Zack Robertson and his mother, Kathleen Robertson, will graduate together from Iowa State University this weekend. They both plan to become teachers and will cord one another at the School of Education cording ceremony. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Mother, son to graduate together from Iowa State University

The School of Education’s sixth cording ceremony this Friday will include a mother and son graduating from Iowa State University at the same time.

Kathleen Robertson, 47, of Madrid and her son, Zack, 22, will celebrate their induction into the teaching profession by presenting light blue cords to one another at the cording ceremony, 10 to 11:30 a.m. Friday at C.Y. Stephens Auditorium. They are among 134 students completing Iowa State's educator preparation program this fall.

“It’s going to be something I look back on and it’s just going to be a very fond memory for me,” Zack said. “How many people can say that they graduated from Iowa State with a parent? That’s incredible. It doesn’t happen a lot. I think it’s cool.”

Stay-at-home mom for two decades

Kathleen always knew she wanted to be a teacher, but decided to first focus on raising a family. She spent 20 years as a stay-at-home mom. Zack is the second of her four sons.

“After my two oldest sons moved out of our home, I knew it was time,” she said. “I needed to find something fulfilling because I was running out of people to serve. I decided to seize the opportunity and make a transition into teaching. I didn’t know if I could even do it because honestly, I’ve been home so long watching Barney with my kids.”

She proved up to the challenge. Kathleen is graduating magna cum laude with a degree in elementary education before her two youngest sons, Ben, 16, and Luke, 15, leave home. She student taught second-graders at Madrid Elementary, and fifth- and sixth-graders at United Community Schools. She’s also a member of the Cardinal Key Honor Society and Golden Key International Honor Society.

People at Iowa State welcomed Kathleen into the campus community and encouraged her to succeed. Upon graduation, she will initially become a substitute teacher and seek her reading endorsement. She’ll ultimately seek to fulfill her dream of leading her own classroom.

“This is what I’m supposed to do,” Kathleen said. “For someone who never thought I’d go back, I’m really glad that I did.”

Zack graduates this weekend with a major in English and a teaching endorsement in secondary education for grades 5 to 12. He’s completing his student teaching in seventh-grade language arts at Boone Middle School and plans to teach in Cedar Rapids after graduation. He also completed practicum experiences in Urbandale and Woodward-Granger.

Family with a passion for serving

Kathleen and Zack’s plan to become teachers stems from a desire to serve others that’s deeply rooted in the Robertson family. It’s also a common trait for graduates of the College of Human Sciences.

“Our family is just oriented that way,” Kathleen said. “For our family, it’s always been about extending ourselves and doing things for other people.”

Kathleen and her husband, Paul, were both Boy Scout leaders. Zack was an Eagle Scout, as was his younger brother, Ben. Family community service projects have included building a raised flower garden at the Madrid Home nursing home, and developing a one-room schoolhouse replica at the Iowa Arboretum.

That desire to serve is reflected in their teaching styles.

“I’ve been told that I’m caring and compassionate, and that I have a passion for working with kids and really caring about each one — which I think transfers over from serving others,” Zack said.

Having mom on campus

The Robertsons didn’t have any classes together while attending Iowa State. But they’d bump into one another occasionally, at Parks Library or the Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching. They joked about it being kind of weird for a college-aged son to see his mother on campus.

“I got used to it after a while,” Zack said.

Kathleen experienced other unique situations while on campus. She took a science education class at Iowa State from lecturer Robert Stone, who had also been her fifth-grade teacher when she was 10 years old.

Kathleen and Zack discovered about a year ago that they’d be graduating at the same time. So they took a trip to the Iowa State University Bookstore last summer to buy their caps and gowns together. They credit Paul Robertson, who is Kathleen’s husband and Zack’s dad, for helping them to reach their goal.

The Robertsons plan to participate in all of this weekend’s festivities — from the School of Education cording ceremony and College of Human Sciences convocation on Friday, to the university commencement ceremony for undergraduates on Saturday.

“I’m doing it all,” Kathleen said. “I waited a long time to do this.”