Humans of Hiram - September Spotlight
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Gwen Fischer

Emeriti Faculty Spotlight

Gwen Fischer is an emeritus professor who taught at Hiram from 1982 to 2007. Continually learning something new, Gwen gave a lot of thought and enjoyment in her reflections as she is curious about the world, is active and caring.

Gwen received her BA in history at the University of Chicago in ’78. She picked history because it not only caught her interest but was the one that fit with her stay-at-home-mom-babysitter’s schedule. Completing the degree in twelve years and through three children, Gwen discovered that she had more interest in the history of individuals, rather than nations. While her husband was on sabbatical, Gwen and her family moved to Pentwater, Michigan. Teaching at a high school, she met two teenagers; one was failing, in a time where that meant you could be drafted into the war, yet, he knew more about nature than many adults. This led Gwen to wonder how we can do better at teaching in schools.

Gwen taught eight years at nursery school in Hyde Park, Chicago and compared to the high school, she thought, “what do we do to kids between kindergarten to twelfth grade?” this became the driving question to her master’s and PhD. It was interesting to her how people think at different stages of development in thought. The family moved to Toledo where Gwen received her master’s and PhD in educational psychology and psychology at the University of Toledo while also teaching at a nursery and a kindergarten. Next, Gwen applied and was hired immediately to teach at Hiram College in ’82. 

At Hiram, her job interview felt like she was spending time with old friends, professors who best exemplified the liberal arts. Gwen taught general psychology courses, child and adolescent development and lifespan development and made a new course about cross-culture-psychology. Gwen was the advisor of the Psychology Club too but for ten years, she commuted every weekend between her homes in Toledo and Hiram.

In the early nineties, Hiram was developing courses across the curriculum.  While on sabbatical, Gwen delved into her initial research on infant development at first but then she worked with multiple professors to link their courses together for an interdisciplinary approach to Africa. Looking at Zimbabwe, there were plenty of materials for a class due to its history as an English Colony.

Gwen and her colleague, Professor Mary Ann Brockett began to take students to Zimbabwe until 2001. A small country, they circuited the entire country in the three-week while students were responsible for interviewing and presenting on someone in connection to their major. Students went to discover their roots, to see the the animals, or to solve world poverty but overall, the take away for each class was that “people are people no matter where they are.” After 2001, the trip changed to Tanzania, through a travel company that organized educational trips for college students. This meant less freedom but gave students the same life-changing experiences in the end.

 After Gwen’s full retirement in 2007, she continued to stay active in her community. The co-founder of Concerned Citizens of Ohio, Gwen coordinated with other Portage County to educate people about the dangers of fracking County and the risks of selling your land or rights to this endeavor. They ran water tests and it was registered as an official non-profit organization. Next, Gwen worked with a group of Kent residents on the Portage Community Rights Group. It was formed in 2015 to collect signatures to put a rights-based county charter on the ballot. Portage is one of five counties (Athens, Medina, Portage, Fulton and Meigs) that have collected signatures recently to put their charters on the local ballot. Their local Board of Elections and/or Secretary of State and the Ohio Supreme Court has kept it off the ballot for technicalities. Gwen is presently gathering signatures in hopes for a strong return for the charter next year and is helping to set up a statewide conference to bring together various rights groups.

Gwen still keeps in close contact with Hiram College. When Gwen lived in the village and would walk and come across a set of footprints in the snow, at Hiram, it is so unique because she would genuinely wonder who’s they were. It is also a place where a person can make a difference and try new things. You can be as important or involved as you wish to be. She misses talking to her students in advising because she enjoyed their ways of thinking as they explored the world ahead of them. It turns out that Gwen is still teaching, if not just teaching democracy and fracking risks. 

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