- Honorary Degree (2008)
- Doctor of Humane Letters
- Campus Center Dedication Ceremony
- Indianapolis, Indiana
- Presenter: Michael A. McRobbie
John N. Gardner is an educator, university professor and administrator, author, editor, public speaker, consultant, change agent, student retention specialist, first-year students' advocate, and initiator and scholar of the American first-year and senior-year reform movements.
He serves as the President of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education and Executive Director of the Policy Center on the First Year of College. The Center, based in Brevard, N.C., was founded by John and his wife, Dr. Betsy O. Barefoot, in October 1999. The Center was launched by an initial grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, and has been subsequently funded by additional grants from Pew, The Atlantic Philanthropies, Lumina Foundation for Education, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and USA Funds. In 2007 the mission of the Center was expanded to the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education to focus on the pursuit of excellence in undergraduate education experience. Since its inception, the Center has received approximately $7,500,000 in support from its philanthropic partners.
John is also the Senior Fellow of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina. The National Resource Center, founded by Gardner in 1986, is the result of an international reform movement in higher education to call attention to and improve what he originally coined "The Freshman Year Experience" and then renamed "The First-Year Experience". Since 1990 he has developed a special focus on a second critical transition during the college years to improve and champion: "The Senior Year Experience." In 1995, he renamed the Center to The National Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, to signify a broader and more generic focus on the need for institutions to focus more intentionally on "students in transition."
Gardner originally arrived in South Carolina in 1967 as part of the US Air Force; he served his active duty assignment as a psychiatric social worker in the 363rd Tactical Hospital at Shaw Air Force Base. At the request of the Air Force he also became a part-time adjunct instructor for the University of South Carolina while he was on active duty. After completing his military service, Gardner held a two-year temporary appointment as Instructor of History at Winthrop College from 1968-70, and then began his full-time faculty career at USC Columbia in 1970. He served as Executive Director of both the first-year seminar course, University 101, from 1974-1999, and the National Center from 1986-99. From 1983-96, he also served as Vice Chancellor/Associate Vice Provost for Regional Campuses and Continuing Education.
Gardner is the recipient of numerous local and national professional awards including USC's highest award for teaching excellence, the AMOCO Award for Outstanding Teaching (1975), and the Division of Student Affairs Faculty Award (1976). The University of South Carolina Alumni Association conferred upon him its highest award for a non-alum, the Honorary Life Membership in 1997. He was also named the 1998 recipient of the University's Administrative Affirmative Action Award In 1999, he was the recipient of a University award created and named in his honor, "The John N. Gardner Inspirational Faculty Award" to be given thereafter to a member of the University faculty "who has made substantial contributions to the learning environment in campus residence hall life." Gardner is the recipient of ten honorary doctoral degrees from his alma mater, Marietta College, 1985; Baldwin-Wallace College, 1990; Bridgewater State College, 1991; Millikin University, 1999; Purdue University, 2000; University of Teesside, UK, 2000; Rowan University, 2001: Thiel College, 2006; Indiana University, 2008; and Clarion University of Pennsylvania, 2009.
Gardner "retired" in 1999 after over 30 years of service to the people of South Carolina, but continues to serve them in a reduced and more focused way in his role of Senior Fellow (in addition to his full-time appointment in the Institute).