First-Generation Graduate Cassie Gehring is Giving Back to the Community

Cassie Gehring. Photo by Ben Krain.

Graduate Cassie Gehring is ending the spring semester on several high notes. Not only is she the first person in her family to earn a graduate degree, but Gehring has recently been promoted and is writing a grant proposal that could help single parents at UA Little Rock afford childcare. 

Gehring, a native of Helena who now lives in Searcy, is graduating this month with a Master of Public Administration degree and a graduate certificate in nonprofit management.

“Since I work in Alumni and Development, I wanted an educational background in nonprofit work,” Gehring said. “I wanted to learn more about this sector. Since I started the program, I have been promoted within my department so I feel like I’ve already got the job I would have applied for after graduation. I feel lucky to be able to achieve synergy between work and school. There are a lot of applications for real-world experiences while working in nonprofit development.”

In addition to her graduation, Gehring received a promotion in April to associate director of advancement services at UA Little Rock. She works in the areas of gift processing, accounting, prospect research, and data management.

As a first-generation college student, Gehring said her relatives are especially excited now that she has earned a master’s degree.

“Even though my parents and grandparents didn’t have a college degree, they have always been supportive in every way of my goals,” she said. “From the beginning of my life, they helped prepare me for college. I am grateful that they raised me with that thought. I always knew that was the path that I would take. Even now, they are so proud of me graduating with a master’s degree. They always support me going further in my education.” 

This marks the third degree Gehring has earned from UA Little Rock. She graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degrees in professional and technical writing and Spanish. She worked as a national consultant for Chi Omega Fraternity and a Spanish teacher at DeSoto School before taking a full-time position in Alumni and Development.

This semester, Gehring has completed two capstone projects with the Arkansas Department of Education. 

“We’ve been doing research and analysis on community service learning programs,” Gehring said. “One team is analyzing survey results from different administrators of the programs in Arkansas. In my nonprofit capstone group, we are putting together a report to provide recommendations on how to improve community service learning programs in Arkansas and their implementation.”

Gehring named Dr. Kirk Leach, Dr. Jerry Stevenson, Dr. Derek Slagle, Dr. Daryl Rice, Chris Hamilton, and Christian O’Neal as mentors who have inspired her to meet her full potential at UA Little Rock. Leach, who is Gehring’s professor for all of her spring classes, said that she is an excellent example of how graduate lessons and projects can be used for professional applications that make a difference in the community.

“Cassie’s partnerships with external stakeholders and commitment to public service, shows that she seamlessly connects her scholarly and applied work,” said Dr. Kirk Leach, assistant professor of public administration. “For instance, Cassie and her team are currently working on a project to address a lack of access to childcare in the University District. From this work, it is quite clear that Cassie embodies all that a graduate student in public administration should be with her professionalism and quality of work. I am looking forward to seeing the results of her work, and I am confident she will continue to make a positive contribution to our community.”

As part of the Social Entrepreneurship course, Gehring is a co-principal investigator writing a grant that, if funded, will help UA Little Rock establish a new program to support students by providing funding for childcare. 

“My most memorable college experience is happening right now in my last semester,” she said. “I am taking a social entrepreneurship course with Dr. Leach, and you come up with an innovative idea that can make a positive change in society. I picked childcare at UA Little Rock. I talked to several people who had been involved with childcare initiatives. I’m applying what I learned into a federal grant proposal. It’s opened up me working with other departments on campus and stakeholders in the community.”

Gehring lives in Searcy with her husband, Andrew, and 7-year-old daughter, Scarlett.

“I would like to thank my husband, Andrew, for helping me achieve my educational and career goals as if they were his own,” she said. “He always puts my wants and needs above his, and I’m grateful for the love and support he provides as my husband and as the father to our daughter, Scarlett.”

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