Everyday Hero: Barb Gomperts

Posted: July 25, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Editor’s note: This Daily Gazette feature profiles key people at Mason who “make it happen.”

Barb Gomperts
Barb Gomperts
Creative Services photo

Name: Barb Gomperts

Years at Mason: Almost 7

Current Position: Office Manager, Department of English

Which Means: Barb oversees human resources-related processes for all English department faculty and supervises English Department staff. In addition, she manages all English department budgets, contracts, and office space for faculty. However, she is most famous for her work with English graduate students. In her previous position, she was the graduate coordinator for four MA concentrations and three MFA concentrations. She also managed student writing contests, the Visiting Writers Series, and graduate applications. Her knack for keeping everything together, hunting down students’ answers to questions, and generally being the glue holding the department together, is what many are grateful for.

Favorite Part of Her English Department Jobs: “The students, definitely. I’ve been a mom for so long that it’s not so hard for me to quiet or unquiet nerves.” Gomperts has had to deal with many frantic students over the years. She never rests until she tracks down the answers or finds the right forms to fill out. “I feel that when someone comes to me with a problem, it’s my responsibility to get it solved. My goal is to make sure people get answers—not the runaround. I like to think, ‘The buck stops here.’”

On Writing and Reading: “I’m not a writer, though I’ve dabbled in nonfiction. I am, however, constantly reading. Right now, my favorite is nonfiction,” she says. She and her husband are reading My Life by Bill Clinton and Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. “I’ll read a chapter of one book while he’s reading the other, and then we’ll switch,” she admits.

What about Harry Potter?: Gomperts has not yet read the popular children’s series yet, but the books are next on her list. Her son is a big fan, however, and was able to score J.K. Rowling’s autograph a few years ago before she became insanely famous.

On Working at a University: “When my family moved here from Idaho in 1998, my husband and I were looking for jobs. I really wanted to work at a university because of the tuition benefits. I wanted a job in an English department; I was an English major during my undergrad studies at Idaho State University, and my dealings with the English department were always so positive,” she says. Gomperts has been going to school part-time at Mason for her MA in English, with a concentration in the Teaching and Writing of Literature, and her teacher licensure in English as a Second Language. She officially started the graduate program in fall 2002. Her dream is to teach kindergarten to non-native speakers of English.

Favorite Writer She’s Met through the English Department: “I think it was the first Fall for the Book Festival, and my friend and I had to drive author Elizabeth Berg to and from the airport,” recalls Gomperts. “Before she was leaving, she mentioned she’d like to get something to eat, and we were trying to think of nice restaurants.” But Berg, who Gomperts remembers as being very down-to-earth, spoke up and said she wanted to go to Tippy’s Tacos. “There we were, sitting in this tiny dive, drinking beer, and eating tacos, and talking about life. It was awesome.”

All about Kids: Gomperts is extremely family-oriented. She loves being around kids. Before working at Mason, Gomperts owned her own state-licensed day-care business, which she ran at her own home while raising three children.

On Her “Foster” Work: Gomperts married her husband Mark of 22 years when she was 17 years old. “Because we were so young, we needed a lot of emotional support, and we were fortunate to get it,” she says. “Now that we’re older, we feel like it is our mission to give back that help to other people.” Over the years, the couple has taken in several roommates, adults who needed financial or emotional help for various reasons, and given them an inexpensive, emotionally supportive place to live. Right now, Gomperts and her family live with a friend and her 20-year-old daughter, who is fighting brain cancer. “It’s a full house, with nine people and two dogs,” says Gomperts, “but there is always someone there, and lots of emotional support.”

What People Would Be Surprised to Learn about Her: “I’m very handy, and I love to build things.” Recently, Gomperts flew to California to build a loft bed for her niece. She also spent seven years renovating her home—doing everything from the plumbing and electrical to knocking down walls. She taught herself all this stuff with videos and books from—where else? —the library.

What People Say about Her:

“Barb Gomperts makes me wish that scientists would perfect cloning so that we could send Barb all around the university and out into the wider world as well. It’s not just that she brings a real professionalism to everything she does, but that she works out of a real caring nature. She responds to people around her—students, faculty, anyone who has problems—by always trying to help.”

—Bill Miller, assistant professor of English and director, Fall for the Book Festival

“In a large department, the sheer volume of the office work makes the job especially hard, but Barb moves calmly through it all, great at everything she does. She’s also smart, funny, quick, wise, down-to-earth, and tactful—qualities that have won her the trust and affection of everyone who knows her.”

—Deborah Kaplan, English Department Chair

“Barb was a constant, reassuring, and supremely competent presence in the MFA Program from my first day. No matter the consequence, dire or trifling, Barb was always there with a quick answer, a chuckle, and a helping hand. If there is a single student (or faculty member) in the MFA Program whose life was not entirely saved by Barb on at least one occasion, I’d be surprised. Her place in heaven is secure.”

—Matt Scanlon, MFA student and director of conferences, Association of Writers and Writing Programs

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