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Doyle Rankins’ graduation day is nearly 50 years in the making

Doyle Rankins stands on the Union Pacific 1960s patio caboose that bears his name. Photo by Ben Krain.

The first time Doyle Rankins was a student at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1970, he was a 19-year-old rail service worker for Missouri Pacific Railroad (now Union Pacific) as well as a member of the Arkansas Air National Guard. 

With a work schedule that often shifted from days to nights, Rankins often had to quit classes in the middle of the semester to make his ever-shifting schedule work. He often muses that if online classes had existed in the 1970s, he could have finished his degree much faster.

As an online student the second time around, Rankins completed a Bachelor of Applied Science and will graduate May 12 at the Jack Stephens Center – 48 years after he first started at UA Little Rock.

Rankins married Susan Gardner in 1972, and the couple took some classes together at the university. By the time their first daughter, Ellen Edwards, was born in 1974, Rankins’ first round at UA Little Rock had ended. The family briefly moved to St. Louis, where Rankins took classes for a year at St. Louis Community College-Meremac and the couple’s second daughter, Sherry Rankins-Robertson, associate professor of rhetoric and writing at UA Little Rock, was born. The couple returned to Little Rock in 1977 and welcomed their son, Matthew Rankins.

During his 43-year career at Union Pacific, Rankins was a hard worker who once oversaw an area that stretched from Chicago to Yuma, Arizona. He was responsible for overseeing a workforce of more than 300 people and often flew on a helicopter to train derailment sites all over the country.

Rankins-Robertson recalls how her parents instilled a strong work ethic and appreciation for higher education in her and her siblings.

“My parents preached the importance of a college education to us since we were very little,” she said. “They were really passionate about us going to school. There was no one more passionate than my dad about me finishing my bachelor’s degree because I had a baby at 19. In their generation, having children meant going to work–not finishing school.”

Doyle Rankins stands on the Union Pacific 1960s patio caboose that bears his name. Photo by Ben Krain.
Doyle Rankins stands on the Union Pacific 1960s patio caboose that bears his name. Photo by Ben Krain.

Rankins retired from Union Pacific in 2012 as director of Mechanical Maintenance Transportation-Southern Region. He started his own consulting business, Rankins Railroad Service, in 2013 and still works 12 hour a day, six days a week.

While all three of his children and his granddaughter have earned college degrees from UA Little Rock, Rankins got his chance at finishing his bachelor’s degree when Rankins-Robertson encouraged him to meet with Kathy Oliverio, director of military student success. The Bachelor of Applied Science degree is geared toward adults with military service. In 2016, he became an online student at UA Little Rock, nearly 40 years after the last time he attended college.

His favorite classes included several writing courses, Earth Science, and ethics. His favorite professors included Melvin Beavers, Gerald Driskill, Simon Hawkins, Melissa Johnson, Wendy McCloud, and Kathy Oliverio.

Rankins-Robertson will play a special role in her father’s graduation ceremony. As a faculty member, she will get to hand her father his diploma.

“I am very excited. I was also able to award my daughter her degree last year, so it feels as if I have come full circle to award the generation below and above me their degrees,” she said.

As for his post-graduation plans, Rankins is not giving up on school just yet. He plans to pursue a graduate degree in rhetoric and writing at UA Little Rock as well as continue to run his consulting business.

“I work today because I want to, not because I have to. I will keep working for as long as I am physically able, and I will keep doing education as well. I definitely want to keep doing things,” Rankins said. “People have asked me what am I going to do when I get out of college, and I ask them if they are crazy. What else could I do?”