Rayford Barner

A degree doesn’t change who you are. I should know — I have four degrees, including three from Roosevelt University. However, a college education does change the way one sees the world, as you will learn from my story.

When I became a student at Roosevelt in 2003, my goal was simply to obtain a four-year degree. I had already taken courses at Chicago’s Harold Washington College and I wanted to finish what I had started so I could obtain a bachelor’s degree. Nothing more, nothing less!

At the time, I worked full-time during the day as a law enforcement practitioner, and attended classes at Roosevelt’s Chicago Campus part-time in the evening. There were plenty of reasons for me to give up on my goal of finishing college. Besides working in my profession, I was caring for my elderly parents and raising my daughter. To be honest, my life at that time was chaotic. On the bright side, attending Roosevelt forced me to organize my thoughts, time and assignments. I learned how to prioritize tasks that needed completing, and that helped me reach my goal of becoming a college graduate and an effective practitioner.

It took me about 18 months to get my first diploma from Roosevelt, a Bachelor of Professional Studies in Organizational Leadership, which I received in December 2004. As my family cheered, I walked across the Auditorium Theatre stage, relieved and thrilled about my accomplishment.

I could not have taken this first step on my eventual path to a lifetime of learning without the support of my Roosevelt professors, several of whom I still keep in contact with today. The encouragement and patience of Roosevelt Associate Professor of Training and Development Vince Cyboran particularly stands out. Rather than be a critic, he always looked at my work carefully and made worthwhile suggestions for how I could improve.

Our interactions gave me confidence that I could understand and apply concepts I was learning. They also led me to complete a master’s degree in training and development in 2006 and a master’s in business administration in 2009. Not only was I the first in my family to receive a master’s degree, but my Roosevelt education also changed my trajectory at work, where I shifted my career focus to the education and training of law enforcement professionals.

I never was fortunate as a Roosevelt student to have a formal mentor, an opportunity that most Roosevelt students have today. However, I did have extremely passionate professors such as Cyboran, who shared time beyond what was required. He was a mentor then, and still is one today. He was a member of a committee that reviewed my dissertation for a doctorate of education in curriculum and instruction that I earned from Loyola University in 2015.

Because of my educational experiences, I tend to dream big. I hope to one day become a university president after retiring from law enforcement, which is why I am currently studying public policy at Northwestern University. Even if I fall short of this goal, I know that I still can achieve much, and in this, I am looking forward to the road ahead.

In the meantime, I also want to give back, which is why I contribute what I can annually to Roosevelt’s giving fund. My goal is to make it easier for those who are struggling to get through college, just as I once did.

Last year, I also became a mentor to a Roosevelt student who has an interest in first-responder administration and management, a field I have worked in now for more than 10 years. Thus far, the experience has been quite productive. While I have probed, provoked, and challenged my mentee to learn and experience as much as he can regarding his career aspirations, the relationship we have is not one-sided or centered on what I have to give. Rather, it is about my mentee, and what steps he wishes to take in pursuing his interests and goals. This has allowed me to give him the best guidance possible.

One of the pieces of advice I have shared with my mentee is to never stop learning. I have told him a college degree or two or three — or even four or more — can open doors you never dreamed of, but you have to do the work to meet the people whom you never imagined you would meet. People who facilitate access to the career you seek are looking for you and you must be prepared when an opportunity lands on your doorstep.

Finally, I want to say that being a mentor has not only been an extension of my monetary giving, but also an edifying way to volunteer my time and share my knowledge and professional life experience with someone, like I once was, who is trying to find his way. There are many students at the University who could benefit from your mentorship. My advice to you is not only to keep on learning, but also to get involved at Roosevelt. Become a mentor!


Roosevelt University’s Professional Mentoring Program pairs current undergraduates with working or retired professionals. To become a mentor, email professionalmentoring@roosevelt.edu or call (312) 341-3689.

“One of the pieces of advice I have shared with my mentee is to never stop learning.” Rayford Barner (BPS, ’04; MA, ’06; MBA, ’09)

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