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Bitter Endings or Bright Beginnings?

By: Jillian Hough

Although Dr. Mark Gardner only started as a faculty member two years ago, he has contributed an invaluable amount of work and ideas to the Humanities Department and the Graceland community.

Coming to Graceland in 2006 because of family and church ties, Gardner quickly realized that he wanted to switch his major from Music Education to English. He loved to play in the ensembles, participate in the theater department, and partake in Intramural volleyball, but his true passion lied in humanities, specifically English and communication.

After graduating and backpacking across Europe, Gardner found himself earning his masters in Atlanta, Georgia, where he met his husband DJ. His pursuit of education then took him to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he earned his PhD and now currently resides.

Gardner's choice to teach full time at Graceland stems from his love of connecting with students and faculty. He enjoys giving them the tools to find where their interests lie and teaching them how they can apply them in their careers. Emma Gibson, a senior at Graceland, comments, "I love Mark Gardner as a professor, he's super insightful and grounded. He's very funny and personal and wants what's best for his students."

Gardner says that "creating relationships with students and colleagues has been a shining point in my time here," also noting that reconnecting with past professors, such as Jack Ergo and Dr. Brian White, has been a high point.

Despite Gardner leaving his position at Graceland after this semester, he looks forward to spending more time with his husband and cats, Boots, Lilith, Emmet, and the late Chance. He says, "I'm bummed about leaving but I'm really excited about the direction that the [Humanities] Department is going." The department has already hired two tenure track faculty to head up the Sustainability Studies and Social Change majors and will hire another professor to be a part of the team in the coming year.

The Humanities Department has three more recent majors: Sustainability Studies, Social Change, and, starting next semester, Digital Content Creation. Gardner explains the shift of focus in the department. "We've gotten rid of majors that are kind of outdated. From a business standpoint, I think our majors are going to attract new students and I think the fact that our new majors are interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary allows students to add a humanities major as a secondary or third major based on what their primary interests are." Gardner also notes, "Humanities brings in the human element when you are more focused on the bottom line," referring to universities becoming more business and profit focused.

These new majors will not only bring more life into the Humanities Department, but make Graceland stand out from other schools in the Midwest. Gardner notes, "I think our majors are really innovative. There are very few programs in the country doing what we're doing here." Sustainability Studies is a very important discipline in today's world and having it based in humanities is very innovative. He says, "It looks at the human aspect and the role that storytelling plays in convincing people to behave differently." Social Change is not only a primary major but will likely become a popular second major because of how applicable it can be across different disciplines and careers.

As for the Digital Content Creation major, Gardner says, "There are no schools in the Midwest, big or small, that have a program like it." The Digital Content Creation major varies from other social media marketing majors because it looks at the storytelling angle of marketing. “Teaching students how to become their own entrepreneur by looking at different platforms and preparing students for a variety of different content creation and marketing jobs."

Gardner also notes, "As an alumni, I'm really excited for the three [new majors]." He is excited about the direction Graceland's humanities is headed in and is looking forward to once again being part of the Graceland community as an alumnus.

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