Retired Engineer Chooses Kent State to Pursue Second Degree

Non-Traditional Student Takes on Learning to Help Brain Recover

Bob Rader’s path to becoming a Golden Flash was anything but traditional. 

In 2018, the retired chemical engineer needed prostate cancer surgery. He had been treated with radiation for the cancer before, but newly elevated PSA levels signaled that it was time for surgery to stem the cancer’s recurrence.  

The surgery, at Cleveland Clinic Akron General, went well. Yet something was wrong. 

“I wasn’t coming out of the anesthesia well,” he recalled. 

Bob Rader, at his home in Brimfield Township, Ohio, is a non-traditional student at age 72.

Rader was disoriented and could not answer simple questions or recognize people he knew. He had trouble feeding himself. The changes following surgery caused alarm for his wife, Shari, who knew his behavior meant something was not right. 

Doctors initially thought it could be a reaction to the anesthesia, but after a few days and additional neurological tests, the answer became clear: Rader was diagnosed with a tumor the size of a baseball growing in the front of his brain. 

Soon, Rader was transferred to Cleveland Clinic’s main hospital, where he underwent a 12-hour surgery to remove the benign growth. 

The signs of the tumor were there, but easy to dismiss, he said. 

“I was becoming a bit of a grumpy old man, but I didn’t associate that with having a brain tumor,” Rader recalled. 

The surgery was successful, despite doctors not being able to remove the growth entirely. Parts were wrapped around his optic nerves, and because it was slow-growing, doctors deemed it safer to leave than to risk his eyesight, Rader said. 

Weeks of physical and occupational therapy followed, and when Rader was officially on the road to recovery, he still was not convinced. 

That’s when he decided to put his brain to the test: At 68, he enrolled as a student at Kent State University to study earth science. 

“I wanted to see if my brain was still working right,” he said.  

His first classes in 2018 were geology and physics. 

“I liked it so much I decided to stay,” he said.  

A 1968 graduate of Garfield High School in Akron, Ohio, Rader earned a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Akron in 1973 and retired after a career with Babcock & Wilcox, a power generation company in Barberton, Ohio. 

Bob Rader is studying Earth Sciences at Kent State at age 72.

A nature-lover and fan of the national parks, Rader decided to focus on earth sciences this time around. “Learning is fun, and I enjoy it,” he said. 

The past five years have been challenging for Rader, now 72, including having to use extra caution during the pandemic, a second cancer diagnosis with leukemia, and very recently, an unexplained seizure that has grounded him from driving and attending class while he awaits medical tests and a diagnosis. 

Through it all, Rader has done his best to continue with his studies, making mostly A's and B's in his course grades when his health is good. Some classes, however, he has been unable to finish due to illness. 

David Singer, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Earth Sciences.

David Singer, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, had Rader as a student and praised his interest in learning despite his ailments. 

“His enthusiasm was awesome,” Singer said. “He was just so happy to be there.” 

Singer had Rader as a student for Earth Materials 1, which is the first in-depth course for earth science majors. While his illness and COVID-19 prevented Rader from finishing, he said Rader was a fine student when he attended. 

“When he was there, he was engaged,” Singer said, “He was like a model student for everybody else.” 

Rader has been taking his ailments in stride, biding his time until he is well enough to attend class again.  

“The cancers don’t bother me that much. I just take my medicine and do the best I can, but the side effects can be crippling,” he said. 

Rader recommends learning in retirement for everyone and has quickly grown to love Kent State, its students, its faculty and his courses. 

He said the university and his professors have been supportive in many ways, including helping him get large-print textbooks and allowing him extra time to take exams, but he tries not to ask for too much assistance. “I try to suck it up and get things done,” he said. 

What has most impressed him, however, are his fellow students. “These students are pretty neat, and I have a good feeling about our future,” he said.  

While he awaits the OK to start driving again and more news about his health, Rader has put his studies on hold, temporarily. 

He and Shari enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren and having friends over to play cards. From his family room, Rader is a keen observer of the nature on his property, which, he pointed out, includes more than 50 trees of many varieties, including oak, maple, birch and hickory. 

But Rader is committed to finishing his second bachelor’s degree. “I hope to get at least one more degree, maybe two,” he said. 

Photos courtesy of Cleveland Clinic and Kent State University/Rami Daud. 


POSTED: Wednesday, March 15, 2023 10:12 AM
Updated: Wednesday, March 15, 2023 01:15 PM
Lisa Abraham