August 21, 2012
By Bob Romantic
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
The gesture was simple, yet completely disarming.
Cheryl Roat reached out, touched the student's hand and said in a calming voice, "I sense you're really frightened right now. If it's OK with you, we'd like to sit in silence and pray with you."
The nursing student, who was from another country, had failed her first class at GCU, and came into the meeting with Roat, an associate dean with the College of Nursing, and Maria Quimba, then a professor with CON, clearly agitated.
"It was a blow to her because, culturally speaking, you're losing face," Quimba recalled. "You are expected to excel. She didn't want to have to explain how she failed this class and she believed she could convince us she should get a better grade."
"The student got more agitated and more agitated and it started to escalate even more."
But as Roat reached out to her, the student calmed down, then broke down and began to cry.
|"She was just scared. She didn't understand what was happening to her and didn't know what the next steps were," said Quimba, who is now CON's director of professional studies. "So, while she cried, Cheryl and I just prayed with her. Cheryl said, ‘I really appreciate you allowing us to pray with you. I don't know what the answer is, but I want you to go back to the dorm until you're OK with talking about what the next steps might be. And whatever that is, we'll help you.'
"That was 2007, not long after I first came to GCU, but I remember that situation distinctly because that is very much who Cheryl is."
Marking milestones at GCU
Roat, 63, is beginning her 25th year at GCU - a tenure surpassed by only six other employees at the University. Dr. Larry Barron, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, also is celebrating his 25th year of employment.
|Longest-Tenured Employees/||Yrs of Service|
|Anna Faith Smith||22|
Through those years, Roat has exemplified the University's Christian mission and commitment to academics. And in times of crisis, those characteristics come in handy.
"I remember that situation," Roat said of the failing nursing student. "I asked if it was OK if I pray with you, and it just seemed the whole tone changed after that. I don't always do that, but I always ask the person first if I feel led to do that. I don't just impose it on them."
"But I think it does make a difference. You can't do that in a state university. That's one of the things I like about here is you can integrate your faith, and that's easy to do in nursing."
A lifetime of loyalty
Christian faith has been part of Roat's life since she was a child growing up on a farm in Illinois.
She met her future husband, Ron, when she was 10 years old, started dating him when she was 15½ and married when she was almost 22 (that's 41 years of marriage, if you're doing the math).
And now she has 25 years under her belt at GCU.
In other words, commitment doesn't seem to be a problem in Roat's life.
"She's the historian around here," said Sherri Spicer, an assistant professor with CON. "I can't imagine the changes she's seen."
Darlyn Swint, program manager for the RN-BSN program, described Roat as someone who always sees the good in people.
"She's always happy and has a positive outlook on everything. She is an amazing person. She believes everyone has potential and everyone has a good heart."
Lisa Jaurigue has seen those characteristics as a student of Roat's in 1988-89 for a pediatrics class - and now as a faculty member at GCU.
"She is very passionate about GCU and nursing education," Jaurigue said. "When I was a student, she would teach pediatric nursing content, but she would also bring in good advice about being a mother. She taught us not only the content but also how to be a better person. I left remembering that, more than the nursing content."
A not-so-odd couple
Dr. Anne McNamara, dean for the College of Nursing, said Roat is the glue that holds a lot of things together in the program.
|"She is the stabilizing factor who holds everything to the highest standards," McNamara said. "Her goal is always the same, which is to produce the best possible nurses in the community. And she's all about fairness, making sure people are treated the right way."
Roat has worked through five deans in her 25 years at GCU, and even served as an interim dean for nearly six months in 2004.
The pairing with McNamara, in a not-so-odd couple sort of way, works well.
"We're opposites," McNamara said, "but in a good and healthy way. Our joke is that it is my job to teach her how to have more fun, but she can be a lot of fun."
McNamara is the charismatic extrovert, always comfortable in front of a large crowd. Roat is the person behind the scenes, perfectly content to work with people one-on-one to bring out the best in them.
"I'm mostly serious more than fun-loving, but I do have a lot of passion about nursing and what I do," Roat said. "Anne has created a wonderful environment to work in. You love to come to work and you love the people you work with."
Happily ever after
McNamara and Roat joke that when one decides to end her career, the other will have to follow.
"I have no idea what her exit strategy plan is, but she will be very hard to replace," McNamara said. "If and when she thinks of retiring, she's got to have someone in mind she's grooming to do her job, because she's great."
For Roat, she's in no hurry to find that person.
"I'm not ready to quit. I like what I do. ... I was home last week because my husband had major (knee replacement) surgery. I don't think I could stay home for a whole week."
Until then, Roat said she feels blessed to work at GCU.
"You talk about finding purpose; I found my purpose here as a faculty member and administrator. I've always wanted to teach in a Christian school, so I am actually living my dream."
And when another troubled student comes along?
"I remember telling Cheryl that - granted, I had never been in a Christian institution or an environment that allows an overt demonstration of faith - but I was really impressed with how she handled that situation," Quimba said. "The heart of the matter is really reaching out to someone and being of service to them and opening yourself up and allowing them to grieve in front of you.
"One, that's truly nursing. But secondly, it really shows that you are here for them as a person and not just your role as a dean or faculty member or whatever. That's really at the heart of who she is as a person but also at the heart of what we are as a college."
And the best part?
"Interestingly enough, we created a plan for that girl," Quimba said of the failing nursing student. "She went back to classes, she graduated from the program and she successfully moved on with her life."
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.