The University of Iowa

Kathryn “Kit" Gerken

Kit Gerken, black and white photograph
Kit Gerken has made an indelible mark on the field of school psychology, but she will also be remembered for her connections with international and diverse college students.

Gerken retired from her position as associate professor of School Psychology in the College of Education’s Department of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations in the summer of 2015. She came to the University of Iowa in 1973 after starting her career as a classroom teacher and school psychologist. 

Gerken says she was inspired to take on a faculty role while teaching diverse intellectually disabled students in the suburbs of Chicago and southern Illinois because she wanted to be able to advocate for them on a larger stage.

“I believed that some students were not being assessed appropriately as cultural and language difference had not been considered when intellectual assessments were conducted,” she says.

During her time at the college, she was a four-time winner of the Commitment to Diversity Award, as well as winner of the American Psychological Association’s Suinn Minority Achievement Award, which recognized the School Psychology program’s student diversity, and student and faculty community engagement.

“We provided many different workshops on ‘respecting differences’ to other graduate and undergraduate students, youth in high schools, as well as teachers in public schools,” Gerken says. “I do believe that we made a difference in the lives of others, who in turn made a difference in the lives of others. There’s definitely a ripple effect.”

Lay-See Yeo (EdS ’94/PhD ’02) is one of the pioneer school psychologists in Singapore. When she enrolled at the University of Iowa, no Singapore universities offered post graduate training in school psychology. Yeo says Gerken’s support helped her feel connected and valued as an international student and scholar.

“Dr. Gerken played a very significant role in my professional development, which allowed me to contribute to the development of school psychological services in our city state in Southeast Asia,” she says.

Yeo is now an associate professor at the National Institute of Education at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, where she chairs the master’s degree in Applied Psychology program — the only program the presently provides post graduate training for school psychologists in Singapore.

“The most critical skills and competencies I needed as a school psychologist, I have learned under Dr. Gerken’s tutelage and supervision,” Yeo says. “She taught me that every child matters and that the school psychologist is the child’s best advocate.”