee for the 4th District. Mike Wade. He would now serve his constituents in the United States House of Representatives. The team was ecstatic.

“It was a very close-up and personal experience for me being that I had worked with Senator McEachin five years prior to this victory,” Jediah said. “This was his dream career. Our team did everything we could to make sure he succeeded in the race.”

With the victory now behind them, Jediah and the rest of McEachin’s team would now follow him to D.C. and assimilate into the national congressional scene. Jediah would also earn a new title during this transition: Director of Operations.

But with her new title for Congressman McEachin, came a litany of new responsibilities. Aside from her original responsibilities, Jediah would now be responsible for ensuring that policies and other procedures are followed in the D.C. office, coordinating personal correspondence between McEachin and his constituents, serving as the internship coordinator, overseeing Service Academy nominations and the Congressional Art Competition among other duties.

However, even with all the new work, Jediah found relief and comfort in her team and in Congressman McEachin.

“In a lot of ways working at the state level and the national level has been similar, at least as far as McEachin’s office is concerned,”  Jediah said. “Mr. McEachin hasn’t changed at all and our team is still very close-knit. We all help one another out where needed and have a heart for public service.”

It’s a lot work in a fast-moving environment, but Jediah takes it in stride and welcomes all the new challenges and responsibilities.

“I’m excited about the new special projects in my wheelhouse,” Jediah said. “The opportunity allows me to interact and engage with the constituents in our district. It is a great honor to serve the people [of the 4th district] and work on their behalf in Congress.”

The unplanned, but never-the-less exciting and life-altering, step four was now complete.

Reflecting back on her time as a graduate student, Jediah said she feels that both VCU and the Robertson School instilled in her a sense of professional and intellectual confidence to pursue big goals in her career.

“My time at VCU was so valuable,” she said. “I learned so much from the master’s program because I had such excellent professors and guidance. I really feel like I was able to hone in on the skill sets that are taught throughout the program, and I feel like learning those skills are what ultimately gave me the confidence needed to be where I’m at today.”