BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR)– Nearly 3,000 Hokies received their degrees on Dec. 16th. Out of the many, one stands out.

“By age and generation. There was nobody like me,” said Stephen ‘Steve’ Gerus, a Virginia Tech Student graduate.

(Photo courtesy: Virginia Tech News)

Meet 75-year-old Steve Gerus.

After crossing the stage, he became one of four graduate students in Virginia Tech’s history to complete a Ph.D. at the age of 75 or older. The one thing Steve says is his degree, and research are more important than his age. However, if he can encourage older people to continue their education, then so be it.

Steve’s journey began 42 years ago at Pennsylvania State University. There he earned his master’s degree in Anthropology and met his wife, interim dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture, Arts, and Design Rosemary Blieszner.

“My wife, daughter, and I came here in 1981 and the anthropology of the sociology department had closed,” said Steve.

Then Steve started his own company, “Bell Electric.”

“A friend of mine in the Sociology Department said hey you know I’m going to be teaching this graduate seminar called Culture in Society, and he said you might be interested, and I said yeah I am interested,” said Steve.

After that class, steve got bitten by the education bug and took two more classes after that. Then in 2017, he took the biggest risk of his life selling his company and going back to graduate school full-time.

His research of choice, studying people who live within what’s called “the blast zone” of the mountain valley pipeline. That is the area in West Virginia and Virginia, along the pipeline route that is most susceptible to getting destroyed in the case of a pipeline explosion. He says what interested him was the risk factor, and disruption, residents possibly felt if they lived in “the blast zone.”

“I studied the reasons why people support or oppose, or sort of acquiesce or indifferent to the presence of the mountain valley pipeline. We did a rather large survey of 735 people, in six counties in Virginia, and four counties in West Virginia. Then, I followed that up with interviews,” he said.

Gerus was involved in creating the 92-question survey.

Through his research and interviews, Steve learned people who lived in this area were more concerned about the construction of the pipeline, and the disruption of their water supply, rather than the potential of the pipeline exploding.

He waited until the pandemic was over to conduct those interviews.

“I really wanted to meet with them on their front porch, around their kitchen table so they can tell me this is what their experience is with the pipeline,” said Steve.

Steve believes if permitting agencies, government agencies, and the pipeline developer themselves, had more information about the impact they would have on the social, psychological, and physical kinds of issues that rural Appalachia people care about.

“They wouldn’t be in a position now where this whole project is twice as expensive and originally planned and taken twice as much time,” said Steve.

Steve tells WFXR News that he has many people to thank for his accomplishments, but most importantly he dedicated his dissertation to every person he interviewed.

He says if they can, he wants older people to continue their education and speak their truth because you are never too old to live your dreams.

After graduating, he will teach introduction to social anthropology in the department of sociology during the Spring semester.