The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s College of Education and Human Sciences is honoring the legacy of longtime faculty member and administrator Gwendolyn Newkirk by renaming the Human Sciences Building on East Campus. The University of Nebraska Board of Regents approved the name change to the Gwendolyn A. Newkirk Human Sciences Building on June 23.
“Dr. Newkirk was a leader of action who paved the way for others,”Sherri Jones, dean of College of Education and Human Sciences. “Renaming the Human Sciences Building after her is a fitting tribute to recognize her undeniable legacy of leadership and service to the college, IANR, the university, the community and her profession.”
Newkirk was appointed chair of the Department of Home Economics Education, College of Home Economics in Nebraska in 1971. It is believed that she was the college’s first female faculty member and was also its only chair of a department. Newkirk steered the department during a time in which the national home economics education major was losing traction. As a result, Newkirk facilitated major revisions to curriculum to enhance its relevance and impact, while overseeing the renaming of the department from home economics education to consumer science and education.
Newkirk led a weeklong field trip in which Nebraska home-economy teacher educators and state personnel observed family systems as they were taught in selected secondary schools in Minnesota or Wisconsin. In 1980, Newkirk was a Yambio home economics curriculum consultant. Newkirk retired from the university in 1991.
Newkirk is a pioneer in the field of home economics education. She was elected in 1975 the first African American president the American Home Economics Association. This is a remarkable achievement, especially when you consider that Newkirk was not allowed to join the organization at the beginning of her professional career. Other professional service she did was with the American Vocational Association and Nebraska Home Economics Association, National Education Associations, American Educational Research Division, Coalition of Vocational Educators, and the American Vocational Association. She also served on the board of directors for General Mills and Tabitha, Inc.
Newkirk is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Psi Omega chapter. This international sorority promotes professional development and service. It was formed in 1908 with nine women at Howard University. It is the nation’s oldest minority sorority. Newkirk was honored for 75 years of membership in 2019.
Newkirk’s impact on the College of Education and Human Sciences continues to be felt through her generous support of the college. The Gwendolyn A. Newkirk Reading Center Fund helps support tutoring services at the Kit and Dick Schmoker Reading Center, the Gwendolyn A. Newkirk Global Education Fund supports faculty and student participation in domestic and international cultural and cross-cultural experiences, and the Gwendolyn A. Newkirk Professorship of Leadership in Child, Youth and Family Studies provides stipend support for the chair of the Department of Child, Youth and Family Studies and faculty support.
The request to rename the building was initiated and supported by the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of People of Color. The Gwendolyn A. Newkirk Human Sciences Building houses laboratories and offices for the Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences and Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design, as well as college classrooms, the Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
“The Gwendolyn A. Newkirk Human Sciences Building will recognize a prominent and significant contributor to the history of CEHS,”Jones said. “It will also serve as an inspiration for future generations of action-oriented, servant leaders who will enhance the lives of individuals, families, schools and communities and strengthen the relationships among them.”
CEHS is planning an event Sept. 23 to celebrate the building renaming and honor Newkirk.