Three-time alumna Jill Farrell reflects on her notable ties to FIU and why she chose to give back to the university.
–By Charlie Crespo MA ’13
There’s an idea you’ve probably heard of called six degrees of separation. If you haven’t, it posits that two people are likely separated by six social connections – if not fewer.
Want to test the theory out? Consider any connection that you might have with education in south Florida and then try it with yourself and FIU alumna, donor and spouse of a founding faculty member Jill Farrell ’75, MS ’81, Ed.D. ’99.
Farrell now serves as the dean in the Adrian Dominican School of Education at Barry University. However, dedicating her career to education wasn’t always what she envisioned.
“I started out as an art major,” she says, “I have a bachelor of fine arts… but I double majored in education, because my mother, who was an educator, said to me, ‘You can’t make a living as an artist. You could always… be a teacher because you’re wonderful with children.’ I’m glad I listened.”
Throughout her career, she has worked in just about every capacity in the field. Farrell taught both elementary and middle school science, social studies, mathematics, language arts and art. She served as a K-8 principal and has taught both undergraduate and graduate education courses at Barry University.
During her time in higher education, she found that opportunities beyond classroom instruction kept presenting themselves. She was asked to write, create and direct several new programs. Recognized for her leadership qualities, collaborative spirit, and attention to detail, Farrell was then asked to become dean.
“I feel that being in the position I am now… I have the opportunity to have an exponential influence,” she says. “Now as dean I interact with the [full] breadth of faculty in the school of education, all of the programs, and do a lot more work with a broader segment of the community.”
One example of that greater impact has been Farrell’s role in bringing Barry’s master’s and doctoral programs to the Bahamas, which is now going on for 12 years. In addition, when Hurricane Dorian struck the country, Farrell, her associate dean, and Barry students helped rebuild a school there.
Farrell credits FIU for helping her develop the foundation for her career in education. But her ties to FIU run even deeper. While completing her doctoral work, Farrell met Robert “Bob” V. Farrell, a founding faculty member in the then FIU College of Education, who would become her husband.
Passionate about the world and the environment, Robert had a significant impact during his time with the university, becoming the chair of his department, teaching numerous students through courses in environmental education, and founding the Peace Corps Fellows Program at FIU.
In 2016, he passed away unexpectedly. To memorialize him, Farrell created a scholarship in her husband’s name.
“I thought that creating a scholarship in Bob’s name that would be given to individuals who were pursuing the same kinds of things that were near and dear to his heart was my way of carrying on that legacy,” she says. “FIU was his home and his community, so it was only natural that if I was creating a scholarship in Bob’s memory, then I would do it at the institution that he spent his entire career with.”
Currently, the Robert V. Farrell Global Learning Scholarship in Sustainable Development awards scholarships yearly to students who are pursuing globally focused research and practice in sustainable development, particularly students who are enrolled in the Peace Corps Prep or Global Learning Medallion program at FIU. Farrell aims to raise funds to endow the scholarship to be able to award students in perpetuity.
A 2021 graduate of the College of Engineering, Patricia Garcia used the scholarship to support the initial phases of her social venture, “college thrifts.” A gamified peer-to-peer platform, “college thrifts” allows students and alumni to buy and sell their gently used collegiate gear while networking with other users.
“Receiving the Robert V. Farrell Global Learning Scholarship gave me the confidence in the early stages of my project to continue moving forward,” said Garcia. “The funds, coupled with the support from the Office of Global Learning, allowed my venture to grow into something beyond just an idea. Without the support of generous individuals such as Dr. Jill Farrell, I genuinely do not believe ‘college thrifts’ would be where it is today.”
Through her efforts, Farrell also hopes to inspire others who may not think they have the capacity to do something similar.
“I hope that it will inspire other individuals who think ‘I’m only a teacher, I’m only this or that, I don’t really have the means to create something or give scholarship aid,’” she says. “I would say ‘yes, you can.’ I think it’s important that all of us give back.”