Helping Others

School of Education senior Rodney Depass with mentor Florence Johnson, faculty member in the Department of Educational Policy & Community Studies.

If there’s a theme to his life, its service, says School of Education senior Rodney DePass.

“I joined the army to serve my country; then I became a pastor to serve a congregation and finally I became a firefighter to serve the community.”

Now as a nontraditional student in the School of Education’s community education program, DePass is preparing for another career — hoping to serve young people through a nonprofit.

DePass, who is a senior, is in his 50s and a grandfather. He plans to graduate in the fall of 2019.

When he had to retire from the Milwaukee Fire Department after 14 years because of injuries, he decided to return to UWM, where he’d started before joining the department. “I have always had a passion to pursue a higher level of education.”

Having taken over for his late father-in-law as pastor at the West Side Church of God in Christ for two years, he initially came to UWM thinking about pursuing a degree in religious studies.

However, with the help of his advisor he came to the conclusion that community education offered him a way to continue his career of service. “I do believe that God has a calling for my life.”

“So here I am at the ripe old age of 52 in school,” he says with a laugh.

Senior lecturer Florence Johnson has praise for DePass’ contributions to class:

“I met Rodney approximately two years ago while he was enrolled in my education community class. From the beginning of the class, Rodney was actively involved, providing informed responses to multiple diverse issues and questions. As soon as the problem or issue was presented, he began offering feedback and generating discussion among others in the class. His feedback was not merely unfounded words, Rodney thought about the issues, conducted research and critically analyzed problems from a variety of perspectives.”

DePass and his wife, Dele, have two sons Jammal and Skyler. His oldest son has a set of twins and another child so he’s also a grandfather. All of them have been supportive, especially his wife of 20 years and “the love of my life,” he says.

His veteran’s benefits from his years in the army are helping with the tuition, and that was an incentive for coming to UWM, he says. And, he likes the fact that the university has a strong contingent of veterans, although that was not something he was aware of when he enrolled.

A number of faculty members in Educational Policy and Community Studies have supported him, says DePass. “Professor Gary Williams (director of the Institute for Intercultural Education and an associate professor) has been a huge inspiration.” Florence Johnson, senior lecturer, and Julie Kailin, associate professor, have also mentored and encouraged him, says DePass. “They’ve been a tremendous help.”

His eventual goal is to continue to serve the community.

“My passion, my vision is to one day open a nonprofit for inner city youth, maybe to initially partner with an existing program to help teach life skills to young men.” For example, he says, to help them learn how to speak to employers when they do job interviews. “I want to help them achieve self-empowerment…to follow their dreams and hopes so they can learn to succeed with training and hard work.”

Johnson says she thinks he will do well with that vision. “I believe he can accomplish anything he decides to. He is a conscious leader who will do wonders in his community. “

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