UND Education & Human Development Professor Kathy Gershman set to retire after hooding 38th doctoral student in 38 years at 2016 winter commencement
With 38 doctoral hoodings in 38 years, Kathy Gershman capped her career by hooding Stacey Borboa-Peterson during the University of North Dakota’s winter commencement in December.
It was the final hooding before Gershman, a professor in the UND Department of Educational Foundations and Research, retired. She noted that there are other faculty members, such as her retired colleague, Dick Landry, with similar records.
“The hooding was a great achievement and an incredible honor,” said Borboa-Peterson, director of Multicultural Student Services, who earned her Ph.D. in educational foundations and research. “I was fortunate to begin and end my doctoral journey with Kathy as my guide. It was such an experience.”
“Hooding students on stage is very gratifying and exciting,” said Gershman. “They’re happy and proud, and families come from great distances. The pageantry is so medieval and nifty with the music and regalia. It’s a marvelous couple of hours.”
Gershman said she never gets nervous hooding students on stage.
“The time to be nervous is when your student defends a 200-page dissertation,” she said. “Your reputation is on the line, and quality comes first. Graduation is just fun.”
Gershman is known for her support and mentorship of students.
“Kathy makes personal connections with her students,” said Borboa-Peterson. “From the time I started my program to now, Kathy made me feel part of something larger. She goes above and beyond. She always invited us to her home and to spend time with her family.”
Emmanuel Mensah, who earned his doctorate in 2015, had such a good experience earning his degree that he and his wife named their baby daughter after Gershman.
“Kathy sees very far,” said Mensah. “She realizes the potential in you even when you’re not aware you can do it. She allows you to discover that. She’s open to opinions and ideas, and she’s always willing to learn from students. She helped me to achieve at UND.”
“Kathy knows you not only by name but by strength, ability and potential,” he said. “She doesn’t lower expectations. She inspires, encourages and pushes you.”
Mensah, who works at the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction in Bismarck, said they keep in touch.
“She’s always interested in what I’m doing,” he said. She invited faculty and students in the department and college to her home so they could become acquainted, and even organized a small graduation party for Mensah.
“I spend a lot of time with students,” Gershman said. She’s with them at the beginning of their Ph.D. program, helps them brainstorm ideas for their dissertations, helps them design a research plan and proposal, and advises them all the way to the dissertation defense.
“It takes time to get to know students,” Gershman said. “There are lots of conversations, meetings and coffee. They need to trust you to share their ideas.”
“Kathy has twice said yes when I really needed her,” said Joan Hawthorne, UND’s director of assessment and regional accreditation, who earned her doctorate 20 years ago with Gershman as advisor. “She’s warm, personable, and funny, yet never sacrifices content. She’s very supportive and helpful. She was exactly the right advisor for me.”
Hawthorne said that Gershman did a lot of work on the Higher Learning Commission report for UND’s re-accreditation in 2013. “She’s always been hugely supportive and good to work with.”
Lori Swinney, director of UND’s Center for Instructional and Learning Technologies, who worked full time while earning her doctorate, said Gershman allowed her to come to her home on weekends for some of their meetings. “She’d invite me to go by her house on a Saturday, and we’d sit on the steps and work during the summer,” she said.
“She was teaching about the process,” Swinney said. “It was her job to make sure you’re fully ready before you go into any of the meetings. Everyone respected her, and she offered ideas but not criticism.”
Gershman said she will miss those conversations, but will still keep in touch with students.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” she said. “I love my job and can’t believe I got paid to teach and read. I was so lucky in my career.”
During retirement, she plans to spend more time with her family and continue her involvement in the arts and fundraising. She’s done a lot of research on rural one-room schools, and plans to continue her work on that: “It’s like being a graduate student again.”