Meet the Author: John N. Gardner

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John N. Gardner has over forty years of experience directing and teaching in the most widely emulated first-year seminar in the country, the University 101 course at the University of South Carolina (USC), Columbia. John is universally recognized as one of the country's leading educators for his role in initiating and orchestrating an international reform movement to improve the beginning college experience, a concept he coined as "the first-year experience." He is the founding executive director of the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at USC, as well as the Policy Center on the First Year of College and the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education (, both based in Brevard, N.C.

John is the author of Your College Experience, Understanding Your College Experience, and Step by Step to College and Career Success with his co-author and wife, Betsy O. Barefoot.

Tell us about one initiative you are currently working on that you are really excited about.

My most important work is as the leader of a non-profit higher education organization which is immodestly named for me, the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education. We are 18 years old. Our current signature work revolves around a national effort to reduce the appalling scale of student failure rates through so-called "gateway courses"...including college success courses.

What motivates you to work in college success?

I remain highly motivated by my fifty year career drive to accomplish more educational justice for undergraduate students especially first-year and transfer students.

What advice would you have given to your younger self as you embarked on your first year in college?

Break off the romantic relationship with the girl back home. Instead that took three years to remedy. And instead of taking all new courses in unknown disciplines, to stick with what I knew and had done well with in the past, like Latin instead of Russian (the latter which I failed), and chemistry instead of geology (which I also failed). 

What are some trends and developments you are currently seeing in the college success/FYE course?

This work is very cyclical as I have followed it since my being involved in the founding of University 101 at the University of South Carolina in 1972. Currently the rage is all around peer leaders, which it should be, and around the psycho-social elements of successful transition into college, which, while very important, may end up neglecting the core academic skills necessary for success in college.

What did you enjoy the most about writing Your College Experience, Understanding Your College Experience, and Step by Step to Success in College and Career Success?

Working on these books with my co-author and wife, Dr. Betsy Barefoot.

On a personal note...

What book has influenced you the most?

Either Plato's Republic; Riesman's The Lonely Crowd; Emerson's Self-Reliance; and Fromm's Escape from Freedom and The Art of Loving.

What is something you want to learn in the next year (related to higher education or otherwise)?

How to say "no."

If you hadn't pursued your current career, what do you think you would have done?

Perhaps continued my Air Force duties--but as a psychiatric social worker!

What is your ideal vacation?

Attending an international arts festival like the Venice Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival, or the Spoleto Festival with my wife (there is no vacation without her).

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself that not many people may know.

I have spent fifty years working on one subject so I doubt there is much to find interesting about me beyond that (seriously).