The 2015-16 school year began on a somber note with the passing of donor and friend of the school Marilyn Gevirtz on September 27. In 2000, she and her husband Ambassador Don Gevirtz made a transformative gift to the Graduate School of Education, and in recognition of that gift, UCSB renamed the school in their honor. Their significant investment has supported student fellowships, fostered the creative capacity of the faculty, and enhanced the school’s stature as a nationally renowned leader in education.
For this edition of the Alumni Newsletter we asked three people who knew Marilyn well to share their reminiscences.
Russell Rumberger, Professor Emeritus, Department of Education
Marilyn Gevirtz was a kind person who took a personal interest in the School of Education and the faculty within it. Two gestures illustrate these qualities. The first occurred in 1997 when I was taking my family with me on a sabbatical to Melbourne University. When discussing my upcoming trip with Don and Marilyn Gevirtz, they invited me and my family to stay with them at their residence in Fiji, where Don was serving as the U.S. Ambassador. They were wonderful hosts and they also arranged for me to meet with Fijian education officials while I was there.
The second gesture was smaller, but no less significant. When I received a lifetime achievement award from the American Education Research Association, Marilyn wrote a personal note to me congratulating me and stating how proud she was to have me as part of the faculty. It meant a lot to me. Marilyn was a wonderful benefactor to the Gervirtz School of Education not simply because of the generous gift that she and her husband Don provided, but in the personal interest she took in the people that were part of it. I observed this at every meeting that Marilyn attended, where we always greeted each other with a hug.
Suzanne W. Peck, Commissioner, County of Santa Barbara, Commission for Women
Marilyn came into my life in 2010 as I was writing a film and book to teach respect and prevent bullying. Over lunch at Birnam Wood, surrounded by staff who treated her like royalty, Marilyn shared the pain and embarrassment she experienced as a bullied little 8 year-old. And to my great fortune, she offered to help with my film. Days later, Marilyn introduced me to Dean Jane Conoley, who opened doors to the world-class research, expertise and contributions of the Gevirtz School. Many meetings, many more lunches, and I could always count on Marilyn to be both positive and provocative.
Marilyn had a way of asking questions that would tilt the conversation, but in a good way. For example, she gave me advice on casting. When I showed her Expect the Best: A Guide for Parents-to-Be, one of my earlier film projects, narrated by Ahmad Rashad and Phylicia Rashad, with Latino parents, Asian parents, single parents, and a very diverse cast, Marilyn asked why there were no blondes included. She was not joking. Our conversation about the importance of connecting with as broad an audience as possible often makes me think "what's missing from this picture?" And I'll always miss and respect one of my favorite blondes, Marilyn.
Shane Jimerson, Professor and Chair of the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology
Marilyn will always be remembered as a strong, smart, and bold woman. Her curiosity and her smile were contagious. On one occasion, when discussing the challenges facing education professionals, she raised the question: Why is it that so many children are not able to read proficiently by sixth grade? I briefly commented that it was complex, but certainly an important question. She then reflected on her experiences with young children, how many of them were reading well by age seven. She lamented the low proficiency of so many students, many of whom have received years of education. She acknowledged that some students transition into the education system at a later age, perhaps having fluency in another language. She also explored the number of students who have been identified with learning disabilities, for whom this delay in reading may be a result of neurological complications. She discussed the challenges associated with students coming from impoverished backgrounds, the lack of exposure and opportunity to engage with literature. I made brief comments recognizing the complexity.
She continued to inquire about various curriculums that may impact teacher's success in helping students learn to read. She talked about the school library and the local library and how many of these children used such resources. She asked whether there were specific instructional strategies that have been found to be more effective, broadly advocating for increased efforts focused on direct instruction, repetition, and daily practice. I briefly commented that each of these were undoubtedly important considerations.
She wondered whether there was more that could be done within the school context. She reflected on what could be done within a community to help support reading among all children. After exploring many possibly influences regarding why so many children are not able to read proficiently by sixth grade, she then declared, we must do more to help these children!
This memory characterizes many of my discussions with Marilyn. She was quick to identify a key contemporary challenge. She was thoughtful in the breadth of her analysis of the contributing factors. She was committed to improving the situation. As part of the legacy that Don and Marilyn left through their generous investments at UCSB, I believe that the students, faculty, and alumni of the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education will make contributions to enhancing student outcomes. We each continue to be inspired and invigorated to help facilitate the development, education, and well-being of all children.