Professor Leeva Chung Challenges Students to Think Beyond the Major

Prof. Leeva Chung


What does it mean to be a Changemaker? How each individual practices changemaking varies, but one thing’s clear: it’s where passion and purpose meet.

Passing on a Sense of Purpose

For Communications Studies Professor Leeva Chung, PhD, changemaking is about preparing students to reach their full potential. But she insists that at a university, potential must be developed personally as well as professionally.

“Part of the dialogue I have with myself is, what kind of legacy can I teach them that they can live? So that they can be proud of their accomplishments when all’s said and done.”

Dr. Chung was selected as a Changemaker Faculty Champion for the 2015-16 school year for her innovative style of teaching, and her work on a variety of projects in the city of San Diego and beyond. So how does Chung prepare her students to be Changemakers? One way is by seeing the classroom as a testing ground for what’s going to happen in the real world. Through connections with past students, Chung has been able to bring projects like the city’s Pure Water San Diego program into the classroom. This program, which seeks to supplement San Diego’s water supply with purified recycled water, was something Chung could relate to personally.

“My investment with water has always been with since I was nine, because there was a huge drought in San Francisco in ’77, and we all had to save water. I always remember worrying about water when I was young, and I think I’ve kept that worriness with me.”

So when the opportunity arose for her class to collaborate on the Pure Water project, she jumped at the opportunity. In the process of creating marketing projects to raise awareness of just where San Diego’s water supply comes from, Chung’s students flexed their creativity and were able to interact with PR professionals and present their project idea to government officials. Chung recognizes that shaking up her classes in this way comes with inherent unknowns.

“It’s really hard to bring real world into the classroom. And part of the problem is, what’s going to happen? You never know. As a teacher, you can’t control the outcome. And who wants that x-factor? I do!”

A Roundabout Route to Liberal Arts

As the liberal arts core of the University of San Diego, the College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop habits of mind that will last students a lifetime. Chung didn’t attend a liberal arts college, so what is it that makes her a believer in this traditional kind of education today? It started in her elementary school years, during which Chung attended four different schools. Looking back, she describes those years as disruptive, but also empowering.

“It made me think in crazy different ways, and I wanted to challenge myself and do that in the classroom too.”

Many years later when she reached college, Chung avoided selecting a major for a long time. But the delay enabled her to take a wide variety of classes and chase what inspired her. She describes the education she got during this time as “liberal arts.” Chung encourages her students to follow a similar path — to take this unique time in life to absorb as much knowledge as they possibly can, and develop skills in service of what inspires them.

“And that truly, to me, is education. Doing it because you love it, because you want it, because you want to learn.”

— Daniel Telles