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With the Support of His “Village,” fall 2020 graduate Dr. Ray Jones Achieves Goal, is Ready to Help Others

Fri, 12/11/2020 - 10:14am | By: David Tisdale

Dr. Ray JonesEven if he helps just one person in his career - through either his teaching or research - Dr. Ray Jones says all of his hard work in pursuit of his doctorate at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) will have been worth it.

A newly minted Ph.D. in kinesiology from The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) School of Kinesiology and Nutrition, Dr. Jones is one of more than 1,000 USM students who earned degrees from the University this fall.

“My time here at USM has molded me into an academician and researcher,” said the Patterson, La. native. “I was provided so many opportunities to grow as an independent thinker, researcher, and a person.”

Under normal circumstances, a doctoral program is challenging. But as the COVID-19 pandemic continued throughout 2020, Dr. Jones had to adapt to new ways of living, working, and studying, along with fellow students.

“Any Ph.D. program is going to be difficult, and this one was no different - juggling everything, including classes, research, teaching, and other activities. More recently, the most difficult thing I had to do was work on my dissertation - writing, data collection, defending - during the pandemic. That was hard.

“What helped me overcome it all was a solid support system I call my ‘village.’ This group of people – faculty, staff, fellow students, family and friends - were there to keep pushing me and motivating me to be the best version of myself, to keep me moving forward on this journey, and for that I am so thankful.”

Among those members of his ‘village’ was his academic adviser, USM Assistant Professor Dr. Stephanie McCoy, who said Dr. Jones met and exceeded expectations as a student.

“In his three years here, Ray showed a pointed interested in being more involved in scholarship and service to his field through publications, presentations, and involvement in our exercise physiology governing body, The American College of Sports Medicine, as well as the Southern Miss community,” Dr. McCoy said.

“Other than his many accomplishments as a student, Ray is also a joy to be around. He has an infectious laugh that brings a smile to everyone’s face. He will be truly missed by all of us, especially me.”

Dr. Jones says he was drawn to kinesiology because the name “looked cool and ‘science-y’.” “I went into my undergrad program knowing I wanted to go to physical therapy school, and kinesiology seemed like the most logical way to get there by combining my love for anatomy/physiology and exercise,” Jones said. “So I decided to stay in kinesiology, and it has been the most amazing experience.

“However, I never thought I would be in research. I didn’t get a taste of it until the end of my master’s program. It was great because I learned new skills, but it was also extremely challenging, which I believe is what attracted me to it. Afterwards, I applied for jobs and Ph.D. programs, and the rest is history.”

Dr. Jones’s research focuses on sedentary behavior and the cardiovascular contribution to brain health. Using noninvasive techniques such as Doppler ultrasound, he examines blood flow response during prolonged, uninterrupted sitting in minority populations, particularly African-Americans.

His work, recognized at the university, regional and national levels, includes accolades from the USM Susan A. Siltanen Graduate Research Symposium, the Southeast Region American College of Sports Medicine, and the American College of Sports Medicine. He is a recipient of the Robert Smith, MD Graduate Scholar designation through the Jackson Heart Study Graduate Training and Education Center at the University of Mississippi Medical Center [UMMC-GTEC] (2019-present), a highly competitive program enhancing the research skills in cardiovascular health epidemiology and health disparities of doctoral and health professions students. A 2020 inductee into the USM Graduate School Hall of Fame, he was a category winner and overall runner-up in the school’s Three-Minute Thesis competition.

USM Graduate School Dean Dr. Karen Coats said she first became acquainted with Dr. Jones when he participated in the school’s professional development program “Professionals in Preparation” during the 2018-19 academic year.

“Ray was a leader in that group because he was so engaged and interactive, and contributed so much to all our discussions and activities,” Dr. Coats said. “He recognized the value in taking advantage of opportunities beyond the basic requirements for his degree program, and he excelled in all.

“He is just a delightful, talented, and eager young scientist, and I’m so glad I was able to interact with him during his studies at Southern Miss. He represents the best of USM, and I know he has a bright future ahead of him.”

Dr. Jones now moves on to the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine’s Center for Exercise Medicine, where he has accepted an NIH-T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship.

“I thoroughly enjoy the scientific process, and am motivated by the fact that there are so many questions in the field that are unanswered,” he said. “If I can just answer one question, that’ll be one more thing that could, potentially, help someone else. On the other side of academia – teaching - I’m able to share my passions in exercise physiology and research with students, with the hope of shining some light on their own passion, and helping them achieve their goals.”

That helping spirit was instilled in him early on, Dr. Jones said, because of “the generosity that has been shown to me throughout my life.”

“The one thing that inspires me to continue is the prospect of helping others - even if it’s just one person.”

The USM School of Kinesiology and Nutrition is housed in the University’s College of Education and Human Sciences. Learn more about the School at