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Gausman mentoring students through SGA

April 23, 2011

Photo submitted – Kathleen M. Gausman is the current Student Government Association advisor at Gannon University.

For area native Kathleen M. Gausman, her faith has always been emphasized, and that faith has helped her in her current vocation.
Gausman is the current Student Government Association advisor at Gannon University. She is a 1979 graduate of St. Leo's Grade School and a 1983 graduate of Elk County Christian High School. She received her B.S. in Biology from Villa Maria College in 1987 and her M.S. in Counseling Psychology with Emphasis in Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education in 1992 from Gannon University. Gausman described working her way up to her current position through the years.
"My career at Gannon started as a resident director of a residence hall on the Villa Maria Campus, where I had the opportunity to obtain my master’s degree," Gausman said. "I was quickly promoted to the position of Student Conduct Officer (1991), then to Director of Student Living (1993), then to Associate Dean of Student Development (1996). In 2002 our division had some staff changes and I became the Student Government Association (SGA) advisor, which was/is in addition to my responsibilities as Associate Dean. Although I’ve been in the same position for many years, my responsibilities have changed over time. I am fortunate that I have the opportunity to try new ideas, work on different projects and make a difference in how we do things at Gannon."
In 2004, Gausman received her Certification on Organization and Systems Development from Gestalt Institute of Cleveland.
Prior to becoming SGA advisor, Gausman said she had advising experience with student groups and spoke of the importance of SGA in relation to the campus community in general.
"I didn’t have any direct experience with student government before I became the advisor, but I had experience advising student groups and am familiar with college student leadership," Gausman said. "Gannon students are encouraged to get involved from the moment they enroll. SGA is a way for students to get involved at all levels of their college experience. While some students are interested in pursuing careers in government or law, many are not. SGA is the voice of the students. SGA is the liaison between the students and the administration. Student Representatives are involved in the decision-making of the university by being part of and giving student input on university committees. This experience will help them in their careers, as well as on the PTA or in church groups."
As the advisor, Gausman wants to relate SGA to situations students may encounter after their experience at Gannon, comparing SGA to how a city council can impact a community. Having the SGA members find how they can help the Gannon students is another emphasized role of Gausman's.
"As a group, I advise them to find out the needs of the student body and try to meet those needs, (and) make a difference for not only those matriculating right now but for those who will be here after they graduate," Gausman said. "What seeds can you plant now that will blossom in a few years? What project can you start now that other groups will have to take over before it gets done in a couple of years? I also remind them that SGA is a microcosm of the world. It is a governing body for the students of Gannon, just as city or county council responds to the needs of the community. They can use this experience to see how government systems work and to use their ‘power’ to influence their community. They can make a difference in the lives of others. I encourage them to be responsible about this decision-making."
Gausman wants the students to show leadership skills and learn important communication and networking skills during their college time. She said feedback from SGA alumni have helped them in the professional world.
"As individuals, I advise them to be themselves, figure out what they are good at and what they like to do -- then do it. Be a leader," Gausman said. "Take advantage of this time to learn how to work with people effectively – learn how to run an efficient meeting, how to delegate responsibility, how to follow through on projects, how to network and present themselves, etc. I work with them to learn the soft skills that they will need in their careers and lives. I remind them that now is the time to try things, make mistakes and learn from them. When I speak to alumni, they tell me that it was their experience on SGA that has helped them the most in their jobs."
Gausman is encouraged when students experience changes in thinking as they go through college and transition through this time in their lives.
"One of the best and most rewarding aspects of my job is when a student experiences a shift in their thinking – a light bulb goes off for them and they understand something about themselves that is different than before," Gausman said. "I enjoy talking with students and helping them figure out who they are, what they want and how they are going to get it. College is much more than just going to classes. I enjoy watching them grow and mature, I like seeing the seniors mentor the freshmen. I like seeing how the student changes their view of the world as they learn more about each other and the larger issues in life. As students grow and learn -- SGA debates go from simple arguments to more complex arguments that take into consideration the community at large. It is impressive when they demonstrate their leadership to others."
Gausman deals with a changing SGA staff from year to year, especially with the executive board and representatives being decided by elections. She spoke about both the negatives and positives that come out of the personnel turnover.
"It is definitely a challenge to work with a different group of students each year," Gausman said. "Since the executive board and representatives are elected each year, you can never be sure who will be in the organization. It seems that just when the executive board finally knows what they are doing they graduate or move on. While this is challenging, it is also refreshing because a new group means new ideas and I have an opportunity to learn more myself. Fortunately we have some students who remain in the organization from year to year, so there is a little bit of consistency between years."
Friendships are formed between Gausman and the students in SGA, especially groups that have stayed for four years.
"The most personally challenging time is when a group of students who have been on SGA for four years graduates," Gausman said. "At these times I feel a loss because we have grown accustomed to working together and they have created a bond with each other and built a momentum within the group. These are the students that I usually keep in touch with for years after they graduate because we have formed a friendship after working together for four years. I continue to enjoy hearing about their life, their jobs, going to their wedding and seeing pictures of the house they bought."
Gausman said values learned from growing up in the area have helped in her experience at Gannon.
"Some hometown values that are part of my work and everyday life are getting to know people personally, being kind and respectful," Gausman said. "Gannon is a very friendly place. The people are great. It’s kind of like a small town where people pretty much know everyone and care about each other. Gannon is a very supportive place. I make an effort to know where a student is from and a little bit about their family and their values. It’s great when I meet someone from Elk County."
Faith has always been an important part of Gausman's life, from her start at St. Leo's and Elk Christian to her work at Gannon University, a Catholic college.
"Because Gannon is a Catholic college, I often call on my faith to guide and support me," Gausman said. "I have conversations with students about their faith and how they are living their life. We talk about the dignity of the human person and our responsibility to make things better for those who are less fortunate. We talk about how to use our knowledge, talents and skills to make the world a better place.
Gausman said leadership and service are two areas that are also directly related to her upbringing.
"I had excellent role models growing up. My parents were always involved in the church and the community and taught me how to live a holistic lifestyle, paying attention to the arts, spirituality, my family, and my career. My parents and my teachers at St. Leo’s and Elk Christian showed me that a vocation is more important than a paycheck.
"I have been blessed with the opportunity to lead, serve and teach others, and for that I am very grateful."

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