Cierra Kaler-Jones

Cierra Kaler-Jones is a teaching artist, writer, and rising scholar. She has had her writing featured in Education Post, Nia Magazine, Midnight and Indigo, and on She has been recognized internationally for her social justice work with students and was a guest speaker at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans and the United States Department of Education. Her speaking credits also include the 2015 Mark Conference and most recently she gave a TED talk at the 2018 TEDxFoggyBottom conference.

A proudly rooted Jersey girl, Cierra graduated from Rutgers University with a bachelor’s degree in social work, minors in critical race & ethnic studies and women’s & gender studies, and a certificate in women’s leadership from the Institute from Women’s Leadership. While at Rutgers, she was a member of the Rutgers University Dance Team, Head Chairwoman of the Douglass Orientation Committee, and the co-founding President of the Rutgers University chapter of She’s the First. Also a graduate of The George Washington University, she earned her master’s degree in education and human development. While at GW, she started Speak Your Truth, a program devoted to giving students a space to speak truth into their experiences and use storytelling as a way to effectively and authentically talk about the issues that influence our world. She is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership at University of Maryland – College Park studying minority and urban education. Her work examines how arts-based practices can be used as critical tools to encourage student identity development, expression, and activism.

In 2014, Kaler-Jones was the second woman of color to secure the title of Miss New Jersey, and dedicated her year of service to offering free visual and performing arts lessons to students along the East Coast and advocating for educational equity. She used this platform to expand her community program, The Young Artist Empowerment Project, which delivers culturally relevant arts-based programming where students, specifically girls of color, examine issues of leadership, goal setting, mental/emotional/physical health and wellness, and social justice. She lived out her childhood dream of competing for Miss America in 2015 and was a finalist for the Miss America Quality of Life Award.

When she isn’t researching trends in education or speaking to students about the transformative power of sharing their stories, she teaches dance classes for all age levels, enjoys reading, and is a fitness instructor.