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ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT:

Five degrees separate Gerald Howze from most CSUB alumni

Gerald Howze portrait

Gerald Howze will earn a master’s degree from CSUB on Wednesday night. It won’t be his first. Not by a long shot.

By CHRISTINE BEDELL
Alumni Engagement Specialist
cbedell1@csub.edu

Gerald Howze first became enamored with college in the 7th grade when his cousin, a teacher 15 years his senior, took him to UCLA.

They snapped photos at a campus rose garden and ate lunch in a campus cafeteria. Howze marveled at the big, beautiful buildings where students got to learn.

“I came home, I ordered a catalog from UCLA, and I said, ‘I’m going to go to college,” the 74-year-old remembered while sitting in his favorite hangout, Dagny’s Coffee Co. in downtown Bakersfield.

“It changed my life,” he said. “I decided I have to become academic.”

And how. The longtime Kern County high school teacher and community college instructor is about to earn his  fifth college degree.

He will receive his Master of Arts in English at CSUB’s Graduate Hooding Ceremony Wednesday night, 46 years after earning his first degree, an associate degree from Ventura College.

In between, Howze earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from CSUB (in 1974); his MBA from California Lutheran College (in 1984); and his Master of Arts in Educational Administration from CSUB (in 1988).

“He just likes being a student,” said CSUB English Professor Kim Flachmann, one of Howze’s teachers and colleagues. “And he loves to learn.”

A ‘WONDERFUL JOURNEY’

Howze grew up in Shafter the youngest of six kids born to farmer parents from Oklahoma who grew cotton, alfalfa, corn and wheat, and raised goats, pigs and cows. His mother told him she wanted her children to grow up in California because it had good schools.

Gerald Howze in junior high

“It takes something very small to change a child’s life,” Howze says. For him it was a trip to UCLA when he was young. Here he is around that age.

Howze says his “wonderful journey in education” began at Rio-Bravo Elementary, where he enjoyed outstanding teachers and beautiful facilities, and continued at Shafter High School. It was while living with his brother in Brooklyn in 1968 that he read Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” said “this is me” and decided to become an English teacher.

He earned his first degree, the AA, from Ventura College in 1973. He was so proud of himself; his father bought him a college ring. Then he transferred to CSUB.

“It was fantastic,” he said of the young campus. “Small classes, very small classes. And I met the founders of the school, Dr. Solomon (Iyasere), Dr. (James) Keet, Dr. (Howard) Zimmerman. I was so fortunate.”

His first teaching jobs were at a private prep school in Ojai called Happy Valley School and at Ventura and Sawyer colleges. He taught English and Business and rose to dean of students at Sawyer.

Gerald Howze at Happy Valley School

Howze (middle) says every teacher should experience the academic freedom of teaching at a private school as he did at Happy Valley School in Ojai.

When Howze’s father died his family insisted he return home to Kern County and thus began his 28-year career teaching high school, mostly at McFarland High but also at the alternative school San Joaquin High.

Business and English continued to be his forte, but Howze wore all kinds of hats in education, chairing departments, setting up journalism, creative writing and independent studies programs, and developing curriculum.

“He just made learning fun and went above and beyond,” said Sonia Silva, CSUB’s  director of International Students and Programs and a student of Howze’s at McFarland High and CSUB.

To generate excitement around writing assignments, Silva said, Howze bound them into little yearbooks so the students felt they had been “published.”

He figured out how individual students learned best, and taught them that way, she said. For Silva, it was remaining patient as she asked lots of questions to really understand why things worked the way they did.

And she suspects Howze pulled strings to get her accepted into CSUB’s Career Beginnings program between her junior and senior years of high school when she couldn’t provide requisite tax information because her mother had passed away and her father was out of the picture.

“He said, ‘Fill out what you can and give it to me,’” she said, choking up at the memory. “I don’t know what happened, but I was selected for Career Beginnings. He went and talked to somebody.”

