MATC President’s Award winner has risen from harrowing past to succeed

Finding the strength to survive, then thrive

Mark Feldmann,

May 13, 2022

MILWAUKEE – For a decade, Crystal Jones endured a seemingly endless torrent of indignities, insults and injuries. 

Raised on a small farm in a tiny northern Wisconsin town, she fell in love at 17, got married at 18 and soon had two sons. But her happiness slowly soured. She said her husband menaced her emotionally and psychologically. 

“He told me many, many times that I would never be anything without him,” Jones recalled.

How wrong he was.

After four years of working full-time and taking classes part-time, Jones earned an Associate of Arts degree from Milwaukee Area Technical College on May 22. And to honor her classroom success and her determination to transform her life, she also won the President’s Award, MATC’s recognition for academic achievement, college involvement and community advocacy that is presented to a graduating student each semester.

Jones received the award at the MATC academic honors ceremony on May 12.

“All of this hits a little different at this point of my life,” said Jones, who turns 40 in September. “I can’t believe that I have done this. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Jones grew up in Prentice, Wisconsin, a burg of 660 people. She and her four sisters and one brother were homeschooled by their parents and completed high school by mail.

“I hated school,” she said. “I didn’t like it at all. I just wanted to get it done with.” 

Living and learning in a conservative, religious household, Jones was never pushed to consider college or start a career. Instead, she married young, moved away and started a family. The couple’s relationship turned ugly, but she stayed quiet and never told family or friends. When she turned 30, she decided enough was enough. She filed for divorce and began to talk to people about her situation.

“Domestic abuse thrives in silence,” she said. “A lot of people were shocked to hear what I was telling them. I found power in speaking up.”

She spoke up, but she also was alone for the first time in her life. “When I left him, I had never worked a full-time job,” she said. “For 30 years, I never had to support myself.”

She worked whatever jobs she could find. She accepted money from friends and family. She received government assistance. She did what she could to provide for her two sons. “I was in survivor mode,” she said. “But I never felt like I was going to give up.”

In August 2014 she got a job at Advocate Aurora Health in Milwaukee as a receptionist. Four years later she was working as a training coordinator in nursing education and professional development. She has impressed superiors with her energy, compassion and community involvement.

“Crystal is one of the hardest working team members I have ever worked with,” said Linda Bub, regional manager of nursing education and professional development at Advocate Aurora. “She has grown so much in her skills as a training coordinator, challenged herself to be her best self and be an absolute shining example of determination.”

Jones also began to design and create online educational content for use by many of Aurora’s 22,000 nurses. She knew she had found her calling.

“This job changed everything for me,” Jones said. “I had found something I loved doing and I knew I had to have a degree to do it. I decided now was the time.”

She chose to attend MATC because of its affordability, class options and flexible scheduling. She was able to take classes when she wasn’t working, volunteering or watching her sons’ football games and wrestling matches.

And this time around, she discovered she loved school. “School had so much more meaning for me. I had a direction and a purpose and I wanted to be there,” Jones said. “I loved my very first class. I loved every minute of the MATC experience and the entire process.”

She has enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and plans to earn a degree in information science and technology. After that, she hopes to get a master’s degree in instructional design at UW-Whitewater. 

With her career path settled, her personal life has calmed. She shares custody of her sons with her ex-husband, who she said has expressed remorse for much of his past actions. Her parents and siblings continue to steadfastly support her. She has loving friends and great co-workers.

Today, she’s happy, and she’s made peace with the hard path she had to walk to get there.

“Through all my struggles I wouldn’t change a thing,” Jones said. “Those struggles made me who I am today and I don’t regret it.”

To see photos from the Spring 2022 Commencement, go to

Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 25,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 170 academic programs; and transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.