Emma Rhodes, EdD

Educator | Class of 2006

Emma Kelly Rhodes is a prominent educator and social activist who has established a series of nonprofit education centers across Arkansas. Using her own life as an example, she worked to increase access to education, especially for those who have dropped out of high school. Rhodes has sought to give these people the education and training necessary to allow them to recast their lives.

Emma Kelly was born on May 9, 1937. She grew up in a family of fourteen, was a tenth-grade dropout at age fifteen, became a mother at sixteen, and was a widow at twenty-nine. Despite all this, she reared and educated seven children, each of whom earned at least a degree from a technical college, with a number going on to earn four-year degrees. She obtained her own GED at the age of twenty-nine.

Kelly started taking classes at Capital City Business College, and that training helped her obtain a secretarial position at Philander Smith College in Little Rock. She worked during the day and attended classes at night, and she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1972. She then studied vocational counseling at the University of Houston before returning to Arkansas to earn a master’s degree in education from the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway. She went on to earn an EdS degree from the University of Arkansas (U of A) at Fayetteville, and she followed that with a doctorate in education from the U of A in 1987. She also earned a post-doctoral degree in adult education from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

In 1972, she went to work for the Arkansas Department of Education as a business education teacher, while she endeavored at night to further her own education. Eventually, Kelly met and married Clyde E. Rhodes, Jr. She would ultimately become the statewide coordinator of adult education before she retired in 1998 to allocate her time to provide training and opportunities for others who had seen their educational pursuits interrupted by life and choices, and she established a nonprofit organization to facilitate that effort: the Emma Kelly Rhodes Education Center (EREC), which opened in 2001. It later expanded to include the Dr. Emma Kelly Rhodes Education and Multi-Purpose Center for Adult Education, as well as the E. K. Rhodes Activity Center, all located in Little Rock. In 2009, she founded the House of Vision; its purpose is to provide jobs, skills, and entrepreneurial training for felons and others whose prison records have made their efforts to return to mainstream society particularly difficult.

The Rhodes Center and its affiliate operations offer courses in basic education and ADE/GED preparation, as well as technical training that prepares students to become certified nurse assistants and home health aides. The center also offers training in vocational areas such as heating and air conditioning/refrigeration, as well as painting and dry-wall work. Rhodes has developed partnerships to help provide these technical skills. The center is licensed and approved by the Arkansas State Board of Private Career Education, which also helped develop the program’s curriculum and certified the instructors. In addition, EREC worked with the Little Rock School District to offer free classes to prepare students for the Arkansas High School Diploma/GED test. Having one time been a volunteer probation officer, Rhodes is particularly attuned to providing opportunities for those with minor criminal records.

Rhodes has received numerous accolades and honors, including being recognized by the Arkansas Times as an Arkansas Hero, as well as being named one of the “Top 100 Women in Arkansas” by Arkansas Business. Rhodes has also been featured in the nationally distributed Parade magazine. She and her husband reside in Little Rock.

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