Learning Doesn’t Stop with Retirement for UF Online Student Earning His Sociology Degree

UF Online Student Gil Ziffer

After leaving the University of Florida prematurely in the late 1970s, Gil Ziffer decided to return to the university four decades later to earn his UF degree while in retirement. Living in Tallahassee, FL after his tenure as a city commissioner, Gil discovered that UF Online’s sociology program was the perfect match for him because of its flexible schedule and fully online format. After starting his B.A. in Sociology in 2021, Gil recently graduated in Fall 2023 at almost 67, fulfilling the dream he began in 1975.

Once a Gator, always a Gator,” Gil said. “I always wanted to go back to school, and I always wanted it to be Florida.


Growing up in Central Florida, Gil belongs to a large family of Gators. His parents had five children, and three of them attended the University of Florida. Gil’s younger brother went to UF and graduated with a degree in accounting, while his older sister graduated from the university with a journalism degree. Gil’s two sons also attended UF, one graduating with a degree in business administration before going on to UF’s Levin College of Law and the other graduating with a degree in art history before also attending law school.

“My father told me I could go to any school I wanted to in Gainesville,” Gil said. “So, not too many options there. My father was a physician, and my mother had a degree. It was a natural assumption we would all attend college. So, the University of Florida was the only school I applied to. Fortunately, I got in.” He initially pursued pre-medical studies before transitioning to landscape architecture for two years, then shifted to advertising before ultimately departing the university at the end of 1978.

“I wish I had spent more time with my advisor back then, because I probably would have stayed, or at least had better direction,” Gil said. The summer before leaving UF, he interned for a large advertising agency in Orlando, FL. By the end of the summer, Gil was running the media department and accepted a full-time job offer. Despite success with the agency, as he looked back on his career, he always regretted not completing his degree.

When Gil first encountered the UF Online program, he thought it would be the ideal way to earn his UF degree while living in Tallahassee. He first applied to UF Online in 2014 but did not matriculate. With further encouragement from two long-time Gator friends, Gwen Graham and Bill Gunter, and after receiving Florida’s personalized counseling to help him navigate the program offerings, he reapplied in 2020. With experience spanning communications and government sectors, he was advised that sociology encapsulated all his diverse interests. “It was the best decision they helped me make,” he said. “That’s how I was able to return to UF and have an exceptional learning experience.”


Gil met his wife Gail and established Ziffer Stansberry Strategic Communications. “I ran my own marketing company with my wife for about 35 years,” he said. “It was hugely successful. We had national clients, including Anheuser Busch and the St. Joe Company. With my skills in advertising and my wife’s in public relations, we had great clients that were looking for our out-of-the-box creativity and our connectivity in the community.”

He was also deeply involved with Tallahassee non-profits, serving numerous organizations and being elected to positions on boards, which eventually led to his role on the Tallahassee City Commission, where he served from August 2009 to November 2018. While on the Commission, Gil drew from his experiences in business and involvement in community and government affairs, applying these skills to his civic duties.

Gil’s commitment to his community fueled his sense of fulfillment as he addressed the concerns of Tallahassee residents, finding profound pride and satisfaction in his role. “Typically, the people that need the most help are the ones least likely to ask for it because they don’t think anybody will listen,” Gil said. During his time in office, Tallahassee had a growing homeless population in the downtown area that needed to be addressed. “We identified a parcel of land within the city limits to build what we call the ‘comprehensive emergency service center,’ where not only the homeless could stay and be fed but also have medical support, mental health support, an opportunity to learn about potential jobs, and sign up for whatever continuing education they might need. I really enjoyed doing that.” He also excelled on the state and national level as President of the Florida League of Cities and Board of the National League of Cities.


Motivated by his dedication to public service, Gil embarked on his sociology degree journey after concluding his tenure in public office in 2018. Among the many facets of UF Online that resonated with him, the standout features were the professors, advisors, and the flexibility the program afforded. The asynchronous schedule allowed him to work at his own pace, thanks to the advance posting of assignments. “I really liked that flexibility,” he said, “For someone who is younger and working, they could work around their work schedule to watch a class or do the assignments. Someone retired like me could get ahead of it if you have travel plans.”

Gil praised the sociology program’s faculty for their helpfulness and accessibility and encouraged UF Online students to meet them in person if possible. “I thoroughly enjoyed engaging with my professors. I came down to Gainesville and met with some of them in person. I would urge anybody that does the online program if they have an opportunity to go meet with their professors.” He also recognized the positive influence of his advisors, Robert Lopez and Nicole Raman, whose understanding of his unique learning journey helped empower and support him while completing his degree.

Gil urges colleagues and professionals at any stage of their career to consider attending school for a degree or for individual courses. “I want to engage my former colleagues to think about going back to school because I wish I had had some of that knowledge while I was a city commissioner. I think I would have done a better job dealing with teen violence, guns, and things of that nature,” he said. “Particularly Marian Borg’s class (SYP 3510: Deviance) would be very helpful to many in local elected office. I promised her I was going to do that, and it’s still my intention.”

It was a great experience,” Gil said. “I would tell anyone to go online, learn more about the online program at the University of Florida, and consider it.

Gil walked at graduation in December 2023 and described it as an amazing and memorable experience. “I was tremendously successful in my professional career, however not getting that degree, not finishing, had been a personal failure for me all those years,” Gil said. “I finally walked in a ceremony both my sons had before me. I graduated from the University of Florida, the school I love and always wanted my degree from.”

The University of Florida celebrates Gil and his dedication to finishing what he started as a Gator. UF Online congratulates him on his achievement and wishes him the best in all his future pursuits.



Designed and delivered by professors from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), UF’s sociology degree prepares students for an exciting future with a wide array of career fields. UF Online sociology students will have coursework focused on broad categories such as sociological theory and methods, families and gender studies, poverty and inequality, and much more. Graduates can continue their studies in law school or other graduate programs. UF Online also offers a minor in sociology for students interested in this program while pursuing other majors. For more information about the sociology major, visit the UF Online degree page.