The program provides career and college preparation, work experience and other supportive services to disadvantaged students. For Silva, it led to an internship in then-Congressman Bill Thomas’ office, something else she suspects Howze had a hand in her getting.

ALL KINDS OF CLASSROOMS

During his teaching career, Howze earned his master’s degrees in business administration and in educational administration. He believes that like doctors, teachers should keep up their skills and model life-long learning.

“If I had anything to say about education, I’d say all teachers would be involved in school somehow,” he said.

And by school Howze doesn’t just mean class. He was curious about firefighting, and so worked as a seasonal firefighter in Cuyama one summer. Trips proved to inspire and inform his instruction, and so he’s seen the world.

“When you come back to the classroom you’re fresh,” Howze said of post-travel. “And you have stories to tell.”

Gerald Howze in Thailand

The world has also been Howze’s classroom. He’s traveled throughout Europe, Canada and Mexico. Here he is in Thailand.

While teaching high school, Howze also taught English at Bakersfield College and summer programs at CSUB. He enjoyed doing both at the same time because he could watch his students grow and mature.

When “crazy, nutty high school kids” reach 18 and walk onto a college campus, he said, “they’re not crazy, nutty kids anymore.”

Some students have continued to learn from Howze even after graduating from college.

Silva had him critique her papers when she’d come home from USC some weekends. When former McFarland student Vanessa Renteria-Alcantar told him she wanted to be a Broadway star, he encouraged her to have a Plan B.

Renteria-Alcantar went on to major in psychology and become a teacher at Robert F. Kennedy High School in Delano.

“When he lets you into his life, it’s not for an hour or one class period,” she said. “It’s for a lifetime.”

RETIRING, SORT OF

Howze took a golden handshake and retired from the McFarland Unified School District in 2011. But he still had a lot of energy and so substitute-taught in the Kern High School District and taught English in a McFarland women’s correctional facility.

In 2017 he started teaching English at Taft College, which expected a master’s degree in English from him and so that’s why he got his fifth degree.

Gerald Howze with his decorated grad cap

Howze decorated his grad cap at Grad Fest in April for Wednesday night’s Graduate Hooding Ceremony at CSUB.

Howze also tutors students in the CSUB writing lab, students who oftentimes just need help starting an assignment, Flachmann said. He not only helps them with the mechanics of writing, she said, but “picks up their spirits.”

“It’s mostly, ‘You can do it. Come on, let’s get down to it,’” Flachmann said, describing his method.

“’Show me your assignment. Oh, you don’t have it? Tell me about it. Oh, you can’t remember? What do you remember? We can do this.’

“Patience, patience is his virtue.”

As a student, Howze is one of those who sits up front, participates in discussions and keeps instructors late after class saying, ‘Explain this, explain this, explain this,’” Flachmann said.

He also “makes friends like magnets,” she said, wondering whether Howze also likes going to school as a sort of social activity.

Howze is thinking about going for a sixth degree, maybe a doctorate or something he crafts into a public speaking degree. He hasn’t committed, though, saying he may need to focus on his health.

And despite what his lengthy academic record suggests, Howze says a top grade hasn’t always come easy to him.

 “I’m a real American student,” he said. “I have to work for it.”



CSUB 'DEFINING MOMENTS'

CSUB will celebrate two defining moments in the history of the university this week during its commencement ceremonies: the highest number of graduates ever and the first class of CSUB doctoral graduates.

The university will award 2,312 bachelor’s degrees for the 2018-19 academic year, a 28 percent increase over the 1,806 undergraduate degrees awarded last year. Some 1,708 students have registered to participate in the 49th Annual Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony Friday.

The annual Graduate Hooding Ceremony for the 348 graduate students who have registered to participate will take place on Wednesday. A total of 462 graduate degrees will be awarded this academic year, including 11 doctoral degrees in educational leadership.

-- CSUB Public Affairs and Communications