Alumni Profile: Herb and Mary Flamer
Dr. Herb Flamer GSE‘72,‘78 recalls growing up in the ‘60s in the midst of America’s civil rights movement. The ideology that whichever career path one chose should “contribute to the betterment of the community, specifically disadvantaged communities… was burned into our psyche,” recalls Herb. For Herb and his wife Dr. Mary Guess Flamer DC ‘70, GSE ‘71,‘93, education was the most significant way to achieve that goal.
“We are definitely products of our time,” said Herb, and the pursuit of higher education was strongly encouraged throughout the Flamers’ childhood. Herb’s father was one of the few African Americans allowed to attend Trenton State Teachers College, and Mary’s mother attended college.
Upon completing their undergraduate degrees, both Herb and Mary embarked on careers designed to empower the less fortunate; Herb taught incarcerated, mal-adjusted and mentally disturbed young men, while Mary’s most memorable employment opportunity was working at a women’s shelter as an advocate and educator for abused women and children. However, they did not meet one another until they were nearly embarking upon graduate study at Rutgers.
Mary was first to enroll at the GSE and recalls that “the GSE had an outstanding reputation.” Though she was also considering Berkeley, Dr. Samuel Dewitt Proctor persuaded Mary to stay at Rutgers during a shared car ride from Douglass College following one of his lectures. “In that one mile ride, I was given a lecture of what I should be doing with my life and part of that was going to the GSE,” said Mary.
While Mary was looking into graduate programs, Herb met Mary and the two began dating. “I knew I didn’t want to teach in the penal system for the rest of my life,” Herb said. Interested in Mary’s career path, Mary suggested Herb meet Dr. Proctor, whom he knew as the former president of his undergraduate institution, North Carolina A&T. Dr. Proctor encouraged Herb to pursue an interdisciplinary program that would expose him to different areas of education at the GSE, and he too enrolled.
While pursuing their master’s and eventually their doctoral degrees, the Flamers worked rigorously, balancing their education, careers, married life, and raising a daughter.
“We were in school for a significant portion of her childhood,” said Mary. Following in Herb and Mary’s footsteps, their daughter graduated college, completed her Ph.D., and also currently works in education.
Looking back at their time at GSE, the Flamers describe the school as a “very nurturing intellectual, thoughtful, and encouraging institution.” Professors including Dr. Proctor, Dr. Adam Scrupski, and Dr. Shimahara taught them critical thinking, and analytical and research skills, while providing the personal guidance that both Herb and Mary attribute to their personal and professional success.
The education the Flamers received at the GSE enabled them to stay true to their ‘60s ideologies and find careers that helped improve societies.
“Helping children overcome the adversities and the challenges they may have,” motivated Mary throughout her professional career. Mary recently retired as a coordinator of Title 1, where she problem-solved for failing school districts. Mary attributes her ability to “see an issue from numerous points of view and consult problems with a skilled methodology” to her GSE education.
Herb’s career in higher education began at the NJ Department of Higher Education, where he was a program analyst for NJ’s Education Opportunity Fund (EOF). “The EOF program is a big program at Rutgers to get disadvantaged students into college, to give them financial aid and academic support,” said Herb.
In 1978, Herb began working at Educational Testing Service (ETS) as the program director for graduate and professional school financial aid services. In 2002, Herb retired from ETS as the executive director of higher education assessment.
Residing only 45 minutes away from New Brunswick, the Flamers frequently return to Rutgers to attend GSE events, lectures, and the occasional football game.
“Given our age, we are very much aware that we are in a rapidly growing society,” notes Mary. “It is important for us to remind ourselves of that and stay abreast in the field” and attending Rutgers events helps the Flamers to do that.
Giving back is also high on the Flamers’ list of priorities. “It is very important to support the institution that provided you a first-class graduate education,” said Herb. “It’s very important, particularly in education, to support students who are going to carry this portent to the future.”
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