After nearly three decades with the VCU School of Education, Dr. Paul Gerber has announced that the 2015-16 academic year will be his last; the Department of Counseling and Special Education professor retired as classes concluded this May.
Having discovered his interest in working with learning disabled students while substitute teaching in Baltimore as an undergraduate, Gerber translated that passion into a 38-year career in the field (28 of which have come here at VCU).
Now a renowned expert on learning disabilities, he has served as the Ruth Harris Professor in Dyslexia Studies – named for the late pioneer in the treatment of dyslexia, Ruth S. Harris – since it was endowed in 2010.
The first of its kind at the School of Education, the professorship supports the research and work of Gerber and his doctoral students, as well as funding a lecture series that brings prominent speakers to campus to present on topics related to learning disabilities. Previous Harris Lecture presenters include paleontologist Jack Horner, neuropsychologist Dr. Ken Pugh, neurologists Dr. Xaviar Castellanos and Dr. Peter Rosenberger, and Anne Ford, the granddaughter of Ford Motor Company founder Henry Ford.
“Getting the Ruth Harris Professorship, the school’s first endowed professorship, was just wonderful —certainly a career highlight,” Gerber said. “I got to know Ruth Harris prior to her passing: she was very committed to the field of dyslexia and the Richmond community. So I am very proud to have received the award she established.”
Gerber, who received his Ph.D. in special education and school psychology from the University of Michigan in 1978, has dedicated much of his professional career researching and writing extensively about issues affecting those with learning disabilities, particularly after they leave school.
“When I first started, they didn’t think of what happened to individuals with learning disabilities beyond their school years,” Gerber said. “But now it runs the full gamut, from early adulthood on. It’s been great to see that transition.”
Among other advances, Gerber credits the increased expectation of success for individuals with learning disabilities, as well as advances in technology, as being gamechangers.
"I’ve always thought of my work as being a labor of love. I’ll always look upon my past 28 years here at VCU with great fondness."
“I had one student, for example, whose dream was to be an author, but while she was a great thinker and had a great imagination, she struggled with writing,” he said. “But she was able to find software that actually helped her overcome that difficulty. She was able to pursue her career, and technology was the variable that helped her succeed.”
Throughout his career, Gerber has been a regular presenter on learning disabilities, both nationally and internationally, and published more than a hundred chapters and articles on the subject, including five books — the most recent of which, “Leaders, Visionaries and Dreamers: Extraordinary People with Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities,” was published in 2013.
He also served as the editor of Thalamus, the journal published by the International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities, and sat on the editorial boards of the Journal of Learning Disabilities, Learning Disability Quarterly Journal of Attention Disorders, and Dyslexia: An International Journal of Research and Practice, among others.
A number of government agencies have sought Gerber’s advice over the years as well: he has served as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Education, the President’s Committee for Employment of Persons with Disabilities, the National Institute for Literacy and the British Ministry of Health.
Following his final duties with the School of Education, Gerber will cross the country to Oregon, where he is relocating to be closer to his daughters and their families.
“I’ve always thought of my work as being a labor of love,” Gerber said. “So while I am very happy to be going to Oregon, I’ll always look upon my past 28 years here at VCU with great fondness.”