Trend forecaster Ayesha Siddiqi’s famous advice to “Be the person you needed when you were younger” is a guiding principle for senior Savannah Gerben ’23. A human development major and disabilities studies minor, she understands better than most how important it is for children to have caring, nurturing adults in their lives. Gerben herself experienced childhood domestic violence, and her choice of future career models the care and help she received from trusted school counselors.
As she works toward graduation, 27-year-old Gerben is already at work paying it forward. Following a recent internship where she provided childcare, support and resources at a local safehouse for women and children who have survived domestic violence, sexual assault or human trafficking, Gerben is taking on the role of crisis intervention advocate. That would be enough to fill anyone’s days, but Gerben is managing it while completing her studies and parenting two young boys—sometimes going it alone while her military husband is away on active duty.
Some of that drive might come from the fact that her mom modeled a similar ability to keep many balls in the air at once. “My mom was single, raising three kids and going to nursing school at the same time,” says Gerben. “That’s been very inspiring to me and has helped me push through for my own kids.”
Gerben completed her associate’s degree in education at Anne Arundel Community College in 2020, returning to school just as her youngest child turned seven months old. “I stayed up late studying and prepping, and had a vision of my boys seeing me walk across the stage at graduation,” she says. “Then the pandemic hit and I didn’t get that chance.”
Thinking hard about pursuing her next degree, Gerben took advantage of UMD’s remote learning opportunities as the pandemic shut down most in-person learning for a time.
“Virtual learning allowed me to succeed in spite of the hurdles,” she says. “I’m very grateful for the flexibility of my professors.”
One of those hurdles was being stationed at Ft. Gordon in Georgia at the time. But just as in-person learning returned, Gerben’s husband received a relocation to Maryland, which placed them close to Gerben’s mother. “She’s nearby and has been super helpful while I finish school,” Gerben says.
With all the obligations pulling her in myriad directions, Gerben has learned ways to manage it all. “You have to take time for self-care and prioritize yourself,” she says.
As Gerben heads toward her finish line this year, she looks forward to beginning a career that helps children who experience trauma. Recently, Gerben led her safe-house charges in an exercise to help break cycles of abuse and trauma. “I had them trace their handprints on paper and then write inside ideas of kind things they can do with their hands,” she says. “They wrote things like ‘picking flowers’ and ‘helping mom in the kitchen.’ I was impressed by their resiliency.”
And when it comes to resilience, Gerben would know.