Commencement speakers Hal Gershman and Kathy Gershman will welcome graduates at the Chester Fritz Auditorium
More than 870 new graduates are eligible to cross the stage at the University of North Dakota’s winter commencement ceremonies Thursday and Friday, Dec. 16 and 17, in the Chester Fritz Auditorium. UND President Andy Armacost will preside over all three ceremonies.
Masks are required and will be available in the auditorium. UND faculty are invited to take part.
The ceremony for professional and graduate degrees is set for 3 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16. About 283 professional and graduate students are eligible to graduate.
The ceremony for undergraduate degrees for students in Nursing & Professional Disciplines, Medicine & Health Sciences, Engineering & Mines and Arts & Sciences will take place at 1 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17, and the undergraduate ceremony for students in Education & Human Development, Business & Public Administration and Aerospace Sciences is at 4 p.m. Friday. About 588 students are eligible.
Kathy Gershman, professor emerita of Educational Foundations & Research in UND’s College of Education & Human Development, will speak at the graduate ceremony Thursday. Hal Gershman, longtime Grand Forks business owner, civic leader and philanthropist, who graduated from UND in 1966 and received the Sioux Award in 2006, will speak at both ceremonies on Friday.
Three Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors will be recognized at the 1 p.m. event on Friday and will receive medals and plaques. They are Daphne Pedersen, Sociology; Michelle M. Sauer, English; and Vasyl Tkach, Biology.
Kathy Gershman is professor emerita of Educational Foundations and Research in UND’s College of Education & Human Development. She retired in 2015 after 38 years of service to the University.
Over the course of her career, Gershman served as department chair, as well as director of graduate studies for the College.
Before joining UND’s faculty in 1984, Gershman was a secondary teacher in Boston after earning her B.A. in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts and her Ed.M. and Ed.D. degrees in teaching, curriculum and learning environments from Harvard University.
The author of two books in the areas of pedagogy and education philosophy, Gershman led a highly decorated academic career, receiving the Burlington Northern Foundation Individual Faculty Achievement Award for Excellence in Teaching, Research, Creativity and Service in 1990. She was chosen as one of the “Faculty Stars” by UND Presidential Scholars in 2006 and received the N.D. Spirit Faculty Achievement Award in 2012.
During her tenure, her department received the UND Foundation McDermott Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1991 and 1995, and the Thomas J. Clifford Award for Departmental Excellence in Teaching in 2012.
Her research interests included rural schools, curriculum development and qualitative research methods, among other topics. In 2005, Gershman presented “Everyone Gets to Sing Solo: 21st Century Perspectives on the One-Room Schoolhouse” for UND’s Faculty Lecture Series.
As graduate director, Gershman chaired the dissertation committees of 38 graduated doctoral students. A number of those dissertations were recognized for either Outstanding Scholarship on Teacher Education or the UND Graduate School Distinguished Dissertation Award.
In addition to her academic contributions at UND, Gershman is known for her advocacy for underserved students. In 2020, to help students facing financial hardship during the coronavirus pandemic, Gershman — by way of the Hal and Kathleen Gershman Family Foundation — donated $10,000 to the UND Angel Fund.
In 2018, Gershman and her husband, Hal, announced a $3 million gift in support of renovating the old Oxford House to become the Gershman Graduate Center. A project close to her heart, given her tenure as graduate director, the Graduate Center will give UND’s graduate students a place to call their own, Gershman said. The center was formally dedicated and opened in July 2021.
The Gershmans have also long been advocates for the arts in Grand Forks and the surrounding region. Together, they have contributed to and led many fundraising efforts to enhance artistic offerings and venues in the Red River Valley, including their successful campaign to renovate and revitalize the Empire Arts Center in the late 1990s.
Hal Gershman, longtime Grand Forks business owner, civic leader and philanthropist, is a 1966 UND graduate and 2006 Sioux Award recipient.
The president of Happy Harry’s Bottle Shops and owner of the new Harry’s Steakhouse in Grand Forks, Gershman also is co-founder of the Hal and Kathleen Gershman Family Foundation.
In addition, Gershman was president of the Grand Forks City Council for 14 years, until 2014.
At UND, Gershman earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration before joining the Peace Corps and living in Bolivia, where he met his wife. Gershman started two businesses in Mexico City and Cambridge, Mass., before returning to Grand Forks.
Across decades of civic service and philanthropy, Gershman has been awarded the Governor’s Choice for Economic Development Ambassador of the Year Award, as well as the 2018 Leaders Community Service Award from Market Watch, a national spirits, wine and beer magazine in New York City, among many other distinctions.
For his community service in the spirits industry, Gershman also received the George Washington Spirit Award from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. He is a past president of the Wine and Spirits Guild of America.
Gershman’s national recognition stems from not only his business skill but from his and his wife’s generosity and civic spirit. For example, the Hal and Kathleen Gershman Family Foundation that they founded in 2007 is dedicated to advancing and promoting scientific, educational, medical and artistic charitable purposes.
The Gershmans regularly have donated to the Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks and have supported hundreds of community events and nonprofits over the years.
