Graduate made the grade with baby in tow
While Rebecca Gatt was learning systems dynamics and design in her final year of the Colorado Mesa University-University of Colorado mechanical engineering partnership program, her daughter, Emma, was just feet away learning to crawl.
Emma was born July 30, exactly three weeks before Rebecca began her senior year in the engineering program, which allows students to earn a CU diploma in Grand Junction. Saturday morning, the nine-and-a-half-month-old watched her mom graduate at CMU’s commencement ceremony at Stocker Stadium.
Rebecca, 24, and her husband, Daniel Gatt, also 24 and a junior in the engineering program, have spent the last year tucking Emma into their camper and trekking between their home in Montrose and the CMU Archuleta Engineering Center for classes every Monday through Thursday. The baby stays with Mom during the morning while dad is at class. In the afternoon, Mom goes to class and either takes Emma with her or hands her over to Dad.
Most days, the family leaves their driveway at 6:45 a.m. and returns home at 6:45 p.m. In the interim, Emma hangs out with her parents in the camper or a conference room on the ground floor of the engineering center while they tend to her and study, or at least try to.
“If she’s upset, you can’t concentrate. If she’s happy, you just want to play with her,” Rebecca said.
Emma has a nice setup in the conference room and even had a “first” there when she sat up for the first time on her own. She has plenty of toys at her eye level. A diaper bag and car seat are parked atop an oval table in case she needs either one. The lights dim just enough that she can nod off when she’s done crawling around an obstacle course of chair legs. If any students or professors need to use the conference room, they just give the Gatts a heads-up and they move elsewhere.
Having a baby around the engineering center has brought “a little bit of cheeriness to the office,” according to engineering instructor Nathan McNeill. He said it’s not the first time students have brought children to school.
“I don’t mind. We like to see our students succeed, so we’ll do whatever we can do to accommodate them,” he said.
Assistant professor of mechanical engineering Scott Bevill and his wife, assistant professor of construction management Kelly Bevill, sometimes bring their 10-month-old to school as well. Scott Bevill said the Gatts do a great job of balancing academic and parenting responsibilities and that it can be fun to have Emma in class.
“She’s always well-behaved in lecture. Sometimes she contributes to the discussion,” he joked.
Rebecca said she was nervous about mixing parenting with being a full-time student and appreciates the patience and flexibility her professors have offered. The biggest casualty of the arrangement has been sleep. But she said it was worth it to keep Emma close during her first year of life and Mom’s last year of school.
“It’s irreplaceable that we’ve been able to spend so much time with her,” she said.
Emma’s trips to school won’t be as frequent next year. Daniel said he will continue his studies this fall and likely make the drive from Montrose alone while Rebecca stays in Montrose to work at engineered structural materials company Gordon Composites