Lori Garkovich


Dr. Lori Garkovich came to the University of Kentucky in 1976. She has been a foundational pillar of Community & Leadership Development since its inception. We sat down with Dr. Garkovich to ask 10 questions before her retirement in May 2018. Her interview is full of powerful insight about teaching and learning, in addition to life lessons applicable to any discipline.
We hope you'll join us Friday, April 13th from 3:30-6:00 PM in Good Barn for Dr. Garkovich's retirement reception. Additionally, we will be holding a pizza party for Dr. Garkovich and current students on Thursday, April 26th from 3:00-4:30 PM in the Garrigus Lobby.

1. Who were your heroes or role models when you first began teaching? Have they changed?

"Every teacher I had who made me curious, surprised, thoughtful, excited, angry, or sad. I wanted to be like every teacher who had shown me they were passionate about what they did and their subject. Enthusiasm is contagious, and I really wanted to become like those who had lit a fire in my mind and heart."

2. How has technology most impacted your life?

"What has improved is the speed with which I can respond to community leaders and Extension agents seeking information and other assistance and my ability to maintain contact with and support my students. Also, I have become a maestro at online research. Give me a topic and I can find something related to it that is informative, interesting or fundable!"

3. What teacher in school made the most impact on you and why?

"Sr. Karl Mary Winkelmann, and Sister Mary Lourdes (S.S.N.D) at Rosary High School who told me I was going to be on the high school’s speech and debate teams when I was a clueless freshman, and then spent hours teaching me how to be a critical thinker, a productive researcher, and an effective speaker. Both tirelessly carted us around to competitions in begged and borrowed cars.

Dr. Rex Campbell at the University of Missouri, my academic advisor through Undergraduate and Masters and PHD, was a great influence - an applied rural sociologist who had a fundamental understanding of community life, the value of applied research methods to assist communities in planned change, and a commitment to civic participation. He was my father figure for 8 years and he believed in what I could achieve far more than I believed in myself. He showed what it means to have a cheerleader on your side."

4. What would you say you know now about living a happy and successful life that you didn’t know when you were twenty?

"Not enough space for this! I was naïve, self-doubting, unforgiving of my own limitations, passionate about life, and had a Pollyanna belief that good overcomes bad, that the quality of your work simply shines all around you, and that if you simply work harder things will get better.

Now I am a cynical Pollyanna – I’ve gained a much greater understanding of the relationship between inertia and the possibility of organizational/institutional change. But, this is still leavened with a level of unbridled optimism about the power of good. I would also say that I have a clearer understanding of who I am, what I am good at and what I can’t do very well at all. And, I am kinder to myself for my flaws. I have become a better judge of what is critical and important, and what isn’t.

Finally, my original belief that everyone has the capacity to excel if they can discover their own strengths, has grown much stronger. Why? Because, over the years, I have seen so many students transform from uncertain wanderers into successful and focused leaders."

5. What are you most excited for in retirement?

"Not having to grade anymore! To be able to come home at the end of a day and not feel guilty because I don’t immediately start grading papers! To have the freedom to do more volunteering for those organizations and situations that inspire me.

I am sad that I won’t have the daily stimulation of working with students and communities. I love the challenges both students and communities have given me to do my best, to learn more, and to stay current in my understanding of the world."

6. What is the most meaningful part of working at a university?

"The opportunity to work with young adults to sharpen their understanding of who they are, to discover their passions and their talents, and then to transform themselves into successful professionals. Honestly, any sense of achievement I have comes not from publications or awards, but from graduates who contact me to tell me how their lives have unfolded. Their achievements give me great joy.

This is similar to what I have always loved about working with communities and community groups through Extension. All of us know what needs to be done to improve the quality of life in our home town, to make them more just, and to help them create new opportunities. But we just don’t have faith in our ideas about what needs to be done. Community development, for me, has always been asking the questions that enable local people to discover they have the ideas and the resources and the power to make the changes they envision."

7. What would you say are the major values or principles that you live by?

  • Hard work
  • Humor
  • Generosity
  • Kindness
  • Achievement
  • Responsibility
  • Community
  • Service
  • Curiosity
  • Learning

8. If you could only keep five possessions, what would they be?

"My book collection (it is one collection with several hundred paperback books – many of which I reread and reread when the mood strikes me). The art and photos I have collected over the years.

My pets, Chaz and Ariel. They are NOT possessions to me. They try my patience, make me laugh, and demand that I look outside of what I am doing at any point in time to simply enjoy life.

Also, access to music and NPR through Sirius or on-line sources."

9. As you look back over your life, do you see any turning points - a key event or experience that changed over the course of your life or set you on a different track?

"Absolutely, it was the decision to come to UK rather than UNC-Asheville. Coming to UK enabled me to explore all the different ways one can be a scholar and a change agent. The opportunity to become involved in Extension and then being able to integrate my Extension community development work into my instructional program helped me ground what I was attempting to relay to the students as to our program theories, concepts and methods in real world applications."

10. What is your favorite class you have taught over the years?

"Frankly, I have loved every class I have taught. I enjoy starting a new class that covers new content. But I also have a passion for trying to make a class that I have taught for many semesters different and more interesting every time I teach it.

In terms of impact, I would say Leadership Studies (late 1980s) – the first one offered at UK which has become, through Grace Gorrell’s guidance, a transformational class for so many students.

Environmental Sociology (late 1970s) – The first environmental course at UK which helped many students learn about the intricate connections that tie an environmental change in some far off place to the quality of life and future choice of those of us in our communities.

GEN 100 – As someone who started teaching GEN 100 in its 2nd or 3rd year, I found it to be a great community builder for incoming freshman. I also learned so much about so many things that I sometimes felt overwhelmed with new knowledge."