Derek Jones, CAS/BA ’79, is attuned to sites of impact. With decades of experience on Wall Street in private equity investment, Jones is a respected strategist and leader. His work spearheading diversity initiatives has set a precedent for equity and inclusion at the industry level.
It is this keen eye for measurable change that brought Jones back to American University as an alumnus. As he reconnected with AU, he found a spirit of momentum. Like it was for an 18-year-old Jones, AU continued to be a place of transformative education.
From 2015 to 2022, Jones served on the Advisory Council of the Kogod School of Business. He also started a program to bring Kogod students to Wall Street for industry sessions at his firm GCM Grosvenor.
With his wife Cheryl, he created the Derek and Cheryl Jones Endowed Fellowship Fund and Derek and Cheryl Jones Experiential Fund to give back by helping today’s students move forward.
Currently a member of the Change Can’t Wait Campaign Committee, Jones is a champion of AU. His own AU story—one of passion and purpose—confirms for him that there’s never been a more exciting time to be part of the Eagle community.
A Synthesis of Strengths
Jones describes AU as a rare nexus of academic, geographic, and institutional strengths. Few universities boast a national and global capital as their home. As a result, AU fosters a unique diversity of cultural and civic identities.
“An advantage for an AU student is the location of the school,” says Jones. “[When I attended], you couldn't cross the street without disrupting a protest. And so you had to be politically aware of what was going on.”
Jones applauds the way AU harnesses these dynamics through experiential learning, pointing to two formative instances from his own student days.
One was a study abroad program. His first time in Europe, it left a lasting appreciation for travel.
“I was enrolled in a program that American sponsored that took 25 students to Europe to study the European community. Most of the students spoke two or three languages, they were from different parts of the world.” Jones reflects, “It showed me how travel broadens. And it's definitely a lesson that I keep and a memory that I keep that’s very valuable to me today.”
Another was internships—a definitive component of many Eagles’ journeys. Jones recalls taking full advantage of AU’s student placements and professional networks, doing a different internship each year of his degree. His first position brought him right into the thick of legislative procedures.
“My first internship,” says Jones, “was to evaluate whether Washington, DC should have a lottery system and that led me to meet with commissioners of several states. I did a ton of research. I wrote a paper which was subsequently published by the House of Representatives and referred to and used, with my recommendation, to the system in Washington, DC.”
Jones thinks back on this experience as an interpersonal crash course—made more extraordinary considering he was a first-year student. From conducting interviews to interacting with politicians, the internship imparted skills that have served Jones throughout his career.
“I believe strongly in learning by doing,” Jones asserts. Experiential learning in the form of internships “really gives [students] a keen understanding of what happens day-to-day in particular careers.”
An Audacious Vision for AU
Through his philanthropy and service at AU as part of the Change Can’t Wait campaign, Jones is eager to see today’s students thrive.
Speaking about the Derek and Cheryl Jones Endowed Fellowship Fund and Derek and Cheryl Jones Experiential Fund, Jones expresses his hope of expanding pathways for students of color at Kogod.
“I'm certainly of the view that every little bit helps,” Jones says. “Hopefully, it's extra rewarding that these students of color will find out that the donors are adults of color. It re-emphasizes the importance and power of giving back.”
Jones takes pride in the Campaign Committee’s work to steer Change Can’t Wait toward its ultimate potential. In his words, the committee is dedicated to its role, being “purposeful with the mission in hand” and securing “resources for AU to continue to provide transformative experiences [for students] attending the university.”
The boldness of the campaign’s vision is what makes it so exciting for Jones.
“What inspires me really is almost the audacity of raising half a billion dollars,” says Jones, “to help transform the student experience. It's an incredible goal that will be reached.”
Jones sees in Change Can’t Wait the vibrancy of AU’s current moment. From Dean David Marchick’s visionary goals for Kogod to new endowed faculty chairs, Jones believes the campaign is allowing “AU to be better positioned” as a top university.
Courtney Surls, Vice President of University Advancement, highlights the acumen and pragmatism Jones brings to the Campaign Committee.
“An esteemed investment leader and proud AU alumnus, Derek Jones embodies the Eagle spirit in action,” Surls says. “We so appreciate Derek’s service to the Change Can’t Wait campaign as a committee volunteer. His willingness to step up, thoughtful insights, and emphatic advocacy for student success enrich not only the committee, but the AU community at large.”
For Jones, centering AU’s diverse community is integral to Change Can’t Wait. He points to the investment landscape as reference.
“[At GCM Grosvenor] we fundamentally believe that having a diversity of experiences, opinions, backgrounds, voices leads to a better outcome in business,” says Jones. “I'm proud to say that the practice that I lead in the firm allocating money to women and people of color has produced the highest returns for the firm across strategies.
“It’s just powerful to have diversity in all shapes and forms, and that's how I think about [AU].”
With Change Can’t Wait crossing new milestones, Jones is energized by all that AU has accomplished—both in celebrating its unique institutional character and in charting a sustainable course for future growth. An audacious investment in Eagles then, now, and for years to come.