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Convocation Address 2015
Carolyn Stone headshot

Carolyn B. Stone

Distinguished Professor

Professor Leadership, School Counseling and Sport Management

College of Education and Human Services

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This I know; if I were at any other university I would not have enjoyed the opportunities I have had here at UNF. At pivotal times in my career I have been surrounded by leaders who were willing to take risks and allow me to build; this from the highest offices of this university to the colleague around the corner. I owe this university much. In 1998, UNF disarmed its organizational ego, set aside business as usual and supported me to build a new school counseling program called SOAR (Supporters of Academic Rigor).

Thank you President Delaney, Provost Traynham, administrators, students and faculty. Faculty, if you are new to UNF, congratulations, you have chosen well. Kris Webb and Sejal Parikh, thank you for that introduction and Jennifer Kane for the nomination. You have given me a gift. Thank you to UNF Foundations and Faculty Association for your support of faculty and this award. With this award comes obligations and I pledge to try each day to be worthy of the confidence you have shown me. Congratulations to my fellow awardees. It is an honor to share this award with the accomplished Dominik Güss. I want to recognize Doug, my husband, a man with moral courage. You always do the right thing. I admire you greatly.

Equity for underserved youth has defined my career and SOAR is the tangible representation of this social justice agenda. Here lies my dilemma. Many UNF members and affiliates have contributed to SOAR and it is impossible to recognize them all. SOAR’s journey started with an equity champion, Dr. Bette Soldwedel. Bette was UNF’s First Distinguished Professor and my first graduate teacher. If anyone in this room had the good fortune to work with Bette, you know she was one of a kind; a formidable personality and I loved her.

In 1994, I was the supervisor of guidance for Duval County Public Schools and a UNF adjunct and search team member for a counselor educator. It was a failed search and my wonderful colleague Sandy Hansford turned to me and said “you apply.” I was just finishing course work at UF and into the dissertation. The dissertation represented the first in a line of research around equity in access to postsecondary education. I looked at 6000 records for Math standardized tests to see which students in the top quartile were given the gatekeeper opportunity of Algebra I, and which students were relegated to dead end Mathematics. Was Math assignment stratified by socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, or school assignment?

Dissertation finished I started at UNF in 1995. There was not a luckier or happier counselor educator than I was that day. I could now call Bette Soldwedel “colleague.” Bette showed me around that first day. We walked by Dr. Pritchy Smith with his long pony tail and with that dry sense of humor she said, “oh if only I had a pair of scissors.” What was most impactful that day was no laughing matter, with her eyes she squared me up by the shoulders and without a trace of ambiguity said “jettison that school counseling program right out of the mental health program.” It was a pivotal moment from a leader and mentor. I had my marching orders.

Prophetic words as two years later, The Education Trust a non-profit out of Washington D.C. whose reason for being is to close the achievement gap, came out with a request for proposal (RFP) for universities to change the way they prepare school counselors. This RFP written by trailblazer Pat Martin, resonated as it was the course-by-course work I was being supported to do by my colleagues Judy Lombana and Sandy.

To optimize the opportunities presented by this grant, the University would need to set aside the traditional program. Such a major change needed dean support. There were at least 10 reasons why Dr. Kathe Kasten could have said no but as my friend Aimee Boggs says, “A leader only needs one good reason to move forward.” Kathe Kasten understood that the school counseling profession was in need of change. This untenured, two-year, assistant professor nobody was supported to dismantle the traditional program and to build a new school counseling program. It was another pivotal moment from a dean who was a visionary leader.

