Ralph Clayton earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Criminal Justice from The University of Alabama near the beginning of his career. After nearly 30 years in the military and 15 years in local and federal law enforcement, in 2007, he had the opportunity to join his alma mater as a staff member when UA was launching their new bus system. He was selected to be the assistant director for Transportation Services over Transit.
“It was a little outside the law enforcement wheelhouse, but a great opportunity to do something new and exercise my leadership skills in a different operational unit,” he said. Soon he was promoted to director of the department. As he began to consider his career path, he wanted to learn more about higher education as a whole so he could expand his knowledge and skill set for future advancement.
“My background in law enforcement was more focused on operations, and I wanted to know the nuts and bolts about how the different units of higher education work together because it’s quite a bit different from the private sector.” In Fall 2011, he went back to school through UA’s executive cohort distance program. The executive cohort program offers full-time professionals the opportunity to earn their Doctor of Education (EdD) in Higher Education Administration through a hybrid program of online coursework and monthly weekend class meetings. Students can finish the program in three years of full-time study, and they benefit from in-person meetings with peer professionals in their cohort.
“We had a great group of practitioners that came from all around the country,” Ralph said. “It’s pretty intense. You do three classes per semester year-round until you finish.” In addition to his demanding roles as doctoral student and director of Transit at UA, he was also growing his family exponentially in this time. Ralph and his wife already had two daughters, and they had started the process to adopt a baby girl. “About three weeks before the young lady gave birth, my wife said, ‘I think I might be pregnant,’ so our youngest two are just five months apart!”
One of Ralph’s best pieces of advice for others in the field is that collaboration is key for success. “The best way to get things accomplished in higher ed is to know people on campus in different areas that you can partner and collaborate with.” Advancing his knowledge of higher education and the relationships he built with classmates and faculty from the program has helped him do that.
Ralph completed the program’s coursework and his dissertation in Fall 2014, making him a three-time graduate of the University. The following summer, he was promoted to the role of assistant vice president for Enterprise Operations. In 2018, he became the associate vice president for Public Safety. Every day, he uses what he learned in the doctoral program to lead his department of nearly 300 employees. “Our number one goal is to promote and foster an environment that helps UA meet its mission to educate the best and brightest,” he said.
“It was challenging and a lot of hard work, but I’m very thankful for the opportunity.”
Published: March 19th, 2021