Even though she was enrolled in another professor’s statistics course this summer, Stephanie Schnorr-Bergslien emailed CSU instructor Rick Gumina at the advice of a friend when the senior social work major was struggling in the course.
Within minutes Gumina emailed Schnorr-Bergslien back, offering to sit down and tutor her for however long it took to help her get through the class. After meeting Gumina a couple of times, Schnorr-Bergslien saw him not only as a once in a lifetime instructor, but as a friend and mentor as well.
The popular instructor died of a heart attack Oct. 22 on the Colorado State University Campus. He was 55 years old.
“He touched lives,” Schnorr-Bergslien said before a memorial service for Gumina on Friday. “He changed lives and nobody could ever have told me that I wouldn’t just learn statistics from him but I’d learn about life and learn about my personal journey through him as well.”
Approximately 250 students, colleagues, friends and family members gathered in the Lory Student Center theatre to share stories about Gumina’s passion for life and the personal impact he had on the thousands of students who passed through his classes during his 15 years as an instructor at CSU.
The memorial was held by the College of Natural Sciences. Those in attendance included Jan Nerger, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Jean Opsomer, the chair of the department of statistics.
“Clearly no one who encountered Rick failed to be impressed by his intellect or be warmed by his sense of humor and adventurous spirit and his capacity for affection and friendship,” Nerger said.
Those who knew Gumina described him as a charismatic, caring person always willing to sit down and talk about not only statistics, but life in general or to listen to any personal struggles a student was going through.
He would go out of his way to find interesting and unique ways to bring the difficult subject of statistics to life.
This included teaching class in full costume every Halloween, and in one case befriending a professor in Canada who sent Gumina ancient Greek coins to use in class.
Many students said he inspired them to alter their degree programs to pursue a degree in statistics.
“His passion for statistics rubbed off on me and inspired me to further my studies in the subject…” statistics graduate student Sean Barnes told those gathered to mourn Gumina. “He made statistics seem like it could actually be something fun to do for the rest of my life.”
Gumina was a devoted family man and an active member in the Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins.
Whether it was raising money for student scholarships for a partner church in Romania or volunteering as a sound technician during Sunday services, Gumina was always willing to lend a hand and help other people, said Reverend Marc Salkin in an interview before the service.
“Whenever he saw people in need that’s where he wanted to step in and make a difference,” Salkin said. “In addition to that he was a very warm, caring person. He just radiated enthusiasm, friendliness and caring. We’ll miss him.”
Schnorr-Bergslien said she’ll never forget one of the last conversations she ever had with Gumina. She had called him, crying and deeply upset, after receiving a poor grade on a test they had spent hours studying for.
“Stephanie, you only fail when you don’t try,” Gumina told her. “So we’re just going to give it our best next time. “
When she saw him later that day, they went for a walk outside.
Schnorr-Bergslien said Gumina knew that most students in the lower level statistics classes only had to pass the class as a requirement for other degree programs and he would try so hard to get those students through the course, knowing it would probably be the last time they would ever use statistics.
As they were walking, Gumina asked Schnorr-Bergslien to pick up a leaf and describe it. After she described the colors and vein patterns, he asked her to pick up another leaf and describe it as well.
“Both of them are different and unique in their own ways,’” Schnorr-Bergslien recalled Gumina saying. “They both have a purpose but in different ways. Your job is not to be a master statistician. Your job is to be unique.’”
Senior Reporter Austin Briggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org