Highlighting Adjunct Faculty

Interview with Lisa Hemminger, Adjunct Lecturer, English

Photograph portrait of USD professor Lisa Hemminger

University of San Diego adjunct faculty makes up 51% of our teaching staff. The Center for Educational Excellence features the commitment, research, scholarship and interests of this work body. We are blessed with some of the finest educators in the San Diego area. Here is an opportunity to get to know some of our colleagues.

This month I had the privilege of interviewing Professor Lisa Hemminger.

Lisa Hemminger is an adjunct Lecturer of English in the College of Arts and Sciences since Fall of 2011. When I first met her, she was performing in the play Anatomy of Gray with the Department of Theatre in 2012. Since then, when I meet her in the halls she is commonly surrounded by students who have extended their teacher-interaction time to keep talking with her or simply enjoy her company.

She took some time to answer some questions about her passion for teaching and life recently. Her responses are further confirmation of the rich, supportive and inspired teaching community we have at University of San Diego.

RS: You’ve come to teaching after being a journalist and working with at-risk youth. Tell me about your path to USD. Who has supported you along the way?

Lisa: The first time I taught, I felt like I was taking on an important challenge. And I felt like I had found my calling. It took me awhile to find my “home.” I love this home! My family has always been supportive of me. Not everyone can go back to school to do the thing they love later in life. My family encouraged and pushed me to go for it; I think they understood even more than I did that teaching was my calling.

RS: Your classroom always looks completely engaged. Are there tricks to getting buy-in from your students?

Lisa: Collaboration starts the first day. I ask students to introduce themselves to a student they don’t know. Then the listener tells their story. I ask students to introduce their new friend instead of themselves. I believe in group work—inside and outside of class. So I often incorporate it, both when they know it’s coming and when they don’t. Collaboration skills are essential to succeed in life.

I try to have conversations with all of my students before or right after class. I ask them to visit me to talk about everything and anything. When I was in college my first go-round, my advisor died in my first semester. I never asked for another. That set a sad precedent for me. I don’t want my students NOT to have someone to talk to about their life and classes.

RS: You seem to enhance your curriculum with life skill learning. What is the single most important thing you want students to know?

Lisa: Motivation and intention are two of the most important traits that you can nurture. As far as motivation goes, I ask students to be aware and grateful whenever they can, and to find the interesting angle in every task that comes their way. To me, intention means being authentic. Their authenticity will break through any false situation and let them stand out.

RS: We’ve talked about professors’ roles and higher education. What do you think are the most important attributes of a great professor? What can we do in higher education to have more impact?

Lisa: [Great professors have] enthusiasm, empathy, smarts, and gratitude. I think teachers and administrators can get wound up in status and material reward. (I am not immune, by the way.) We should try to be more aware of what a gift we have. The more universities can eliminate the busy work for their employees, the more time can be spent on interaction and, especially, learning…between colleagues, students, and others who influence their life. Learning from others is as important to me as teaching others.

I know some professors might not agree with this answer, but I think teaching can be both fun and effective. I create, share, and utilize many games and interactive scenarios to get lessons across. For example, when I’m teaching students how to look for rhetorical cues from a textbook, I tell them we are going on an archaeological dig and they are looking for artifacts that will change the course of history. I’ll wear a silly field hat and assign them different “dig” areas. Sometimes we’ll use a British accent, just to mix it up. I think if you can make a lesson more of an “event,” they want to “go.”

RS: If you aren’t in the classroom, where might we find you?

Lisa: I’ve been acting a bit. Just this past weekend I was cast in a Short [film] for the Four Points Film Festival. And I’ve been an amateur ghost hunter for about 15 years now.

RS: So either way, if we’re in a dark room, you might be around to shed some light? Wonderful! Lisa, you and I have agreed that we have a vibrant adjunct workforce at USD. What would you like fellow adjuncts to know as we prepare for another semester?

Lisa: You have a wonderful, living canvas at your fingertips. Fill it up with creativity and it will boost your life as well as others’.

I’d like to thank Lisa Hemminger for reflecting on her work to give us a little reminder about being there for our students and remembering what brought us, adjunct and full-time, to this profession. We are fortunate to bring our skills and insights to our classrooms with academic freedom to illuminate our students’ liberal arts education with depth of meaning and varied voices. We at the CEE wish all the faculty, tenure, tenure-track and part-time, a peaceful and rejuvenating holiday and new year season.