SOE Alumna Returns to Campus to Reflect and Give Back


"It is my pleasure to give back and I couldn’t think of a better way to say thank you for what I have learned at Syracuse University." - Rissa Ratner (School of Education Alumna)

Michael and Rissa RatnerDr. Michael and Rissa Ratner are two people who believe in helping others and giving back. Dr. Ratner, trained and educated in the medical field, is a pediatric surgeon and Rissa, a Syracuse University alumna, is a teacher, trained and educated at the School of Education. Both have worked in their chosen fields for over forty years. In March 2016, the Ratners came back to the Syracuse University campus for Pathfinder events during philanthropy week. A Syracuse University Pathfinder makes a gift to the University via their estate or financial plan (i.e., a Charitable Gift or a Charitable Trust). Known for their generosity and giving back, the Ratners spoke about their journey over the last forty years, including their connection to Syracuse, their family, careers, and the value of an education.  Rissa spoke specifically about what it means to have a degree from the School of Education and what it takes to be a life-long and learner.

“If you told Rissa way back when that she was going to end up in Syracuse, she would be very surprised,” says Dr. Ratner, “but that is exactly what happened.” Dr. Ratner and Rissa began dating when Rissa was a sophomore at Syracuse and got formally engaged after her graduation from the School of Education.  Rissa's first job was back in her hometown of Perth Amboy, New Jersey where she taught sixth grade in the same classroom where she had been a sixth grade student 11 years before. After their marriage on June 27, 1965, they moved to Syracuse, Rissa taught sixth grade at Mott Road Elementary in nearby Fayetteville, New York. Three year later, after Dr. Ratner completed medical school and a year of internship and a year of a surgical residency, he entered the United States Air Force during the Viet Nam War.  They were stationed in Fort Worth, Texas. Between 1970 and 1977, their family which now included two children, Beth and Todd, moved every two to three years, making it difficult for Rissa to find a permanent teaching job.  However, even as a stay at home mom, Rissa says she was "always the educator."

In 1978 the Ratner family returned to Syracuse where Dr. Ratner began his work as a pediatric surgeon at SUNY Upstate Medical Center and Rissa started substitute teaching in the Fayetteville-Manlius school district. Nearly 40 years later, Rissa continues to work as a substitute teacher in the same school district, continuing to do what she loves. Rissa says her educational philosophies are simple. While education has changed throughout the years, Rissa believes much has stayed the same and says she is a “big fan of the basics.” She believes that a teacher who motivates and excites a child is pivotal to a student’s success. Rissa has made an impact on generations of students in tenure as an educator. She is a staple in the community, frequently spotted by former students, with families of their own. Dr. Ratner says that wherever they go, someone is bound to recognize Rissa.

“I have had the occasional former student see me in the grocery store and say, I was kind of mean when I had you, and I didn’t behave,” Rissa says with a smile.  “I say, you look like you have turned out to be a wonderful young man or woman,” and that, she says, is what she is all about. While Dr. Ratner is not trained as a teacher, he has trained and mentored many new doctors, and learned from them in return. “You don’t go into the medical profession thinking you are going to be a teacher,” he says, “but you end up being one.”

The Ratner’s Pathfinder gift was made in the form of a Charitable Gift Annuity. The gift celebrated the anniversary of Rissa’s graduation (52 years) from Syracuse University and the School of Education. This gift also commemorates accomplishments since graduation, and for Rissa that means celebrating her love for teaching.  “It is my pleasure to give back and I couldn’t think of a better way to say thank you for what I have learned at Syracuse University’s School of Education,” says Rissa.