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Regina and Ronald McNeil Merge their Commitment to SOE and Detroit Schools to Become the First Donors to Support the Teaching School

October 26, 2018

Regina (ABEd ’73, Cert ’73) and Ronald McNeil’s passions are centered on education, philanthropy, and business. Regina is an SOE alumna who taught high school mathematics and worked as a school psychologist in the Detroit Public Schools. She holds an MA from Wayne State University and a PhD from the University of Minnesota. She now lends her expertise as a member of Dean Elizabeth Birr Moje’s Advisory Committee.

After brief tenures with the Detroit Police Department and Campbell Ewald Advertising Agency, Ronald worked for, and retired from, Allstate Insurance Company after 31+ years of distinguished service. During his tenure with Allstate, he was elected to four Senior Management Team positions and was also Chairman of two Allstate subsidiaries and President of three Allstate companies. The HistoryMakers recognizes him as an African American history maker in the insurance industry. In addition to serving on Dean Gallimore’s College of Engineering Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Ronald is CEO of Great Ball of Light—an energy start-up company.

The McNeils co-founded The Ronald D. & Regina C. McNeil Foundation, Inc. in 2002. Through its flagship McNeil Scholar Programs, The Foundation supports its scholars throughout their undergraduate education and beyond. In addition to financial assistance, The Foundation lends its counsel and support in areas including internships, academic and financial planning, life skills, and career assessment. Since its inception, The Foundation has established three LEAD endowments and three university endowments including the Regina Clark McNeil Endowed Fund to support African-American students dedicated to teaching mathematics or science in secondary classrooms. The Foundation recently donated the inaugural gift supporting the development of the SOE’s Teaching School in Detroit.

Growing up in Detroit, Ronald and Regina were both deeply influenced by their fathers, who led intellectually rich lives and encouraged each of them to embrace every educational opportunity. Young Ronald and Regina understood their fathers’ understated expectations of excellence and the importance of establishing and maintaining a high moral compass. They were grateful for their families, as well as the sense of community they experienced. Regina explains, “We attended our neighborhood Detroit public schools, where your community consisted of your classmates, the families you went to church with, the policemen who kept you safe. Everyone was supportive and affirming whether it was your English teacher or the Choir Director. Resources were also far more plentiful then. My elementary school provided nursing and social services and included a swimming pool and separate rooms for science, home economics, shop, and music. It was open in the summer for city-sponsored, adult-supervised recreation. Resources made a difference but so did the community. If we needed something the system couldn’t provide, the community stepped up. I was happy; I was affirmed.”

Both Ronald and Regina believe that the Teaching School will reintroduce the community model. The planned wrap-around services, the preschool-through- college educational opportunities, and the centralized location of all resources hearken back to the environment in which they were nurtured. Additionally, they are committed to Dean Moje’s visionary model for preparing outstanding educators and leaders. Regina recalls being a young teacher who was lucky to find support and mentorship early in her career: “Having a good mentor shouldn’t be luck. Here we have a Teaching School where this happens by design. Teaching is an extremely difficult job. It takes time to learn how to teach and how to do it well and you need support. Both Ronald and I believe that the Teaching School model will play an important role in reestablishing public respect for the profession of teaching. There is honor in being an educator and teachers should be celebrated for who they are and what they do.”

The McNeils’ commitment to the Teaching School builds on their dedication to expanding educational opportunities in Detroit. Under his leadership as League Chair, Ronald spearheaded the rebirth of the Detroit Urban Debate League. He is quick to add that during his tenure, the vast majority of the judges and volunteer support staff came from U-M. He reasons that “the aspects of debate foster critical thinking and research skills and poise; there isn’t a better way to learn these developmental tools. Debate is just a home run. U-M’s support of the Debate League is just another example of the university’s longstanding and unselfish commitment to the city of Detroit and the Detroit schools.” Ronald continues to serve as Chair Emeritus.

The McNeils have merged their support of the SOE and the Detroit schools by investing in the efforts of the Teaching School. “From all of the years that we have worked in education, we are convinced that U-M, with all its knowledge and research—added to the vision and expertise that Dean Moje and her team bring—will lead to students who are well-educated and nurtured personally and professionally. They will be happy; they will be affirmed. We look forward to seeing that.”

Regina adds, “Dean Moje is the right person for this mission. Few things are easy in Detroit, but the Dean will get this done and we have her back all the way.”