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Fellowship impacts community


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 business.”