Ben Jones is a Statistics professor who enjoys serving alcohol. Just not at the same time.
“I have never drank before 1 p.m. on the days I have to teach,” Jones said.
The 2003 alumnus has been helping students quench their thirst since he became a bartender. Beginning this semester, he’s also been helping students learn to interpret and understand data sets. Jones was hired as a temporary professor to teach Introduction to Statistics.
“I know its cliché but I have different hats, one for teaching and one for bartending and I only wear one hat at a time,” Jones said.
Jones grew up in Grinnell—both of his parents were professors in the Math Department. He attended Grinnell, received an undergraduate degree in Statistics and attended Iowa State University for graduate school. Before he left, however, he began working for James “Jimbo” Sadler-Tanzosch ’88 in the Down Under Pub, bartending on Saturdays.
“I had actually worked for Jimbo as a bouncer the summer after I graduated,” Jones said. “I was not a very good bouncer.”
Despite Jones never actually being trained as a bartender, Jimbo gave him the job. Jones was a good bartender and throughout grad school, he continued to bartend on the weekends, driving back to Grinnell from Ames. All of his drinking expertise has either been picked up on the job or carried over from college. His semester abroad was particularly informative.
“I spent a summer in the Czech Republic and after converting everything back to dollars it was roughly 25 cents for a pint of what I would say is good quality microbrew beer,” Jones said. “Since then I have been drinking a lot of good beer or snobby beer. So I would say that I have a good knowledge of beer.
As Jones’ knowledge of beer and statistics grew in his years after college, he started doing more of both. He has taught nine previous sections of Introduction to Statistics at ISU and Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa and he started working for Lon of Lonnski’s pub.
“Lon, who had a bar at Lonnski’s,” Jones said, “came into the Pub after hours and I kept serving him drinks and that’s more or less how I got hired as a bartender at Lonniski’s.”
When the Pub closed last year, Jones began working a lot more for Lon. Lon also owned Back Alley Deli and hired Jones to make sandwiches in addition to bartending. It was the sandwich-making that landed Jones his job at the College; Back Alley Deli is attached to Saint’s Rest Coffee shop which happens to be the same place that math professors Tom and Emily Moore like to go to eat their lunch—which was very lucky for Jones, because he and the Moores go way back.
Tom Moore likes to say that he knew Ben Jones “since he was negative.” Both Moores began teaching in the Math Department at Grinnell the same year as Jones’ parents, and the Moores watched Jones grow up. When Jones picked his advisor while at Grinnell, he picked Tom Moore and the two kept in touch as Jones traveled back and forth between Ames and Grinnell.
“He popped into the house sometimes and talk for an hour or so and we always had nice chats,” Moore said.
When Moore saw that Grinnell needed a temporary statistics professor for the spring semester this year, he let Jones know.
“My wife and I like to have lunches at the coffee shop and we go down there a few times a week.” Moore said. “[Jones] would always pop over when the line was down to zero. So I just said one day ‘you know we have this position, you think you might be interested?’“
Jones was interested, and with Moore’s help he was able to land his current job.
“Everyone knew him at least on a personal level,” Moore said. “It was all conducted through e-mail and me being at the coffee shop. Then, formally, the dean offered him the job.”
Jones generally doesn’t mix his two jobs, but he has held two study review sessions in the Lonnski’s dining room. The Thursdays before his last two exams, Jones had his students come by Lonnski’s and he would help the students with their practice exams.
“He bought us drinks—non-alcoholic—and appetizers,” Toby Cain ’12 said. “It was a really laid back situation. It was a lot easier than going to his office hours. It put me at ease.”
But Jones wasn’t being a bartender then, just a teacher trying to connect with his students. During his regular hours, he hardly ever sees his students.
“I don’t advertise in class,” Jones said, “or tell my students when I’m bartending.”
Not that the idea of serving his students bothers him, but that it’s just a separate part of his life. There isn’t much overlap between the two professions other than his favorite part is exactly the same for both.
“I like interacting with people. Especially for a mathematician, I am a very social person,” Jones said. “I think that [teaching and bartending] are similar in the way that you are presenting something in front of two very different crowds of people. But that’s one reason I like and, I would hope, excel at both jobs.”
But Jones doesn’t plan on doing either job for the rest of his life. He’s looking at getting an industry job with his degree in statistics, and he has been doing some consulting work in addition to his bartending and teaching. But right now, with the job market in the tank and the opportunities alive and well here in Grinnell, Jones is happy to be quenching thirsts.
“When I get it, a ‘real job,’ I don’t think I would bartend anymore. Maybe after I retire I’ll start again. Maybe if Lonnski’s is still open.”