Faculty celebrate retiring LaPrade’s graceful tenure
Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by Matt Nykamp
GCU News Bureau
Dr. Kimberly LaPrade stood before faculty and staff on Wednesday afternoon to say farewell, but goodbyes are tough with too much finality.
Her August retirement will end a 14-year run at GCU that is marked by leading a foundational college within the University to be a significant force in supplying the nation’s schools with teachers.
Wednesday’s farewell party was a chance for many who will be gone for the summer to wish her well.
“Kimberly and I started on the same day – August 20, 2007 – so for me especially, she has been nothing short of supportive and encouraging, and I am here because of her,” said COE Associate Dean Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick, addressing the faculty.
LaPrade decided to retire over the long months of taking stock during pandemic challenges, she said in an interview.
“Over COVID and health challenges, my husband and I looked at each other and asked, ‘Why not now?’ We still have things we want to do and one of them is sail around the world in our boat – and that takes about six years.
“We are going to leave the lines in the fall — after hurricane season — and are very excited to find our purpose out on the water.”
That daring goal will not be a surprise to the faculty.
As she led COE from a small college to one large in scale, she didn’t flinch at the challenge, said Associate Professor Dr. Brandon Juarez.
“She has really weathered that growth with very clear and distinct guidance,” he said. “She never gave the impression that she was overwhelmed or didn’t have a plan. We’ve always been one step ahead of the growth that we’ve experienced.”
LaPrade said there were 47 ground students in the College of Education when she started as an assistant professor in 2007, after a 20-year stint as an educator in K-12 schools. She quickly rose to Associate Dean in 2008 and Dean in 2010, leading the growth to more than 24,000 COE traditional and online students.
“GCU has been a blessing personally and professionally,” said LaPrade, a GCU alumna. “I don’t know if my heart can get any bigger. The impact this college has on the teacher education workforce across the county — I’m really proud of our faculty, staff and leadership. This is a calling for all of us, and they model that, they live out their faith every day.”
Her staff saw those values constantly.
“She was very clear that she puts us first, and that allows us to put our students first,” Juarez said.
Gilpatrick said she came to LaPrade with both personal and professional issues, and she offered sage advice. She also remained focused on wanting students to excel and pushed the staff to come up with new methods to improve student success.
“She is very serene, very calm, so we can get it done,” Gilpatrick said. “Some leaders put you in a corner that you are never allowed to move forward or progress. She always looked at you and asked how she could help and find the resources to help you be successful.”
Gilpatrick, who also helped plan a surprise party after LaPrade earned her doctorate years ago, said she unified ground and online faculty and led them with faith, starting each meeting with a prayer.
To Emily Pottinger, who was named Assistant Dean last August, LaPrade’s guidance has been key to her growth.
“She portrays her strength in such a way that is not overpowering, and it makes us all feel empowered to be leaders. So she really has been an inspiration,” she said.
LaPrade’s drive to be a positive light for education left an impression on Pottinger.
“She is just so elegant and poised and does it with such grace. People gravitate to that calm nature. Even though she is a force to be reckoned with, she does it in such a graceful way that she is not intimidating. She has been one of the most important mentors in my career. I’ve learned from her what it is a to be graceful leader, not a boss.”
LaPrade reflected Wednesday on some of the highlights of her years as Dean: COE became nationally accredited by the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation in 2019, and she renewed the COE Promise, which offers support to teachers in their entire first year as educators.
LaPrade is also proud that COE met the big goal of becoming “one of the largest teaching preparation programs in the country. And not just the largest, but the best.
“But it’s time for new energy and new goals and new innovation. We have such a strong team, I have every confidence that it’s in good hands.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.