Alum Creates a New Mentorship Path for Students

Rick Gardner (‘65, Psychology) remembers the day he was accepted into Cal Poly Humboldt. “I opened the mailbox and saw the letter from Humboldt. When I opened it, I went running to my parents to show

Rick Gardner (‘65, Psychology) remembers the day he was accepted into Cal Poly Humboldt. 

“I opened the mailbox and saw the letter from Humboldt. When I opened it, I went running to my parents to show them the letter. It was a pivotal moment in my life that led me to Humboldt, which was a transformative experience,” says Rick, who became the first person in his family to earn a college degree. 

Hoping to provide Psychology students similar access to a Cal Poly Humboldt education and to the faculty who were crucial to his successful career in academia, Rick recently established the Rick M. Gardner Psychology Research Assistantship Fund with a commitment  of $75,000. Through the fund, Psychology students who intend to pursue a graduate degree in Psychology have the opportunity to conduct research with a faculty member.

“Forming that close connection is important to do as an undergraduate. Faculty supported and encouraged me when I needed it, which is not something you always experience at large universities.” Rick says. “I want to encourage students to achieve the same success by furthering their education.”

That connection has made a difference for Portia Herger (‘22, Psychology). One of three students who received the assistantship in 2022, Portia has worked with Psychology Professor Amber Gaffney.

“It means a lot to be a recipient of this assistantship because I get to do what I love and develop an understanding of what goes into a research study. Working closely with Dr. Gaffney has taught me about professionalism and she is a great role model,” Portia says. “This financial award benefits me by alleviating daily financial stressors. I am a full-time student. I was working three jobs just to afford to pay rent and feed my animals. Receiving the award gave me the opportunity to balance school, jobs, and self-care because I could afford more than basic necessities.”

Professor Gaffney adds that students not only benefit from the fund financially, but also personally.

“This is a huge opportunity for the Psychology Department at Humboldt. Above the tangible value of receiving money to do relevant work, it provides our students with a source of pride and esteem, and gives them a touch of academic life,” Gaffney says.

Rick, who said he wasn’t the strongest student in high school, was indifferent toward academics and was always “goofing off.” Personal attention from faculty, such as emeritus Psychology Professor Dennis Musselman, helped build his confidence as a student and as a researcher.

“Faculty such as Dennis took me under their wing. They spent time with me and encouraged me. They saw more potential in me than I saw in myself and they pushed me to my limits. That played a big part in my life after I graduated from Humboldt.” 

After graduating from Humboldt, Rick attended the University of Nevada Reno where he received his Ph.D. in psychology. He was a professor and department chair at  the University of Southern Colorado and the University of Colorado Denver. Rick has published extensively in several areas of psychology with particular emphasis on the topic of body image. He retired in 2010 and is currently a member of the University of Colorado Foundation Board of Trustees.

“It makes me feel very good knowing I have influenced a student’s life with this gift.  That's the kind of legacy I can have,” Rick says. “I get a lot back by giving a relatively little amount of money.”   

Join us! Help expand access and create new opportunities by supporting Humboldt through the Boldly Rising campaign. For more information, contact the Cal Poly Humboldt Foundation at or (707) 826-5200.