Mayor of Kent, Washington. Three-time WGU graduate. Business owner. Former city councilor. Public servant. Cancer survivor. Wife. Mother.
You name it, Dana Ralph can do it.
Dana grew up in Kent, Washington where she graduated from the local high school and married her high school sweetheart. She started her own business. She saw Kent start to rapidly grow and expand, and she had many thoughts about what it would mean for the community.
The mayor of Kent at the time heard about Dana’s complaints. He called her and told her he wanted her to be part of the solution. He then appointed her to the land use and planning board to help make recommendations on growth and zoning. It was Dana’s first taste in public service, and soon she couldn’t have enough.
After being on the land use and planning board for eight years, Dana decided to run for city council. She lost the first time she ran, but then two years later she ran again, and won.
“I served on city council for six years, and then thought, ‘You know what? I would love to do this full-time every day.’ And I decided to run for mayor at that point,” she laughed.
Dana hadn’t gone to college at all after high school, and she knew that if she wanted to run for mayor, a degree would be important. She did her research and found that WGU would allow her to continue her work on the city council and with her business, as well as get her education. So she started to get her bachelor’s degree in business.
But that wasn’t enough. As soon as she finished her bachelor’s degree, she thought, “I can keep doing this. I’ve already got it built into my schedule.” And off she went, pursuing a master’s degree in leadership and management.
After graduating with her master’s degree, Dana was ready to run for mayor.
But on the day she announced her candidacy, she received some devastating news. Dana had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The diagnosis rocked her world and made her wonder how she could juggle all her responsibilities. But Dana is the kind of person who takes life head-on, so she continued to run her business, perform her duties as a city councilor, be a wife and mother, campaign for mayor, and get cancer treatments.
Dana went into remission as she was campaigning for mayor, and eventually was elected to serve her city. Her fight had paid off.
As soon as Dana assumed the role of mayor, she began implementing what she had learned at WGU. During her first year of service, she saw some emails from her Program Mentor that told her she only had six classes to complete, and she could get an MBA as well.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Dana went for it. So, while serving as the mayor of Kent, Dana earned her third WGU degree.
“The management and leadership degree taught me a lot about leadership styles, what’s important, how to be a servant leader, how to make sure that the folks that I work with are getting everything they need,” she said. “I learned all of those skills through that degree. In the MBA program, it was really the business courses, so the data analytics, understanding budgeting, understanding accounting, all of those things that helped me.”
Dana absolutely loves her job as the mayor of Kent and loves seeing the community where she grew up flourish.
“It’s important to me to be able to make it the best place I can make it for the next generation,” she said. “Aside from that, it’s just the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and in any given day, I can be talking about economic development, homelessness, budgets, transit routes, or building roads. No two days are the same, and that’s a pretty exciting thing.”
Dana understands that her success as a leader is connected with the people she manages. She says her degrees helped her understand that her employees need to love their jobs and know they are important to her. She wants to be a servant leader—a concept heavily focused on in the leadership and management degree program—and make sure she is happy to see the people around her succeed.
Even after accomplishing so much, Dana Ralph isn’t the kind of person to slow down. She still has her sights set on the future, and won’t let anything get in her way.
“At this point, my biggest ambition is, in two years, getting reelected to do a job that I love more than anything, to continue to help people see what an amazing community we have, and all of its potential,” she said.