Perhaps most notably, the Gershmans launched a campaign to save the Empire Arts Center from demolition in the 1990s. Even after the 1997 flood wiped out initial renovation efforts, the support of the Gershmans, the city of Grand Forks and the Grand Forks community turned the century-old theater into a space for the performing arts. To this day, the Gershman’s financial contributions support the facility.
Today, the Empire Arts Center is also home to the UND Art Collections Gallery, which is the culmination of another effort led by the Gershmans. The venue features multiple exhibits each year comprised of pieces sourced directly from UND’s collections.
Daphne Pedersen, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Sociology
In her 17-year career at UND, Daphne Pedersen has become a nationally and internationally recognized sociologist. She has published more than 60 journal articles investigating topics such as gender, the sociology of health, and how work and stress shape individual well-being.
Pedersen currently serves as department chair of sociology, and is the immediate past president of Alpha Kappa Delta, the international sociology honor society.
Her career as a professor consistently has been recognized through awards from the University, including the Bertin C. Gamble Award for Individual Excellence in Teaching in 2007 and the UND Foundation/Bertin C. Gamble Faculty Award for Individual Excellence in Teaching, Research or Creative Activity and Service in 2018.
In 2018, Pedersen also presented her research regarding “Stress and Burnout in Higher Education” for an installment of UND’s prestigious Faculty Lecture Series.
Colleagues nominating Pedersen for the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship award also recognized her repeated service as an Alice T. Clark Scholars Faculty Mentor. Since 2010, Pedersen has mentored numerous faculty members new to UND.
Since 2018, Pedersen has served as a co-principal investigator on a $1 million National Science Foundation grant for Undergraduate Scholarships with Mathematics and Science Training, Exploration and Research. Pedersen has led the social sciences research efforts associated with that grant, which “aims to identify the effectiveness of high-impact practices and mentorship in curbing attrition among underserved students in the STEM fields.”
Michelle M. Sauer, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of English
Since joining the Department of English faculty in 2008, Michelle M. Sauer’s teaching and extensive research have focused on medieval literature, theology and history as well as linguistics and gender and women’s studies.
As one colleague nominating Sauer for the distinction wrote: “Michelle’s scholarly influence is on a national and international scale; she puts UND on the map for her extensive work in medieval studies that crosses disciplinary boundaries of English history, languages, religion, queer studies and gender studies.”
An active and respected scholar in these fields, Sauer’s role as a professor is also highly lauded as being dedicated to undergraduate and graduate levels of learning and research. Students at the College of Arts & Sciences have referred to her as a fierce advocate for first-generation, minority and LGBTQ students.
Her co-edited work, The Lesbian Premodern, was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award — a prestigious award recognizing LGBTQ literature. A number of her monographs, edited collections, peer-reviewed journals and blog articles also have been nominated for awards.
Her advocacy has extended to her service work with regional, national and international organizations to promote medieval studies and “bring much-needed equity and diversity to it,” according to a nominator. This work includes guiding the creation and development of Medievalists of Color, an international organization aimed to advance critical race and cultural studies within medieval studies, and to support the work and experience of people of color both inside and outside academia.
Vasyl Tkach, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biology
Vasyl Tkach is one of the world’s foremost parasitologists. Since joining UND’s faculty in 2003, in the Department of Biology, Tkach has published more than 200 papers and conducted research efforts spanning the globe.
“He has done more international research than probably any faculty in the history of UND, including doing research on all continents and co-authoring papers with colleagues from 30 countries,” wrote one of Tkach’s colleagues in nominating Tkach for the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship award.
In 2020, Tkach served as president of the American Society of Parasitologists, the leading organization for the discipline in the United States.
Through his 30-plus-year career, he has described more than 100 new species of parasites, in addition to his hundreds of highly cited publications.
A native of Ukraine, Tkach has received multiple UND, regional, national and international awards for his research, including the 2017 Henry Baldwin Ward Medal, the most prestigious research award from the American Society of Parasitologists.
In 2019, Tkach was awarded an Honorary Membership from the Polish Parasitological Society, the organization’s highest recognition.
Beyond his own achievements, Tkach has facilitated successful research for dozens of UND students at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He has mentored more than 60 undergraduate students and trained a number of post-doctoral researchers from multiple countries. Tkach also has been active in hosting Research Experiences for Undergraduates on behalf of the National Science Foundation, as well as bringing experiential learning opportunities to high school students.
Higher resolution photos and captions:
Hal and Kathy Gershman (7 MB): Hal Gershman and Kathy Gershman will be the featured speakers at UND’s Winter Commencement ceremonies on Dec. 16 and 17. They’re pictured here in the Gershman Graduate Center at UND, a space dedicated to graduate students and programs that was opened in 2021 thanks to a generous donation from the Gershmans. Photo courtesy of UND Alumni Association & Foundation.
Hal Gershman (226 KB)
Kathy Gershman (3 MB)
Daphne Pedersen (4 MB)
Michelle M. Sauer (7 MB)
Vasyl Tkach (3 MB)
Winter 2019 Commencement, UND archive photo (15 MB)