Six years ago, when Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown was building its new student housing village, President Jay Gershen said: “These are really nice. I wouldn’t mind living there.”

Little did he know that for his last six months as president, he would be.

Since April 1, Gershen and his wife, Carol Cannon, have been living in one of the university’s fully furnished, one-bedroom apartments, augmented only by the locked electrical closet down the hall, where they keep their bicycles.

After announcing his retirement in October, Gershen and Cannon put their Hudson home on the market so that they could move back to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to be close to their three daughters. They thought the house would take several months to sell, but it sold in one day.

“So we said, ‘Great, but now where are we going to live?’ We looked around, and one of the student apartments became available, and I said to myself, ‘I started out in this career 43 years ago because I wanted to be with students and I wanted to teach. Wouldn’t it be great to live in student housing?’” Gershen said.

His commute is now a five-minute leisurely stroll from the front door of his apartment to the office of the president, where he will continue to work until NEOMED’s Board of Trustees appoints a new president, expected to be sometime in July. Gershen’s official last day is Sept. 30.

“Living here has given me an opportunity to understand what the students are going through. Many are incredibly excited about being a professional and are very happy to be here, but also they have stresses, and I get a chance to speak with them about that,” he said, adding that he recommends any university president live among the students.

From his apartment window, Gershen can see the entire campus that doubled in size from a half-million square feet to 1 million square feet, thanks to $166 million in public-private partnerships during his nine-year tenure. Under his leadership, the university doubled its staff from the mid-200s to more than 500 today and increased its grants from $7 million to $20 million.

Despite those statistics, Gershen said that he hopes his legacy — or rather “our legacy,” referring to the faculty, staff, administration and student body — is integrating the university into the greater community.

“We put a real focus on bringing the community in. That’s our mantra. Bringing the community in is about letting the public know that this is their university too. They pay taxes and have free access to the university,” Gershen said.

He cited the university’s Sequoia Wellness Center that has more than 3,000 members, half of whom are community members not affiliated with NEOMED who are still able to use the gym, swimming pool and physical therapy services at a quarter of the cost of a comparable facility. Since living in student housing, Gershen has gone to the gym every day at 5 a.m. to work out and chat with students and community members.

He also pointed toward the Bio-Med Science Academy housed on their campus, the various conference facilities available for rent, the Rootstown Community Pharmacy, the SOAR student-run free clinic and Summa Health’s family medicine practice.

“They know NEOMED trains physicians and pharmacists and scientists. They know we do great research, but now they come in and see how they can benefit personally. They can send their daughter to high school, they can work out in the gym, they can have a family wedding, have a snack, build a company,” Gershen said, referencing the school’s REDIZone, where biotech start-ups can lease labs and conference spaces to develop their products.

Gershen explained that the work of a university is never ending, but he wished he could have seen the completion of the $36 million medical office building that broke ground in April, NEOMED’s expansion into Cleveland and its continued efforts toward diversity and inclusion.

In his retirement, Gershen and Cannon are planning a month-long cycling trip around California.

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@recordpub.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoRCedu.