Maya Jones ’16 always loved to sing, but she wasn’t sure she would become a star. Her SMU experience shaped her into a confident performer – and business owner. Now, she’s out to change the world by inspiring others to believe in themselves.

As a high school senior in Mansfield, Texas, Jones impressed SMU professor Barbara Hill Moore with her singing. After a singing competition, Moore approached Jones in the hallway and said, “Nice work, Maya. See you next fall.” “My jaw just dropped,” Jones recalls. “I hadn’t even applied to SMU! But I was determined to do just that after hearing those words.”

Moore and other Meadows School of the Arts professors pushed Jones to achieve goals that had previously seemed unimaginable. “I think the SMU professors, especially those within Meadows, are excellent at their craft. I also feel like they learn along with us,” says Jones. “They care about us, about how we sing and act. They also care about our hearts.”

“The biggest benefit at SMU is opportunity,” says Jones, who took advantage of chances outside the classroom and even beyond the Dallas campus to deepen her knowledge and build her confidence. She sang in Europe and while participating in SMU-in-South Africa, where SMU students study key natural and historic sites and collaborate with South African college students to present a fully staged musical. Jones says, “That trip opened my eyes to how other people were living and how other people who looked like me were going through things I’ve never even imagined.”

Jones channeled what she learned from those experiences into efforts to help others. She received a Big iDeas grant for her custom jewelry company Maxed OUT by MAK, which gives back to the community through a girls outreach center in Fort Worth. During her TEDxSMU presentation “Freedom Is a Choice,” she inspired others to set aside their fears and pursue their passions. In recognition of her contributions to the community, The City Influencer named Jones one of Dallas-Fort Worth’s Most Influential College Students of 2016.

“SMU as a whole has an attitude that we can always move forward,” says Jones. “That’s what world changers do: world changers think innovatively. They don’t dwell on negative things. They are consciously trying to think of the next best thing to help the world, to help each other.”