Looking back: Dr. Trent Gabert reflects on an extraordinary career


trent gabertDr. Trent Gabert is retiring in June after spending a 40 year career at the University of Oklahoma. What started in Health and Exercise Science and ended as the associate dean of the College of Liberal Studies, Dr. Gabert's career has truly been extraordinary.

Forty years is a long time. And it's been a good time. It's been a period of a lot of growth. When I was in Health and Exercise Science we went from 25 students to about 600 students in a 10 year period there. When I came to the College of Liberal Studies, now we've gone from about 450 to about 1700. So another period of really big growth. It's been a time of a lot of growth, a lot of change and there's always some chaos that goes with the change and a lot of feelings from people that there's a bit of stress. But I think it's been very good and very interesting.

When I came, my wife was eight months pregnant with our third child and it was June, tornado weather. And my wife said, "Don't even unpack, we're not staying." We were coming from Wisconsin and we had grown up in Wisconsin and I did all three of my degrees at the University of Wisconsin, so it was a change coming here. Forty years later now, here we are. We're still here so it's been a good ride.

I like Norman a lot. I like a university town a lot. I can't imagine living in a city that doesn't have a close connection with a university. In Norman of course, you've got the university as the largest institution in the city. So that's always been good. There are so many things here, there's so much culture, there are so many sport activities. It's always been a nice town and we think a pretty safe town and a great city to raise children in, so we really like Norman. Intend to stay in Norman and keep going to ballgames, keep going to plays and concerts and lectures and things like that at the university.

The change with online is kind of interesting. We've had face-to-face education for thousands of years and everybody has gotten pretty comfortable with that. Even though I think a new faculty member or a new instructor facing a class for the first time, it's a bit stressful. But when all of a sudden you say we're going to change the delivery method and most of the faculty and of course all of the students are being moved into a direction that is very different, then there's going to be some stress. I wouldn't say it was uncomfortable stress, or too much stress, but it was stressful. I think that we still see some of that. I still think we see some of that because you still have faculty that were very comfortable with the face-to-face and question if the online is going to be equal to or better as a delivery method or a learning method.

I think the advantages of the online have just been fantastic for the College of Liberal Studies. It allows us to reach students that do not have an opportunity to go to school. We have 65, 70 percent of our students are female. Many of those are mothers, many of those are single mothers. They work during the day and want to be home with their children in the evening and on weekends so the only opportunity they would have to get a degree really is through online. So this has really been an interesting development in education and I think it will continue to grow a lot in the future.

I think that the main campus is changing. The first change of course is that they go to a hybrid, so that the students that are on campus going to face to face classes are also doing some work online. Eventually they'll move to more online, and I'm not sure what's going to happen to all the classrooms and things like that that you have on campus. I think a hybrid version of education is great because you can do things online that you probably can't do in a face to face and likewise, you can some things face to face that you can't do online. So you've got a combination of taking the good from each of them and I think that would serve the students well and serve the university well.

To come to the College of Liberal Studies which I began working with I think in 1971, right after I came, I began working with the college. And then to come here and work with Dr. Pappas who has so many ideas and is always pushing for growth and change, gave us some opportunities to make some changes in the college and of course getting into the online has been one of the big changes that we had. And I think we've been very, very successful on that. Sometimes we wonder what the measurement that says that we are successful. One could be the growth we've had, but another one is to look at the satisfaction of our students and each semester we student evaluations and it's amazing the number of student evaluations back that are so positive and so grateful for the programs that we offer. That's another way at looking of the success of the program.

Of course people always say do you work with students and if you see them, and it's always amazing I think to watch student who come in and are very hesitant as to whether or not they can get a degree. I think just this semester, one of the employees from CCE was doing her final project and was very concerned that she'd never be able to do this project. So I visited with her a little bit and I visited with her advisor and then got out of the picture and pretty soon, near the end of the semester the professor writes to me and says this was one of the best projects he's ever supervised. You get these stories and it only takes one or two to really make you feel good about what's going on. There's a lot of things I'm happy with and that we've done well.

Update: The College of Liberal Studies was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2017. 

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The College of Professional and Continuing Studies is a fully accredited academic unit of the University of Oklahoma, offering 100% online, hybrid and onsite degrees for working adults and non-traditional students.