Barbara Key-Ramos

Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) 2008
Program Coordinator at Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida

Barbara Key-Ramos is making a difference in the lives of students and families in Southwest Florida. As an advocate for students with disabilities, she works with various schools in Southwest Florida to build and create opportunities that empower these students to become confident and determined adults.

“I chose to work with students who are at risk and with disabilities because of the experiences and challenges my daughter personally encountered while attending school and college,” said Ramos.

As the program coordinator for Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida and The Able Trust, Ramos spends her days working in LaBelle, Clewiston and Moore Haven schools, providing opportunities for students with disabilities to explore future careers. “In addition, the Florida High School High Tech program helps students determine their interests and aptitudes, offers job shadowing and internships, and provides leadership opportunities,” she explained.

With a mission to reduce high school dropout rates and increase students’ self-esteem, Ramos finds herself using the skills she learned at Hodges while pursuing her associate and bachelor’s degrees in interdisciplinary studies.

“I grew up in a very compassionate, caring, loving, spiritual and fair household with an emphasis on being a hard worker,” said Ramos. Beginning to work at the age of 14, she credits her great-grandmother, Annie Edwards-Cobb Jenkins, and her mother, Inez Key Kearse-Mitchell, for her academic and personal success.

For 15 years, Ramos served as a receptionist, customer service representative and trainer for new employees with Lee County Electric Cooperative, Inc. In 1986, her life changed, saying, “My career began as a mother, advocate and a caregiver for my daughter.” Ramos also found it important to become an active volunteer while her daughter was in school.

While volunteering and caring for her daughter, Ramos became a professional tax preparer for three years. However, in 2002, she made a career move that would lead her to where she is today. From 2002-2011, she advanced within the Family Network on Disabilities, Inc., receiving numerous opportunities such as presenting in the White House “on a platform for a national need for vocational counselors for students with disabilities,” she said, as well as working in Washington, D.C. as a conference facilitator with the Office of Special Education (OSEP) with the U.S. Department of Education (DE). In addition, she helped to facilitate events at the United States Capitol that included representatives from the legislature, who supported families with students with disabilities, and she worked as a parental involvement specialist for Florida’s 66 school districts for the DE Title I program.

Throughout her time with Family Network on Disabilities, Inc., Ramos began to contemplate the idea of returning to school, saying, “My decision was threefold: First, to achieve my educational goal of receiving my college degree. Second, I wanted to set an educational model/example for my daughter. Third, I wanted to enhance my professional development skills due to my position as a technical assistant for several CEOs in the southeastern states and the Virgin Islands.”

Enrolling in Hodges University’s Associate in Science in interdisciplinary studies (IDS) in 2004, she enjoyed the scheduling flexibility offered to working adults, as well as the small class sizes. Graduating in 2006, she continued her educational pursuits in the IDS bachelor’s program.

“The education at Hodges has made a tremendous and powerful impact on my career choice. Further, the education I obtained from Hodges helps me to use critical analysis for challenges and choices in making decisions and problem solving from the micro, macro and mezzo social levels in all aspects of my professional life,” said Ramos.

As a student, she not only took advantage of the skills learned in the classroom, but she got involved on campus through the Ambassadors club and a peer program, which provided support for incoming freshmen. However, during her time at Hodges, Ramos discovered she, too, needed support.

“My biggest challenge was returning to the university as an adult and going through a major life transition…I had attended college in the past, but I felt confident in my returning to complete my educational goal knowing the professors, along with the mentors and staff would be there for my academic success,” she said.

Graduating with her bachelor’s in 2008, Ramos continued to advance within the Family Network on Disabilities, Inc. However, in 2012, she accepted the position of program coordinator with Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida and The Able Trust.

While assisting students in pursuing educational and/or career opportunities, the rewards of her job are evident through the increase in students graduating from high school, as well as the increase in her students’ enrollment in postsecondary institutions and “seeing the students’ improvement and participation in education, vocational and employment activities in technology.”

As a result of her work with Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida, Ramos was honored at the Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, Clarity and Commitment event at Hodges University in March 2017.

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