Business executive Jimmy Bent and St. Johns County Schools chemistry
teacher Marna Fox never met one another before she accepted a fellowship from
the Florida School Book Depository to obtain a graduate degree from UNF.
Nevertheless, the plans of both individuals meshed perfectly to improve the
quality of education in the school district.
In 1988, Bent, CEO of the Florida School Book Depository, and its
board of directors established a fellowship to assist teachers in completing
graduate degrees at UNF. “We recognized that for many of these teachers getting
a graduate degree can be a financial drain, especially if they have a family
and children at home,” Bent said. The Florida School book Depository is a
private organization which assists educational publishers to distribute a
variety of K-12 instructional materials in the state. Its primary purpose is to
provide Florida elementary and secondary schools with an in-state source for
instructional materials at the lowest possible cost and with the fastest delivery.
A former member of the UNF Foundation Board, Bent said he knew that
UNF offered a wide variety of scholarships for undergraduates but relatively
few fellowships for graduate students. “I’ve always felt that the most critical
person in the whole education chain is the principal of the school and top
administrators in the school district. They can have the greatest impact on the
quality of education,” he said.
With that conviction in mind more than 20 years ago, Bent spearheaded
the establishment of an endowment, which his company enhanced recently with a
$30,000 contribution. Since its establishment, the fellowship has allowed 33
students to attend UNF to obtain graduate degrees.
Fox is one such recipient. The fellowship allowed her to return to her
alma mater for graduate studies in 2005. After obtaining her bachelor’s degree
from UNF in 1996, she had joined the staff of Nease High School and later
became department chair for science at Ponte Vedra High School. She went on to
be designated Chemistry Teacher of the Year by the American Chemical Society.
Upon her return to UNF for graduate studies, Fox was awarded a Fulbright
Fellowship to study in Japan. She obtained her master’s degree in educational
leadership in 2006, which allowed her to return to the St. Johns County Schools
where she is now the program specialist for secondary science. In this
position, she travels throughout the district, advising teachers on science
curriculum. At an elementary school slated to be built in Palencia in 2013, she
will be advising teachers on how to incorporate the environmental aspects of
their new building into the science curriculum. The school will house 500
students in grades K-5.
Fox credits much of her progress in her career to the master’s degree
she earned at UNF. “The classes were
excellent and the faculty taught us many useful techniques, especially in
research. Some classes pushed us out of our comfort zone,” she said.
That’s exactly what Bent had in mind when the
fellowship was established.
“We are grateful that business was good enough
last year to allow us to enhance the original UNF endowment,” Bent said. “We
hope to continue the cooperation with UNF and perhaps even establish a summer
internship with education students to give them an idea of this aspect of the