Barbara Keener (Ed.D. ‘76) has taken her lifelong support of the College of Education one step further establishing a dissertation fund to advance the success and research of Higher Education Administration doctoral students.
Life is comprised of experiences that guide, shape and inspire. For Barbara Keener (Ed.D. ‘76), her experience as a doctoral student at the University of Florida College of Education was a catalyst that ignited her lifelong dedication to the continued work of James Wattenbarger, the father of Florida’s community college system.
As a doctoral student in Education, Keener had the opportunity to work with James Wattenbarger, the then chair of the department of Educational Administration and Policy and founding director of the Institute of Higher Education, which was established to conduct cutting-edge research to drive evidence-based solutions to challenges facing higher education. Keener was the first woman in the nation selected to be a part of the W.K. Kellogg Community College Program, a program Wattenbarger was also directing at the time.
With 12 participating colleges across the country, the Kellogg program was created to prepare students to become leaders and practitioners in college and university settings. It was through the program that Keener had the opportunity to study under, gain mentorship from and become inspired by Wattenbarger.
In 1957, Wattenbarger took leave from the college to develop and direct Florida’s community college system based on a model he designed for his doctoral dissertation. Through his vision, he worked to rebuild Florida’s community college system to be accessible and within commuting distance of every Floridian. He returned to the university 10 years later to head the Institute of Higher Education. There, he continued his work creating partnerships with colleges and state systems to conduct collaborative research that would provide the evidence to improve the institutions, increase access and drive student success.
Under his mentorship, Keener witnessed the impact of Wattenbarger’s work not only in advocating for the lasting success of community colleges, but also providing doctoral students, like herself, the opportunity to work hands-on with the research that would drive real, lasting change in the field. “It was truly a cooperative collaboration,” she said. “As doctoral students, we were able to conduct research alongside practitioners and learn from them, and in turn, the colleges were given the resources and support to find solutions to their greatest challenges.”
Keener, too, went on to become a practitioner and has continued to remain involved in higher education and scholarship throughout her career. She is steadfast in her dedication to advancing Wattenbarger’s legacy and ensuring UF remains a premier graduate school for preparing the future leaders of colleges and universities.
“My experience at the college was so transformational,” she said. “I want to ensure others have the same opportunities.”
To further advocate for the continued collaboration among institutions through the Institute of Higher Education, Keener established an endowment in 2014 to support and enhance its research efforts.“My hope is to offer additional funds for our faculty and students to continue those critical state-wide collaborations and to continue discovering solutions to improve higher education,” she said.
Taking her support one step further, Keener recently established the Keener Dissertation Fund to provide doctoral students pursuing Ed.D or Ph.D. tracks in Higher Education Administration the financial support to pursue research related to community colleges.
“Wattenbarger transformed the community college system in Florida,” Keener said. “Our students and faculty, in collaboration with state and community colleges, have the knowledge and power to carry on his legacy and take his work even further.”