From student to dean

Cassie Gerhardt, UND’s assistant dean of students for student involvement & leadership, first became interested in student involvement as a UND student herself.

In 1991 Cassie Gerhardt began her journey as a freshman at UND — more than 20 years later, she’s still here.

Assistant Dean of Students for Student Involvement & Leadership, Cassie Gerhardt didn’t originally want to come to UND. But, like many, her “UND family” pushed her to attend a school that would eventually become a defining factor in her life.

It didn’t take Gerhardt long to recognize that she and UND clicked.

“By the end of the first night, I knew (UND) was special,” Gerhardt said.

During her time as an undergraduate, Gerhardt served as a Resident Assistant, student employee, student senator and member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.

After taking a brief hiatus from UND and Grand Forks to earn her master’s degree from Oklahoma State University, Gerhardt took a position at Arkansas State University, where, for three years, she served as a sorority advisor.

Making connections

In 2002, Gerhardt accepted a position working with UND’s sororities and fraternities, returning once again to her alma mater. Eleven years later, Gerhardt’s mission at UND has remained the same — to help teach students make the most out of their time on campus.

“I’m an educator,” Gerhardt said. “It’s just I don’t have to write a syllabus.”

Gerhardt is a firm believer in the power of student involvement and organizations. Based on her experience with all kinds of students — from international students to those with small town N.D. origins and everything in between — Gerhardt says that student organizations serve as “a safety net” for students who find themselves in the unfamiliar college atmosphere.

“Student organizations are the connection that make our students successful,” Gerhardt said.

Raised in Mandan, N.D., Gerhardt says her first real experiences with diversity happened when she came to UND. Now, she uses her own experiences to help serve the students she works with.

“I try to think about … how do we make (college) great,” Gerhardt said. “Whatever (students’) experience is, college is hard. It’s hard for a reason — it’s supposed to be hard.”

Despite the challenges college presents, Gerhardt tries to soften the experience, smiling at students when they walk by and working to help build the kind of personal connections that allow students succeed — a seemingly endless task.

“You want to do more and there isn’t always the time of day or the resources,” Gerhardt said. “I hope all of our students make those connections and (realize) that people care about them.”

One year in

In July, Gerhardt celebrated one year of serving as the faculty advisor for Student Government. Thanks in part to fond memories she carries from her time as a student senator, Gerhardt says that advising Student Government is “one of (her) favorite things.”

In addition to her experiences as a student senator, Gerhardt also recalls an unsuccessful bid for student body president.

“I learned a lot from losing,” Gerhardt said.

Now, at the beginning of a new school year, Gerhardt is hoping to pass on the leadership lessons she’s learned to a new group of student leaders.

“(Student senators) are leaders,” Gerhardt said. “Now it’s time to practice leadership … and to do so with respect.”

‘Debt of gratitude’

During Homecoming Week, Oct. 7 to 11, Gerhardt will receive a Young Alumni Achievement Award. According to Gerhardt, the award is usually presented to two UND alumni 40 years old or younger.

“I love my job,” Gerhardt said. “When I went to college, I was hoping I would find a career that would bring me happiness. UND prepared me well, and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity.”

Gerhardt said she felt flattered and humbled to have been selected, adding that it feels strange to be receiving an award from a school that she still feels she owes a “debt of gratitude” to.

“I’m just doing what I prepared to do,” Gerhardt said. “I bleed pink and green.”

For now though, Gerhardt’s focus is on the new school year and the students.

“(I hope they’re) successful in whatever that means for them,” Gerhardt said. “And (that they) take a risk — try something new.

“It’s a huge thing — this college experience.”

Carrie Sandstrom is the editor-in-chief of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]