Chadron State College
Chadron State College

Gaudet, O'Rourke named commencement speakers

December 14, 2017

Laura Gaudet
Laura Gaudet

CHADRON – Commencement speakers for Chadron State College graduate and undergraduate ceremonies Friday have been announced. Dr. Laura Gaudet, professor and chair of Chadron State College’s Counseling, Psychological Sciences and Social Work department, will speak at the graduate commencement at 2 p.m. in Memorial Hall. Dr. Jim O'Rourke, professor emeritus of Agriculture, will speak at undergraduate commencement at 4 p.m. in the Center and also receive the college's Distinguished Service Award. Both events will be broadcast at CSC Live.

Gaudet joined the faculty in 1998 and has been Department Chair since 2003. Gaudet taught at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in southwestern Wisconsin before coming to Chadron State College.  

Previously, she was a Teaching Graduate Assistant/Instructor for the University of Northern Colorado’s department of Educational Psychology, where she earned her doctorate in Educational Psychology with an emphasis on Human Growth and Development in 1995.

Gaudet, who earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin, was also a University Consultant, taught the student teaching seminar and worked in the Dean of Education’s Office at UNC in her last year of her doctorate. In 1995, she received the American Psychological Association Dissertation Research Award and the Dean’s Citation Award for Excellence.

At CSC, she earned the School of Professional Studies Outstanding Scholar in 2003 and has been instrumental in expanding the number of counseling courses offered online in an effort to make degrees more accessible.

“I thought to be a good teacher in higher education, I needed to focus on my course content, getting to know my students, and learning about technology. Now, I know it is so much more than that,” Gaudet said. “I realize, teaching is all about relationships. My relationships with my students have enriched my life. I have learned so much more from my students than they have ever learned from me.”

Through the relationships with her CSC students, Gaudet said she has realized the number of obstacles they overcome to achieve their goals.

“The students at CSC have opened themselves up to the challenges they face every day, even when they seem a little daunting, and exchange the fear of trying new things with excitement. Many CSC students are from first-generation college families. They simultaneously juggle many roles as students, workers, family members and athletes. They continue to impress me with their hard work, determination and perseverance,” Gaudet said.

As a recognized expert in the field of Traumatic Brain Injury, Gaudet has presented more than 100 papers during her career. She presented in China three times in 2015 and 2016, Singapore in 2016, and in Greece, Canada, and Spain in 2017.

At the 19th Annual International Conference on Education in Athens, Gaudet presented “Implementation and Evaluation of Screencast Videos for Graduate Online Counseling Courses,” in which she described her technique of embedding a brief instructional video into online assignments. Gaudet also presented her screencast research at the Vancouver International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology.

In Barcelona, Gaudet presented “Gender-Related Traits of Persons with and without Traumatic Brain Injury: Reports from Students in Undergraduate Psychology Classes” at the Ninth Annual World Congress of Neurotalk. The presentation was based on research Gaudet conducted with CSC colleagues Dr. Peter Moriasi and Dr. Mary Jo Carnot.

Most recently, Gaudet was the keynote speaker at the Second International Conference on Neuroscience, Neuroimaging and Interventional Radiology in San Antonio, Texas, in October 2017. She co-chaired sessions on Neurology and Neurosciences; and Neuro-psychiatry and Neuroimaging.

She also recently spoke about “Engaging Graduate Counseling Students in a Frontier and Remote Community through Online and Innovative Teaching Modalities” at the Second Annual Women in Leadership Conference at National University in La Jolla, California.  

Gaudet is active in various academic and professional organizations in her field. She’s contributed to more than 20 publications, been a professional textbook evaluator, served on the State of Nebraska Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council,  the Nebraska State Department of Education School Psychologist ad hoc committee and Brain Injury School Support Teams.

The most recent example of Gaudet’s outreach efforts is her support of a Traumatic Brain Injury support group that meets regularly at Prairie Pines in Chadron.