The Ed Trust proposal required school district partnership. Laurel Anderson, Supervisor of Guidance, was responsible for 240 School Counselors. I knew it was an impossible job as I lived it for 5 years. There were at least 10 good reasons why Laurel could have said no but she signed on as she knew there was one good reason to say yes; students would be advantaged. Laurel started to make significant changes within the school system and her mantle has been carried forth by our partner successors Nan Worsowicz and Joni Shook, who are UNF Alumni of the Year recipients. Just this month these two leaders passed the charge to our wonderful SOAR alumni Gail White, Catherine Beckedall, Beth Jenkins and SOAR spouse Nicole Brown under the capable leadership of SOAR alumni Wendy Dunlap. These on fire professionals have taken Laurel’s work to the next level. Laurel was a pivotal leader at a pivotal time.

Pat Martin, a giant in the field of school counseling, was the officer at the Education Trust who gave UNF a chance, who respected our vision for school counseling. UNF became one of the 6 awardees out of approximately 80 applications. Pat Martin is my mentor; my Mufasa to this Simba. Never apologetic or afraid to stand alone in support of what she knows needs to happen for equity, Pat knows to lead an orchestra you have to turn your back on the crowd. SOAR would not exist without Pat Martin. I dedicate this speech to you Pat; a pivotal leader at a pivotal time.

We had the grant, the APC approval for 17 new courses, and a program on paper. We needed to breathe life into this program. I needed a colleague dedicated to school counseling. Enter Dr. Rebecca Schumacher. Her capacity to work hard for the school counseling profession and Jacksonville’s children is simply unmatched. She helped shape the program in its early stages and was followed by other wonderful colleagues who have made their mark, Drs. Janson, Parikh, Maxis, Ripple, and Keefe. 

Why change? Why dismantle what was? What was wrong with the way things were? It is about our future UNF students. It is about the 2000 additional First time in College Applicants President Delaney intends to attract. Go with me in your imagination. Put 100 Hispanic Kindergarteners’ faces in your mind’s eye. Those little faces who started school two weeks ago. According to NAEP, the longest standing national exam, if the trend continues only 15 of these Hispanic students will ever receive a bachelor’s degree; unacceptable. For every 100 Caucasian kindergarteners only 40 will receive a bachelor’s degree, and for every 100 African American/Black Kindergarteners only 23 will walk across the stage to receive a college diploma.

Everyone knows the interrelationship between economic opportunity and income. It is a perfect upward trajectory; well until you get to the Ph.D. level and then the dip in salaries. Education is the great equalizer in our country but our call to change the trends goes beyond fairness and equity; it is about our democracy and economy. We cannot sustain ourselves as a nation of haves and have nots. The United States has the third highest income inequality among member countries of the Organization for Co-operation and Economic Development. SOAR alumni and candidates’ mantra is “if I have the power to imagine that things can be better than I have the power to change them,” and change them they do. Laura Ache Englewood High School, two years ago could not find $250 for buses to take 200 students to the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) fair. She secured a commitment from The Jacksonville Giants who now give her $1000 every year for buses. This past fall, 450 Englewood students with a “Believe in Me” attitude came through the door of the NACAC Fair. Watch out NACAC Fair. This October she will probably bring the entire student body and I will not be surprised the day she brings her feeder schools also.

Jeanne Powell, Sandalwood High School Counselor, helped the SOAR students conduct one of the 10 Instant Decision Days they have offered. Up to 15 college admissions representatives come to the school and do instant admissions. Admissions representatives provided 93 of Jeanne’s seniors offers of admissions and $274,000 in scholarships. SOAR students will do their 11th and 12 Instant Decision Days this year at Jackson and Sandalwood; changing lives, opening doors.
Kathy Mortenson, Douglas Anderson High School Counselor, knows her LGBTQ kids thrive in their school but the outside world is a harder place for them to negotiate. She brings in admissions representatives with intentionality who can help these kids envision themselves on their campuses in safety; but not just in safety, in celebration.

Marixa Seiler R.V. Daniels, School Counselor, teaches her kindergartners, first and second graders about colleges. The local sororities and fraternities are helping her create a college going culture. Her kindergarteners can tell you about the Free Application for Student Aid. Marixa knows college begins in kindergarten. These are just a few examples of thousands of efforts like these from our SOAR Alumni.

