(Photo by Jon Styer)

After 33 years, nursing professor Ann Hershberger ’76 moves to MCC leadership role

Professor Ann Graber Hershberger ‘76, who began as assistant instructor in the nursing department at Eastern Mennonite University and served in several influential leadership roles over 33 years of service, will retire June 30.

Professor Ann Hershberger has held several leadership positions within the university, and is appreciated campus-wide for her mentoring and teaching skill. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

Within the nursing department, Hershberger chaired both the undergraduate (interim) and graduate programs, developed and updated the foundational “Sacred Covenant” model of nursing, led an enrollment expansion in 2004, and proposed two new degree programs — the accelerated second degree and the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree — that would position EMU as a top regional provider of nursing education.

Hershberger’s nursing department colleagues, nursing department chair Melody Cash and MSN program director Don Tyson, recognize her as both a mentor and a consummate professional, devoted to advocating for the most vulnerable, to seeking challenging and transformative experiences for EMU nursing students, and for elevating the departmental discourse around public health issues and challenges, among many other contributions.

Tyson’s office was located just across the hall from Hershberger’s for the last 20 years: “It has been a blessing and treat as we have laughed, cried, disagreed, affirmed each other, consoled, and problem solved in so many ways.”

Cash has appreciated her “wise discernment and support …a listening ear when I needed it …advice that came from years of experience and a place of compassion and caring.”

Hershberger’s impact on the entire university has been no less substantial. She moved through the academic ranks to full professor in 2002 and in addition to teaching and leadership responsibilities within the nursing department, was tapped for leadership roles as core curriculum coordinator, director of the Humanitarian Action Leadership program, and finally, her current role as director of the cross-cultural program.

Additionally, Hershberger contributed to several innovative initiatives, each of which have shaped the university’s core niche as a unique, Anabaptist-rooted liberal arts institution. She helped to launch the cross-cultural program, a core curricular requirement for all undergraduates; chaired the faculty committee to launch the graduate Conflict Transformation Program, now the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding; and provided leadership to several undergraduate general education revisions.

Ann has made a lasting impact and we are deeply grateful for her deep commitment to EMU over nearly four decades,” said Undergraduate Dean Deirdre Longacher Smeltzer. “She has been a beloved professor and mentor to numerous students, both in the classroom and as leader of nine cross-cultural study semesters, and also to her many colleagues. Her wise leadership and her ability to gracefully balance completion of tasks with nurturing of relationships have afforded her numerous opportunities to serve off-campus as well, most notably including prominent roles with Mennonite Central Committee.”

To Mennonite Central Committee

Professor Ann Hershberger speaks with students during orientation for the Masters in Nursing program.

It is to MCC that Hershberger will devote the next few years. She recently accepted the newly created position of interim associate director, and will help Executive Director J. Ron Byler lead the organization during MCC’s centennial activities  over the next 2-3 years.

Hershberger has served on MCC boards since 1996, including 10 years from 2009-19 as board chair of MCC US.  She served with her husband Jim as MCC representative in Nicaragua from 1985-90 and again in 1999-2000. Her first service with the organization was in 1983 in El Salvador.

The interim leadership role with MCC was “an unexpected, but clear calling,”  Hershberger said. “The interdenominational relationships I’ve built over the years through working with MCC will help me work within the organization as it adapts to important challenges. I am grateful that EMU has been my occupational home and the focus of my service to God and the church for many years, and I hope to continue the relationship after the interim position concludes.”


As a colleague, Hershberger contributed to EMU’s intellectual community with “perceptive comments and questions during meetings as well as over meals,” said Professor Marti Eads, of the EMU Language and Literature Department. “I treasure the challenging example she provides of living with integrity, and how she demonstrates measures of kindness, humility and cheerfulness when devoting herself to difficult tasks, such as a campus-wide curriculum revision process. I never had Ann as a teacher, but I imagine her to function as a teacher in the same way that she functions as a friend: encouraging others to do our very best because she believes we can and is waiting in excitement to watch us bloom.

Sue Cockley, dean of the graduate school and seminary, shared similar sentiments about Hershberger’s versatile capabilities. “Ann is one of those very rare people who can care intensely about individual students in her class and, at the same time, think structurally about the well-being of the entire university. She is at once an inspirational idealist and a very practical realist.”  

Current and former students appreciated Hershberger’s role modeling and mentorship, pointing out that her words and actions has always shown genuine care, authenticity and intentionality.  

Maria Yoder, a senior biology major, travelled to Guatemala and Colombia with Hershberger as a sophomore. Yoder and Hershberger were co-investigators on a diabetes research project in Guatemala and travelled together to present at the fall 2018 American Public Health Association national conference.

“Without the experience, motivation, and guidance from Ann, I never would have thought I was capable of carrying out the research with Concern America. And that’s the beautiful thing about Ann — she is a natural teacher because she cares about the end product, not her own personal glory. She has hopes for this world that extend well beyond her lifetime and knows that teaching a younger generation is the best way to create a lasting impact.

“She has given me great counsel not only in regards to academics, but life in general,” said nursing student Asenie Daniel, who was also on the spring 2017 cross-cultural. “I am so thankful to have such an incredibly intuitive and receptive person in my life.”

Nursing student Esther Ghale recalls how Hershberger helped her through a challenging situation on that same cross-cultural, and continued her support back to campus. “Ann came and gave me a big bear hug, exactly what I needed at that time. She didn’t say anything, she didn’t ask questions, she just embraced us.”

Tessa Gerberich Hershberger ‘13 [no relation],  a nurse care coordinator for the women’s health and prenatal care program at Harrisonburg Community Health Center, still speaks with her former undergraduate advisor frequently. She says Hershberger has had a lasting influence on her own practice of nursing, from nursing clinicals at EMU to her postgraduate Serving And Learning Together (SALT) term in an HIV/AIDS clinic in Nigeria and her transition back into the U.S. health care system.

One of Ann Hershberger’s strengths, Tessa Hershberger said, is her strong commitment to interacting with grace and respect for all, whether patients, students, friends and colleagues. “More than doing for someone, nurses walk with and share information for people to cultivate their own strengths and independence, rather than creating dependency, and Ann exemplifies this, not just in her nursing, but in her teaching and mentoring roles as well. She holds our questions, thoughts and experiences with grace; asks good, thoughtful questions; and encourages us and reminds us of the strength within ourselves.”

Ann Hershberger will be recognized at a reception on campus in late April. Any appreciations offered in the comment box below will be passed along to her.


Discussion on “After 33 years, nursing professor Ann Hershberger ’76 moves to MCC leadership role

  1. Ann and Jim were my cross-cultural leaders in 2013. It was a truly life-changing experience, in large part because of their exceptional leadership, wisdom, and encouragement. And Ann was the one who encouraged me to step way out of my comfort zone and travel across the world to Bangladesh for a year in MCC’s SALT program. She believed I could do it, and that made all the difference.

  2. Ann was instrumental in who I became as a health care provider. Her leadership, her community engagement and her human kindness. I hope her spirit will continue to live on in how academics are realized in institutions like EMU. She is leaving many gifts behind that persons will continue to benefit from on their education journey.
    As the song once said…”they don’t make them like they used to”! Ann, a job well done! Thank you for your continued mentorship into many aspects of my career as a nurse for the last 30 years.

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