Dr. Cathryn Warren had been working as an instructional assistant at Grand Canyon University for just six weeks when it happened.
She had a miscarriage nine weeks into her pregnancy last spring.
Distraught, she didn’t know if she could finish the final few weeks of the course, assisting online faculty from her home in Lucedale, Mississippi.
With trepidation, Warren dialed College of Education Assistant Professor Jillian Hartman.
It turns out, Hartman had been in her shoes. She said often people don’t think your sorrow is valid earlier in a pregnancy.
“Take the time to be sad,” she told Warren. “I will take over.”
“That was something people did for me, and I was happy to do that for her,” Hartman said.
It made all the difference to Warren and told her a lot about GCU, a realization that would only become more profound.
Four months later, she had a second miscarriage.
“When you are going through something, you tend to question the why of what happened,” Warren said. “Could I have done something differently?
“But Jillian constantly reminded me of God’s presence in my life, even through hard times. She cared for and encouraged me through the grieving process. It had a profound impact on my life.”
It allowed her to stay hopeful that one day she and her husband, Harley, could have another baby to join daughter Ryan, 5.
She also was able to stay productive as an instructional assistant. Around 30 are employed to help with faculty who have a higher teaching load and need help monitoring student discussion and participation.
“If I could clone Cathryn and have her in every single one of my classes I would,” Hartman said. “She is personal and proactive and goes above and beyond in the feedback she provides.”
The faculty sent cards to let Warren know they consider her important.
Warren sent back king cakes, a popular pastry in nearby New Orleans, often with a plastic baby figure buried inside. The crew in Phoenix gathered around the cake and took a photo to send back to her.
“I didn’t feel like they were in Phoenix, and I was in Mississippi. I felt like I knew them even though we hadn’t met in person,” Warren said.
It’s a mark of GCU, putting forth effort in relationships with students and colleagues that bridge any gaps that may be caused by distance. Warren said she is proof that you can build relationships in online teaching and learning.
“If you make the relationships a priority, there isn’t anything you can't accomplish,” she said.
Hartman told her to reach out anytime to talk or vent. The two talked about medical details with pregnancy. They had conversations about faith. “We had conversations that our pain isn’t wasted,” Warren said.
“It really gave me support because I don’t have a home church. My main exposure to the word of God now is through my employment.”
And it wasn’t long before Warren learned late last year that she was pregnant again.
She got an ultrasound, and “there were two sacks.”
She wrote “twins” on it and sent it to Hartman and the COE team.
They were floored with joy.
“God is good,” Hartman told her.
“I firmly believe God places individuals together for many reasons,” Hartman said, “and I am honored to have her as a colleague and that she trusts me with things in her life.”
Warren is 25 weeks into her pregnancy and everything is going fine.
She said the events of the past months couldn’t have come at a better time with the support she had at GCU.
“It’s a God thing,” she said. “Now we get to celebrate. It was just meant to be.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.