Final lecture: Jennifer Kiehne

Psychology instructor Jennifer Kiehne.

When nominated for the 2019 RCTC Outstanding Educator Award as an adjunct instructor, a nominator wrote, “It is evident that not only does Jennifer [Kiehne] care about us as students, she cares about us as people and our overall well-being. I always look forward to going to her classes because I know I will be learning in a supportive, non-judgmental environment.” I received this vibe very quickly when stepping into a classroom to interview Kiehne having had a bad morning. Outstanding instructors typically stand apart thanks to their compassion in addition to the grasp they have on a subject they teach to students. RCTC Magazine caught up with Kiehne to talk about her classroom work, the nomination, and more.

What are you currently teaching?

I usually teach a general psychology class, psychology of adjustment, human growth and development, and I teach FYEX (First-Year Experience). I love psychology; I would talk about it for free so it’s awesome I get paid to do it. I have a [master’s] degree in counseling and psychological services, so for 10 years I was a therapist in different capacities. I really try to bring that experience into the classroom. A lot of my class stuff is based on “here’s what the research says, here’s how you might see it in your life, here’s how you might see it in someone else’s life.” I want you to talk and think about that. I do a lot of experiential, a lot of critical thinking around the content. I want it to be applicable. It’s a science… but I want you to use it, I want you to
share it, I want you to build community around it, I want you to understand it more.

Why were you interested in this?

I always knew I had a heart for helping people. I always knew I wanted to be a therapist. I just never remember wanting to be anything else. So, when I got my degree, I was ready to save the world, like the world needed my saving, and I was ready for it. I got into the counseling world and recognized in short order that nobody really needed my saving. What they needed me to do is walk next to them and support them – and offer resources and information that I had available to me, or encourage them to seek it out themselves. I realized in my counseling work that about 70 percent of what I was doing was education. I was always so humbled by people’s experiences, and their resiliencies, and their strengths, and then I see all that in my students. I got into education and it was a great fit because of those experiences that I had.

What have you enjoyed about working at RCTC?

Well, I got to teach FYEX and be involved in the growth of the high school FYEX program, so that’s been awesome. I feel like collaboration is such a central part of this College. When I got here, I had no idea there was a music department in the way that it was; I had no idea that the theater was as rich as it was; I had no idea that nursing was as rich as it was. Teaching FYEX, I’ve gotten to learn intimately all the available resources for students. Every single person here is wanting to help students be successful – and I love that. It’s a very collaborative effort.

We have such a diverse population of students. I love the diversity in my classroom because when I talk about cultural differences, I have 10 different cultural differences in my class, and people who’ve lived in different countries, who speak different languages, and understand different realities that they’re willing to share and make everybody richer. RCTC is really lucky with our diversity; I find that as a huge blessing in my class.

When seeking out help, what can you tell students?

One, I think we seek counseling out when we’re desperate. We definitely seek it out then for sure. But I think counseling is a way to build what you want, not build from what happened. If we shifted our focus and priority around counseling as far as a maintenance or as a thriving idea, I think that would help. I think perspective helps. Two, when you care for yourself, you can care for others. Going to college is a huge time and money commitment. What I say to them [students going to college], is this is a self-actualizing behavior. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualizing is the top one. When you’re putting the time and money and commitment to doing this, and you’re putting yourself out there like you are, that’s self-actualizing. You are literally trying to be a better human by knowing more, understanding more, contributing more. Just that alone is great but you need support to do that. Successful people don’t do it alone.

[What if you can’t afford counseling?] Think about community. Is there a neighbor that you really respect her relationship, or family, or parenting? Is there a professor that you really want to learn more about? As far as community based, there are people who can be mentors to you and you can actively ask for that. That used to naturally happen more. Just seeking out what you want in whatever way that you can. Maybe you’re on a soccer team, maybe you go to a church group, or maybe you’re here in a club. Just seeking positive influence and mentorship out is really great. I think it is really helpful.

Anything else?

I was on the way here and I was thinking about class and I thought, “Oh, I can’t wait to get there and share this with them.” I was in class and I said, “Guys, before we do anything, I just need to tell you thank you for being the kind of people and the kind of class where I can’t wait to get here.” That’s what I feel like RCTC is – like our students, I can’t wait to get here and get to class because of our students.

You can’t be a good teacher unless you have really great students. And I think we’re really lucky to have really great students.

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