UH Moment

UH Moment: Andy and Barbara Gessner Gift $20 Million to University of Houston College of Nursing

Gift Helps Address Nursing Labor Shortage; College is Renamed the Andy and Barbara Gessner College of Nursing



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The University of Houston has received a transformational $20 million gift from UH alumnus Andy Gessner and his wife Barbara to help bolster the nursing workforce amid a significant labor shortage in the profession.

The gift to the UH College of Nursing, announced during National Nurses Week, will strengthen nursing education and research, fund scholarships and fellowships for students, and ultimately increase the number of highly educated nurses in the workforce. In recognition of the generous gift, the college has been renamed the Andy and Barbara Gessner College of Nursing.

The Gessners' support of the College of Nursing is inspired by the many caring and giving nurses they know, including their late mothers, who were both nurses. Gertrude Smith Gessner and Mildred Roberson Pottenger dedicated their lives to delivering compassionate health care to their patients and serving their communities with distinction.

"We believe in nurses and we need more of them right now," said Andy Gessner (B.B.A. '68). "We're all going to need a nurse at some time in our lives, and there’s just not enough in the workforce or being educated for the future. The primary intent of our gift is to make more nurses available when we need them, now and in the future."

"The silver tsunami is coming," said Barbara Gessner. "We are certainly going to need more nurses as the population gets older, so the medical profession will be put to the test. It’s always been an honorable profession, and we believe in that tender, compassionate care that nurses provide."

The gift establishes three endowed professorships that will attract and retain outstanding nursing scholars who specialize in health care innovation. Two of the professorships will be matched one-to-one as part of the University's "$100 Million Challenge" for chairs and professorships. Additional endowments funded by the gift will bolster research, nursing education and clinical learning, scholarships, graduate student fellowships, adjunct faculty support and marketing and communications for the Gessner College of Nursing.

"Our college of Nursing has been a leader in preparing highly skilled nurses for the workforce, and this comprehensive gift from Andy and Barbara Gessner will take it to the next level," said UH President Renu Khator. "We are forever grateful to the Gessners for their vision, commitment and passion for nursing education so that we can educate more nurses who will make a positive impact on the lives of patients and in the health care industry."

Addressing the Nursing Shortage

A lack of educators and faculty in the field of nursing, limited clinical placements, an increase in the demand for care of the aging population and a current high nurse turnover rate following the COVID-19 pandemic, are among the reasons for the long-running nationwide nursing shortage. The projected shortage of registered nurses in Texas is expected to increase from over 29,000 to more than 57,000 by 2032, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Nationwide, about 100,000 registered nurses left the workplace due to the stresses of the pandemic, according to a 2022 survey by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

In light of these well-documented challenges, the Gessner College of Nursing continues to grow enrollment and expand educational opportunities by offering high-quality, affordable and flexible undergraduate and graduate degree programs on the instructional sites UH at Sugar Land and UH at Katy and on the UH campus. With more than 375 nursing students, the college has increased enrollment by 141% since 2018.

Newly-minted nurses educated at UH are entering the workforce faster and more prepared than ever before. In 2020, amid the pandemic, 100% of first-time test takers passed the nursing licensure exam, putting the college in the top 8% of nursing schools in the United States. Furthermore, every student who earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from UH in 2021 was employed upon graduation.

Kathryn Tart, founding dean of the Gessner College of Nursing, believes the success of the college and its students will only increase thanks to the incredible generosity of the Gessners and their family.

"This gift will have a lasting impact on the nursing profession and our great city, state and beyond for many years to come," she said. "We will be able to attract more top faculty and students and increase our research endeavors to further the University's mission of becoming a top 50 public university. We are so grateful to the Gessners for their support and vision to address the severe nursing shortage."

Linking Past to Present

Andy Gessner's mother Gertrude Smith Gessner attended the Memorial Hospital Lillie Jolly School of Nursing in Houston under the direction of famed director Lillie Jolly. Andy recalls always being "impressed" by his mother's nursing career because it provided financial support for the family following the Great Depression. She often worked seven days a week.

"We didn’t have a lot of money at all when we were growing up. But when things got tough, mother could always go back to nursing," said Andy, who notes that nursing can still be a lucrative profession.

Barbara's mother Mildred Roberson Pottenger attended nursing school at the end of the Great Depression and received a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 asking her to serve because World War II was imminent, and the country desperately needed nurses.

"She said, ‘Well, I like to swim so I'll join the Navy,'" recalled Barbara. Mildred bravely served in multiple capacities during WWII, including flying with wounded soldiers from the battlefield to the hospital.

"It was certainly a job that no one would want to do, but she did it and helped the war effort," she said.

"Both of our mothers lived through the Great Depression, so they were practical people. They understood that the world has always and probably always will need nurses, so they would be moved by the practicality of this gift."

Legacy of Support

Andy Gessner comes from a family with deep roots in the city, as evidenced by a street named after his uncle. For over 40 years, Andy worked at Industrial Air Tool, where he eventually became co-owner and president. Through his leadership, Industrial Air Tool grew into one of the leading supply businesses in the oil industry. He earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from UH in 1968.

Barbara Gessner is a graduate of Texas Woman's University. Her dedication to others is evident through her years of work tutoring adults who were seeking their GED. She also volunteered in their daughter Lesil's school and with Houston ISD's Volunteers in Public Schools program. She was also an active volunteer at their church.

The Gessners’ contributions to the community are considerable. They have been benefactors to the University of Houston since 1995. In 2019, they established the Gessner Family Nursing Scholarship. To date, the scholarship has provided full tuition to 19 promising students in the Traditional BSN program.

"It allowed me to focus on my studies so I didn't have to work during nursing school which would have been really difficult," said Emery White, a recipient of the Gessner Family Nursing Scholarship who will graduate this spring. "The Gessners are really passionate about the future of nursing."

Over the years, they have also supported programs at the C. T. Bauer College of Business, including the Gessner Sales Team Endowment, Gessner Sales Program Scholarships and the Gessner Inspiring Excellence Scholarship Endowment. Just last year, they made a $1 million gift to support the education of aspiring sales professionals at the Stephen Stagner Sales Excellence Institute. The institute's sales lab is known as the Andy and Barbara Gessner Sales Lab.

The couple has also contributed to Houston Public Media, the UH Alumni Association Circle of Excellence, the President's Fund for Student Success and UH Athletics. They are members of the University's National Development Council philanthropic advisory board.

"We believe in the value of an education. I think most of the world’s problems could be solved through education, which is why we are so passionate about supporting the University of Houston," said Barbara Gessner.

"Our legacy will not be about what we did, it’s what this gift will do," said Andy Gessner. "We hope that in the coming years, the Gessner College of Nursing will be recognized for excellence and for creating more nurses."

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