It is said that all passion comes from one’s own personal experiences. This is certainly true in my case. My mother and father, both hard working, determined, gentle hearts and wonderful role models. Anything I am, have ever accomplished or hope to be, I owe to my 91 year old mother and my father who left us 11 years ago. These remarkable people were able to develop in me personal social consciousness skills, but they were not able to help me negotiate the college admissions process. Pam Baldwin sitting next to me in Math class asked, “Would you like a ride to ACT this Saturday.” My response, “What is the ACT.” Granted the ACT was only 5 years old at the time but still I had no idea there were college admissions tests, financial aid, or anything else I needed to know about college admissions. I went to the local state college, lived at home, worked, paid my own tuition, and checked my textbooks out of the library. As a first generation college student it was happenstance, an accident that I got to college at all.

SOAR students and Michelle Obama want to eliminate accidents and happenstance by ensuring that the information, access, and attainment gaps are closed with intentionality. Our First Lady’s Reach Higher initiative, whose purpose it is to advantage all of America’s youth with higher education opportunities, especially the traditionally underserved, had her inaugural Reach Higher Convening at Harvard University in July 2014. Last November, San Diego State hosted the second convening. On November 2, 3, 4 our First Lady’s Reach Higher convening will come to the University of North Florida. 

In June, I went to Dean Lupi and Provost Traynham with nothing tangible but an invitation for UNF to host the next Reach Higher convening. There were 10 reasons why the Provost and Dean could have nudged me back to my office. I had no budget, no money, no social capital to raise the money, but in the face of 10 reasons to say no, there was that one good reason to support it; our nation’s youth. State teams will come to UNF for the First Lady’s Reach Higher Convening, determined to learn strategies to dramatically increase the post-secondary going rate for underrepresented kids in their states. Enter Cheryl Fountain a champion of equity. At break neck speed Cheryl and the Florida Institute of Education staff had a budget, a fundraising plan, and the money in the bank. Of all the leaders I have known Cheryl is most capable of translating vision into action. If you collaborate with Cheryl make sure you have on your track shoes. She is a leader on a mission.

Education is the leveler. The path to a better life; it has always been so and increasingly more so today. UNF, we can’t do everything, there is much we are doing and there is much more we must do. UNF works closely with first generation students through Jacksonville Commitment, scholarships, test preparation, financial aid workshops, and group tours for underrepresented youth such as Upward Bound and Trio. I love the new House Calls program just introduced by the Provost. I am so proud of UNF’s commitment to our first generation college students. Let us continue to challenge ourselves administrators, faculty and staff to find and support those first generation college students in our classes who need our mentoring, who appear in our offices, who need some exceptions to the rules.

SOAR’S mantra is, Learn the rules so that you know how to break them properly. UNF, make exceptions, break the rules, help these first generation college students make it through the culture of a university so different from their world up to this point. The first 12 months is critical for our first generation students. Your discipline might be Biology, Psychology, Technology, Physics, it does not matter. It is about all of us, our community and our country. Education is enhanced by sitting next to people who provide diversity of language, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender identity. With diverse classrooms we are better equipping our students to negotiate today’s world.

Let’s go back to those 300 kindergarteners and put a human face on the data. Her name is Rachel. Two weeks ago she left her Head Start program and started Kindergarten at one of our urban schools. She loves school and is better prepared than most because of the Head Start seat she was given. Rachel has to be educated to the same standards as other young Americans because she will take her place in the same economy as other young Americans. More importantly, Rachel and all students, deserve equity of opportunity; why, because they breathe.

Of this I am certain; this University, strong in reputation as President Delaney says, “in delivering an exceptional education at an exceptional value” can use its status and influence to grow a reputation as the university with the best track record in the nation for supporting and advantaging our first generation college students. UNF let us not stand still until Rachel and every kindergartener are part of the success equation.