Education alum makes giving back a professional focus

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Kelley Ranch views a University of North Florida education as a proven gateway to success.

Both of the degrees she has received from the University, a master’s degree in secondary education in 1993 and a doctorate in educational leadership in 2006, along with the M.B.A. she plans to complete in 2014, have bolstered her professionally and enriched her educationally.

“There’s a reason I keep coming back for more,” Ranch said.

The soon-to-be three-time alumna recently made a commitment during The Power of Transformation campaign to ensure prospective students will be afforded the same educational opportunities she received at UNF. Every additional degree allowed her to scale the educational ladder in Northeast Florida, culminating in her current post as coordinator of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Jacksonville’s Ribault High School.

“There's a thread that runs through my professional experiences, and that thread is UNF," Ranch said. "The professional advancement that has come from my degrees has allowed me the opportunity to give back and show that it's important for teachers, and not just traditional philanthropists, to give similar gifts."

Ranch granted a generous bequest to the University with three specific targets — scholarships for students who have graduated from either Raines or Ribault high schools in Jacksonville, support for the Center for Urban Education and funding for international education initiatives.

She said her time as a member of the College of Education and Human Service’s Dean’s Advisory Council helped inform her decision to become a donor by putting her in meetings with professors making presentations for funding. Those meetings gave her a chance to reflect on how her funds could have an even greater impact on the University beyond just granting scholarships.

One of her UNF professors from her days as a doctoral student, Dr. Warren Hodge, said Ranch’s gift is a testament to her community awareness and philanthropic nature. Those qualities were apparent the moment she stepped foot in his classroom, Hodge said, and it stuck with her through the six years she spent in her doctoral cohort.

“She has been, in my estimation, one of my best students I’ve had, bar none, in my long career in academics,” he said. “I teach an education law course, and she’s the only student I have allowed to teach that as an adjunct. For the past four for five summers now, her students from that class have scored just out of this world. She doesn’t have to be an adjunct — she’s extremely busy as it is. But she does so because she just cares so much about education and the community.”

Ranch said the idea for giving to the campaign came after she reflected on her time spent on the UNF campus. She vividly remembers those early doctoral classes with Hodges and the other dedicated faculty from UNF’s College of Education and Human Services. She balanced lengthy workdays punctuated by in-depth night classes, all while raising her son as a single mother. Whenever she felt worn down and burnt out, her professors and fellow doctoral cohort members kept her motivated during the six-year academic hike. That almost family-like atmosphere, illustrated by UNF’s characteristically low student-to-faculty ratio, allowed her quality time with her professors and provided her with a compassionate group of educational advocates.

Her latest academic venture in the UNF M.B.A. program is a calculated move to help her jumpstart a post-Duval County Public Schools career writing and marketing e-learning courses. Her vision includes online programs focusing on vocabulary development for K-12 students nationally. The main purpose of the program is to provide low-cost, high-efficiency course work for struggling students from lower-income school districts.

It’s yet another example of Ranch’s commitment to giving back.

“She’s one-in-a-million,” Hodge said. “She’s one of those unique individuals who has the qualities and the disposition to make her want to do the best she can for others. That’s just a part of who she is. It’s in her spirit.”