Interview by Sarah Shumick
Growing up, Blake Renner saw firsthand the impact higher education can have when his father became the first in the family to attain a college education. Renner, a long-time student himself, has made his career helping others realize their goals and achieve more for themselves. Formerly a faculty member at West Virginia University and Kent State University, Renner now serves as Dean of Students at Franklin University in Columbus. Originally from Sugarcreek, Ohio in the heart of Amish Country, Renner resides in Westerville with his wife, son and Freddie Mercury (the family dog!).
Where are you from and what brought you to Columbus? I am originally from Sugarcreek, Ohio which is a small town in Amish Country. Shortly after I graduated from West Virginia University (Go Mountaineers!), I had a professional opportunity in Columbus and I have been here ever since.
Give us a snapshot of your career path: I was a student for a long time (11 years!). While a student, I worked at multiple institutions of higher education as a professor; West Virginia University, Kent State University, Stark State College, prior to starting at Franklin University full-time. I joined Franklin University in 2011 and since that time, I provided direct oversight of the Domestic Locations, Student Support Services, Academic Advising, and Student Communications. In addition, I have served as the University’s Title IX Campus Coordinator and the 504 Coordinator since 2013.
Tell us about your role as Dean: As the Dean of Students, I directly oversee the strategic management, programming, personnel, operations, planning, activities, and budget development for the Department of Student Affairs. I serve as the University’s Primary Appeal Officer, managing the University appeals. As the Title IX Coordinator, I am designated by the University to handle civil rights inquiries regarding harassment, discrimination, and sexual misconduct related to students, faculty, and staff. This role requires me to coordinate all investigations of allegations, assure policy compliance, and implement all prevention and remediation efforts. In addition, I am an adjunct faculty member at Franklin University teaching both undergraduate and doctoral courses, as well as serving as a Doctoral Faculty Advisor.
What’s new and exciting at Franklin U? Two exciting things that have recently happened at Franklin University include being named as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education and the installation of BlindSquare on campus. The National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education which was issued by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security places the University among a select group of regionally-accredited two-year, four-year and graduate-level institutions nationwide to receive this distinction. For BlindSquare, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD) collaborated with Franklin University to install permanent navigation technology to improve access to education and employment for students with disabilities. By using BlindSquare, a smart phone application that uses Bluetooth to verbally communicate data received through a combination of GPS locations and Bluetooth beacons, so that a Franklin University student with a visual impairment can now utilize seamless indoor and outdoor navigation support around campus.
What gets you up in the morning? And what gets you through the workweek? The opportunity to make a difference. I got into higher education because of the impact it has had on my own life. I was able to observe the opportunities that opened up once my father went back to school and earned his college degree. He was the first person in my family to earn a degree and seeing how it changed our family’s outlook was powerful. I knew this was something I wanted to experience for myself, so this is why I went to college. Now that I work in higher education, I am able to work with others, inspiring them to realize their goals and positively change their lives.
What advice has helped guide you along the way? Never, never give up.
Explain some of your work-life balance challenges. How do you achieve success in spite of the hustle and bustle? Ironically, when I started working at Franklin University, I had a horrible work-life balance. Now with a child and much more demanding job, I have strived to develop a healthy work-life balance. It all started when I found out my wife was pregnant. I became motivated to get in better shape and spend more time living in the present. I started walking when I played golf and running downtown during my lunch break. Almost four years later, I have kept up these habits and I feel happier and healthier than ever. I believe a work-life balance is the foundation to happiness. Each day is a gift and I want to make the most of it by inspiring students, accomplishing my professional goals, having a present-focused mindset, and being healthy enough to run around the yard with my son. Having a good balance is the key to accomplishing this goal.
What do you do to unwind? I enjoy spending time with my wife (Kelly) and son (Declan). We really enjoy traveling and try to never pass on an opportunity to take a trip. If we are at home, we try to experience all that Columbus has to offer; The Zoo, COSI, parks, and summer festivals (our favorites are the Columbus Arts Festival and 4th Fridays in Westerville). If I am not doing this, you can find me on the golf course.
What might someone be surprised to know about you? My favorite band is Queen. (My dog’s name is Freddie Mercury.)
What books/podcasts are you reading/listening to right now? Michael Connelly’s Bosch Series
What would your autobiography be called? Don’t Stop Me Now
Which organization(s) are you involved with around the community? I am the Vice Chairman of the Board for Columbus Inspires.
Tell us about a community initiative you’re most passionate about. Columbus Inspires, in collaboration with Columbus Young Professional Club’s Grandview Hop series, will be sponsoring an area showcasing businesses of local, young entrepreneurs. I really believe this will be a great opportunity for a young entrepreneurs to receive mentoring and launch their businesses.
What’s the most exciting thing about Columbus right now? Growth! In the past 8 years, since I have lived in Columbus, I have been amazed how the city continues to grow and develop. This is really an exciting place to live.
What are three things you think Columbus needs? Warm weather (all year long), In-N-Out Burger, and increased resources for youth who have aged out of foster care.