Rocket Sauce

Professor of Psychology Keith Jones

“Curiosity is the rocket sauce you need to do great things.”

– Keith Jones
Professor of Psychology

Title: Mark and Kay DeCook Endowed Chair in Character and Leadership Development and Professor of Psychology

Department: Psychology

Hometown: Lansing, Michigan

Education: B.A., Psychology, University of Northern Iowa; M.A., Ph.D., Developmental Psychology, West Virginia University

Areas of Expertise: Aging and Adult Development; Character Development; Leadership; Performance Psychology; Statistical Analysis; and How People Learn During College

Courses Taught: General Psychology; Psychological Investigations; Experimental Psychology; Fundamentals of Statistics; Advanced Research in Psychology; Adult Development and Aging; Social Cognition; and Intersections

Other Duties: Faculty Planning Committee Secretary; Academic Advisor; Helps with Scholar Days and Other Admission Activities

Recent Publication/Exhibition/Performance/Presentation(s): “Sustainability Knowledge and Attitudes — Assessing Latent Constructs” with Adam Zwickle in the Handbook of Sustainability and Social Science Research

Recent Faculty/Student Research Project(s): Frequently collaborates with Central students presenting posters and papers at conferences. Recent presentations include “Anxiety and Depression: The Mediating Role of Mindfulness” with Kaitlyn Johnson ’15; “Body Objectification, Body Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating” with Michaela Lillie ’19; “Perfectionism, Stress, and Academic Motivation in College Students” with Jessica Makenas ’19; and “Perception of Opioid Addicts via Categorical and Target-based Information” with Holly Vander Pol ’17.

Professor of Psychology Keith Jones’ fascination with older adults makes him a great mentor for young minds. He says, “Students ask me, ‘How do I become the person I want to be when I’m older?’ I say, ‘Start now!’”

Originally from Lansing, Michigan, Jones is a self-proclaimed Midwest guy. “I like the vibe, the pace, the people,” he says. “I have friends who have lived in Santa Barbara, California, and as a joke I tell people who aren’t from Iowa that Pella is the Santa Barbara of Iowa: it’s beautiful, temperate, cosmopolitan — although we don’t have the ocean, I really enjoy being a member of the Pella community.”

Jones’ interest in the sunset years began at the dawn of his life. “As a kid, I remember seeing my grandparents hanging out with friends and enjoying themselves and thought, ‘Fifty-five, 65 — that looks pretty cool,’” he says. “Aging became a curiosity of mine. I didn’t know what I would do with it, but I knew I liked it.”

In college that curiosity became a career. “I realized I could pursue things I’m curious about, like old people and aging, and that’s what I hope students do,” Jones says. “I want people to realize the value of curiosity and that curiosity is sometimes the rocket sauce they need to do great things.”


Jones works to make Central an excellent launchpad for students. “We can be really ambitious in psych here,” he says. “To do that, students have to be curious. We give them a lot of academic freedom to pursue questions and topics they’re interested in.”

Central students are up to the challenge. “I once told my former colleague Edmond Willis, professor emeritus of psychology, that students in advanced research were knocking it out of the park that day,” Jones says. “Ed replied, ‘Yeah, students do amazing things when we empower them and get out of their way.’”

Central professors aren’t the only ones noticing the amazing things their students do. “Associate Professor of Psychology Ashley Scolaro has taken students to conferences outside the Midwest,” Jones says. “People tell her, ‘We didn’t know Central had a grad program,’ and she tells them, ‘We don’t.’ Presenting at these conferences is ambitious, and we go after it. Our commitment to students and curiosity makes it work.”

It doesn’t take a psych degree to recognize Jones’ commitment to his students. “The topic sets the course, but the people set the class,” he says. “People are only going to be my students for 16 weeks, and I’m always interested in who they’ll become by the end of the class. I love talking about my students and their accomplishments in and out of the classroom.”


One such student is Bryan Mejia ’16. “I first met Bryan when he was a prospective student visiting my cognitive psych class,” Jones says. “I invite all prospective students to participate, and Bryan asked a great question, a curiosity question, about lucid dreaming as a way to enhance performance. I said, ‘Come to school here. You’re already doing what you need to be doing. We’ll get you set up to do what you want.’”

Mejia took Jones up on his offer and the pair turned the curiosity question into a research project. “Bryan was great to work with. I remember listening to the football game one Saturday as I set my mailbox post in concrete: It was the point after a touchdown and Bryan ran in and blocked the kick. I was in my front yard cheering wildly! It was probably 20% because it was Central, and 80% because it was Bryan.”


Jones enjoys running into his former students in the real world and finding out how they’re applying his lessons. “Travis DeFrancisco ’16, who was an offensive lineman, is doing great work in Arizona,” Jones says. “He does therapy with people who have not only psychological disorders, but also drug addictions — imagine helping people with both.”

“I once asked Travis, “How do you do that?” He said, ‘You just slow down and think about their well-being, what their day is like and what you can do to help. That’s what we did in psych classes and football at Central.’”

Jones volunteers as an assistant coach for Central softball and loves the link between academics and athletics. “The parallels are enormous,” he says. “In softball, we’re aiming to win a national championship every year. In psychology, we’re aiming to have students do research that will be recognized at a national level.”

The road isn’t easy, but Jones and his colleagues know how to get students where they want to go. “There’s got to be faith, there’s got to be trust and there’s got to be grace for times when we slip down the mountain. When we fall, we ask, ‘Can we get back up? What are we shooting for? Are we really aiming that high?’ and we think, ‘Heck yeah, we are!’ That’s how you make great things happen.”

— Profile and photo by: Brandon Rosas ’20


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About the Writer/Photographer

Brandon Rosas ’20Hi! My name is Brandon Rosas ’20 and I am a communication studies major and art minor. I currently work as a student writer for Central Communications. Outside of class, I can usually be found drawing, watching Salsa dance videos or studying in the Maytag Student Center. I would love to hear from you!

Please contact me at with your questions about Central.


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