Julie Ray is not your average early childhood education professor. While her love for children is evident, her interests are varied -- from motorcycles to knitting.
With her doctorate in early childhood education, Ray recently decided to return to southeast Missouri to be closer to her family. Now in her 26th year in education, Ray said she was ecstatic when she realized Southeast was looking for a professor.
“We were north of St. Louis at the time, and Southeast has such a great reputation, especially their teaching program,” she said. “I couldn’t believe I got the opportunity. It’s a really wonderful program. I like the mixture of students from the rural and urban areas, getting them together and listening to different perspectives.”
Ray’s career choice was actually a sort of predetermined one, but she wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“When I graduated from high school, we were encouraged to take occupations that were fitting for women, like nurses, teachers, etc. It was the kind of thing I was told was good to do, but I have loved it. I always knew I loved young children. I think it’s the greatest field to be in and talk about, because the early years are the most important ones in a person’s life. Early childhood education is a specialty field, requiring specialized knowledge; it’s not like every other type of teaching.”
Ray teaches undergraduate and graduate classes, and supervises her students in kindergarten through third grade classrooms.
“My favorite part of teaching is the relationships with students, getting to know them and being a part of their lives. I have several who have graduated who still e-mail me. If you teach without a bond with students, I don’t think it’s very effective.”
Ray is involved in child advocacy and working for children’s rights. She has attended Child Advocacy Day in Jefferson City where child advocates from around the state rally and visit their legislators. She is involved in the Citizens for Missouri’s Children new campaign called Missouri’s #1 Question Campaign, raising the question “Is it good for the children?
“It’s important for us to be there, because children can’t ask those kinds of questions,” she said. “Children don’t have a voice in politics, and they can’t stand up for themselves and can’t vote, so they often get the short end of the deal. The more I get involved, the more I want to be involved. I’ve never considered myself very political, but now I am to the point where I think you have to take a stand about what’s best for the children.”
Ray rode in the recent Bikers for Babies March of Dimes fund raiser, which combined two of her loves: children and motorcycles. She and her husband Dennis were high school sweethearts, and used to have a motorcycle. Now that their children are grown, Ray says it’s time to enjoy one again. The two went on a motorcycle trip to the Smoky Mountains for their most recent anniversary.
“We had maps but we didn’t really use them for much. We were just enjoying the ride. We’d stop at a town and check out where we were. It was a really freedom-filled trip, and I enjoyed the scenery. We went riding all day in the mountains, and one day rode across to Cherokee, North Carolina.”