O’Rourke started and headed the Range Management program at Chadron State College for 14 years before retiring in 2002 to devote time to the International Society for Range Management (SRM) and the International Rangeland Congress (IRC). Under O’Rourke’s leadership the program grew to one of the largest in the country.

Prior to joining the Chadron State faculty in 1988, he spent eight years as a range management specialist in several African countries and has served as a rangeland consultant in over 25 countries.

O’Rourke received his bachelor’s degree from Colorado State University and his master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Arizona.

Although he was born in California and grew up in Colorado and Wyoming, O’Rourke’s Western Nebraskan roots go deep. Both sets of grandparents lived in Chadron and his career choice followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father.

His grandfather, Frank O’Rourke, was a cowboy on the famed Spade Ranch in the Sandhills in the early 1900s and later wrote newspaper columns and a book called “Retracing Old Trails” about those experiences. O’Rourke’s parents, Joe and Jean, both attended the Chadron Prep School on the CSC campus. Joe was a range specialist for the U.S. Forest Service for nearly 40 years.

O’Rourke earned the Nebraska Section of SRM’s Service Award in 1992 and became president of the Nebraska Section in 1994. After receiving the CSC Teaching Excellence Award in 1996, and he was presented the society’s Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in 1998, which had been given just 12 times previously. He also was named an SRM Fellow, an honor recognizing exceptional service in range-related resource management that same year.

He served on the SRM board of directors from 1995-98 then entered a three-year presidential term. In 2010 he received the Frederic G. Renner Award, the premier recognition by SRM.

In 1999 he received the Presidential Citation from the American Forage and Grassland Council (AFGC) having chaired the joint AFGC/SRM meeting in Omaha, Nebraska in 1999.

He has attended six of the eight IRC meetings, dating back to the first session in Denver in 1978, when he gave a paper on his doctoral dissertation.

When he went to the convention in Durbin, South Africa, in 2003 he anticipated that he would be leaving the IRC board of directors, which included just two members from each continent, because he was at the end of his eight-year term. But those in attendance suspended the rules so he could remain on the board and then elected him president.

Concluding his five-year stint as the IRC president, O’Rourke traveled to China and Mongolia in 2008 for the international conference he helped plan. His primary responsibility was finding corporate sponsors to help cover some of the costs, about a half million dollars. Since 2011 he has served in the role of an executive vice president for IRC, based at CSC.

He and his wife, Lora, who has also served as president of the Nebraska Section of SRM and is a retired Range Management Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, have raised certified grass seed, mules and pastured poultry, take in cattle to pasture, plant hardwood trees in strategic locations and have acquired and renovated several sheep wagons for guests. The couple has received the Upper Niobrara White Natural Resource District Education Award for numerous field trips conducted on their ranch.

O’Rourke said as SRM president he focused on forming partnerships and cooperative agreements because rangeland has many uses and groups interested in its management.

“We need cooperative solutions so the livestock, wildlife, recreation and timber interests as well as the environmental groups can co-exist and still protect the resources,” he said. “Our organization doesn’t favor any one activity over the others, but wants the land managed the best way possible.”

The SRM is largely an educational organization that has always had conservation as its top priority so rangeland, which is about 40 percent of the U.S. land mass and 60 percent of Nebraska’s, will be a sustainable resource.

He is one of four certified professional range managers in Nebraska and is in demand to conduct Rangeland Health Assessments for the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Stewardship Program.

O’Rourke is currently President of the Steering Committee planning for an International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists, a designation that he and other international rangeland leaders hope will be made through the United Nations.

His service extends to other civic organizations, as well. He is a member of the Boy Scout Troop No. 64 council, the Dawes County Extension Board, and was elected to the Chadron Public Schools Board of Education in 2014. He serves on the Nebraska Association of School Boards Legislative Committee, is a charter member of Northwest Nebraska High Country, as well as the Great Plains Ecotourism Coalition and a member of the Nebraska Land Trust Advisory Committee. From 2004-07 O’Rourke served on the Governor-appointed Coordinating Commission for Higher Education.

—Tena L. Cook and Con Marshall

James O'Rourke
James O'Rourke