Q&A with Ryan Chase
The Gator Career Consultant Q&A Series aims to create a diverse collection of career experiences through highlighting University of Florida (UF) alumni.
Ryan Chase graduated from UF in 2007 with a master’s degree in education. He is currently a middle school principal with Sarasota County Schools and has been in education for 14 years.
The UF Career Connections Center spoke with Chase about his experiences at the university and his career journey in education.
While you were at UF, did you ever utilize the career center?
I did. Back then, they had some resume workshops, and I did some work with them. Then, through the UF education department, they would do career fairs in collaboration with the university’s career center; it’s actually how I got my first teaching job! As an administrator in my county, I have participated in UF career fairs to represent Sarasota County and try to hire Gators. I found it to be a great resource. I’ve hired probably a hundred people over the last 10 years, and workshops like these can help recruit some of the best talent coming out of college programs.
Can you share your experiences with involvement at UF?
I worked at the front desk of the Reitz Union Hotel, which was a fun experience. What’s funny is when I got there, I didn’t even know there was a hotel. I ended up interviewing because I met somebody in a class who worked there, and I got an interview, and it was just important to stay connected.
I thought it was nice to work on campus because I got a good feel for what was going on. That was when we won a bunch of basketball and football championships, so I got to meet a bunch of the guys that would walk by. It was kind of fun. Then, when I was in graduate school, I ended up playing some intramural sports, and I thought that was such a good way to connect with people, too. We played softball and kickball, and I found that to be a nice way to stay connected to the campus because we were all so busy and we were also tired and stressed, but we would go out, we’d have fun and we’d connect in a different way.
I find that that’s like how we do business at the school I work at. As a principal, I connect with not only teachers and students in my building, but also when I see them outside of work, or I go to a student’s basketball game. It’s like that extra connection is what really drives home that relationship. That’s really been an important part of how we can stay successful as educators, too.
Did you have experience with job shadowing or practicum opportunities?
As part of my degree, I had to teach in multiple locations. I did a practicum teaching experience at Kanapaha Middle School. I taught social studies there. That was a great experience. Then I did my internship teaching at Buchholz High School. Luckily, I got to go around to a bunch of different schools in the area and participate in those experiences. Those are the experiences that I remember because going into a classroom the very first time as a teacher, you draw on those experiences, and you remember what you’ve done.
Having an internship or practicum experience provided me the confidence to say, “I know how to do this” or “I know who to ask when I am struggling.”
The group of people I taught with in those experiences was amazing. I still have relationships with a lot of them and I still talk to some of the professors and email with them.
There are resources that are on my bookshelf from when I was a student 15 years ago, and I still look at them every year when I start the school year or am seeking assistance.
What did you learn about yourself from those experiences?
I’m a first-generation college student, and literally, no one in my family had ever been to college. No one had even thought about it and some members of my family barely graduated from high school. My dad got his GED, and my mom graduated with my brother in attendance. It wasn’t a given. My brother finished high school but went to the Navy.
When I graduated from high school, I knew I would go to college, but I didn’t really know where to go, so I did two years at home, and then I transferred to UF. I felt like I was taking a chance. I was investing in myself for the first time. I was moving away from home for the very first time, and I was experiencing new things that I never knew.
I think what I learned about myself through that is that I was far better than I ever gave myself credit for. I was far smarter than I would have given myself credit for. I had more skills than I would have believed in myself. I had the ability to be more confident.
A kid like me who grew up in a small town in Connecticut, who came from almost nothing, moved to South Florida, knew no one, and went on to graduate with two degrees from UF, a third degree from another university, and is a principal by age 35. It’s something that I’m very proud of.
Just last week, I was elected the president of the Sarasota County Gator Club, the alumni association here in my area. Now I get to give back, and I get to be a part of this university that did so much for me and that really opened a lot of doors. Everything opened when I started believing in myself, and those experiences did a lot for me.
What are two things you would tell current students to do now to prepare for their future careers?
Get involved. Find something you’re passionate about and find a way to get involved in it. Whether that’s working with student government, starting an organization, working on campus, or volunteering. This has been vitally important throughout my career.
I worked three years as an assistant principal at the high school level, and kids who were involved in the high school were so much more successful.
What I find to be really kind of powerful is to find people that you can connect with on some level; it doesn’t have to be academic. You could just start a bowling club, and that’s it. It’s people that you’re interested in.
When working with students, we talk about developing four key competencies: critical thinking, communication, sense of self, and teamwork. Would you be able to give me an example of how employing one of these competencies or all has helped you in your career?
I have hired quite a few people: teachers, district staff, paraprofessionals, teachers’ aides, registrars, secretaries, and anybody you can think of. One day I’ll get to hire an assistant principal. I would say all of these things are important to me. When I look at a resume, I feel like I can see these things. When I ask questions, I can hear these things. These are definitely areas that I’m looking for. When I ask a question, sometimes it’s not what I’m asking or what you’re saying; it’s how you’re saying it. It’s how you carry your response that I think is very important to me.
Teamwork is critical to what we do. It’s actually so important to us that our teachers teach on teams. As a school, teamwork is so important. I can’t teach all those classes. I have to rely on our team of people to get the work done. I’ve got a team of assistant principals. We’ve got a team of support staff. I’ve got a team of teachers. And if we’re not all working through the same shared vision, which is my responsibility, then we are not going to get our job done, which is to create a safe and effective learning environment for students. And that’s our responsibility. That’s what we get paid for.
Every single one of those things is extremely important. Without a doubt, these are things that we can see in interviews and read on resumes. They are definitely part of our decision-making and interview process.
Want to share your experience with other Gators? The Career Connections Center is recruiting Gator Career Consultants.