She was a farm girl from northwest Ohio and the baby of five children.
Luanne Gearhart, a psychology instructor, was a first-generation college student.
Gearhart is now two years away from retirement and looking toward the future.
But going from her little farming community to becoming the instructor she is today was no easy feat.
“I pretty much grew up similar to being an only child, so with that came a lot of rebellion and defiance,” Gearhart said.
During her freshman year of high school, Gearhart said she had a music teacher who found her voice, which she didn’t know she had in the first place. She said she always knew she was loud and received all the big singing parts, but others saw a talent.
“Someone said, ‘Hey, you have gift here. We think you could go to college,’” Gearhart said. “I mean that threw me through a loop because no one in my family went to college.”
On a full-ride scholarship as a voice major, Gearhart travelled five hours to Ohio State in pursuit of singing opera.
Gearhart said she immersed herself in music and voice classes her first year of college but hit a road bump along the way.
“The problem is I didn’t have any theory, and so I wasn’t successful at all,” Gearhart said. “It was very competitive and I just didn’t have what it took to complete the program in the area of music.”
With her best friend majoring in education, Gearhart said she hopped on the same track and graduated with a bachelor’s in education with an emphasis in special education because what else did women do in the 1970s?
Gearhart admitted that it had been more unusual in previous generations but it was still rare for women to attend college in the mid-’70s.
As a college student during that time period, Gearhart said there was an incredible amount of experimentation and lots of students weren’t successful, because many got wrapped up in drugs, alcohol and other pitfalls. However, she said she managed to survive it and is proud to this day that she came out of it unscathed, unlike many of her friends.
As a first-generation student, Gearhart said college was difficult because she did not have support from her family because they didn’t understand the process of college anymore than she did. Back then, Gearhart said colleges did not have support for first-generation students. She wound up changing her major three times, and it took her until the second semester of her freshman year to finally get into the groove of college.
Gearhart said that most of her college years consisted of service learning and internships where she matured and was able to explore different opportunities. She said she wants present-day colleges to be more like her college experience.
“When I look at students here I wish that we could provide our students with more flexibility in terms of trying on different hats and looking at different opportunities for them,” Gearhart said.
With her bachelor’s in one hand and a new-found love for children in the other, Gearhart spent five years in public education as a special education teacher for high school and middle school students. This is where Gearhart said she found her interest in the science of psychology.
“I spent a lot of time with them just working on/around issues about relationships and sexuality and probably stuff that I probably shouldn’t have been doing at that point and time,” Gearhart said.
She said that it wasn’t so much their education as it was the student’s lives that she had an interest in and found that she had gift in developing relationships with these students who were emotionally disturbed.
With this in mind, Gearhart wanted to find a way to blend science in with her interest in therapy and found herself quitting her teaching job because she didn’t like the bureaucracy.
Gearhart saw an opportunity with her husband working as a teacher and decided to attend graduate school and finished with three master’s degrees in 1985.
“I have more graduate hours than my husband who has a Ph.D., but that’s another story,” Gearhart said.
Ron Jeffrey from Youth Alternatives in Cheyenne hired Gearhart in 1986, and that is where she said she evolved as a therapist for the next 32 years. She had her own private practice for 13 years and has been teaching full time at Laramie County Community College for 11 years.
Jonathan Carrier, a psychology instructor for the Albany County Campus, has worked with Gearhart for eight years and said professionally she is a very private person but is smart, outgoing and has a great sense of humor.
“She’s not going to beat around the bush and not in a rude way,” Carrier said.
Carrier said that Gearhart is fierce student advocate and bases her decisions in the best interests of the students. He said that she is an unbelievably committed member of the LCCC psychology department and is at the forefront of all decisions.
Gearhart says that while she is in this for the students, she is seeing a shift in which she is finding it harder to meet the needs of the present-day college student.
“Students are not as hungry for learning as what it was even three years ago,” Gearhart said. “You could drop a bomb out here and nobody would know.”
In the classroom Gearhart says there is no conversation anymore, and while everyone is polite there in no interaction. She said students used to hold study groups and have discussions right outside her office.
“I’ve got a couple more years and then I’ll retire, and then who knows?” Gearhart said.
Gearhart said she is pondering doula training as part of her retirement. A doula is a person who supports a pregnant woman throughout her pregnancy and during labor while coaching the family. She also wants to be a death doula and help support a family during the death and grieving process.
“What an honor to be present on both ends,” Gearhart said. “What a gift; the entry of a human and the exit of the human being.”