From students to faculty

Some students value their CMU education so much they were inspired to come back and represent the other side of the classroom

When Deric Learman graduated from Central Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in 2003, he felt enriched in the education he received.

The department was small and his geology classes were intimate. Learman appreciated that it gave him the opportunity to build close relationships with faculty who inspired him to travel to places such as Big Bend, Texas, for research.

Inspired by his early academic career at CMU, Learman returned as a faculty member after finishing his post-doctorate research at Harvard University in 2011.

The biology department was hiring faculty to do research with the Institute for Great Lakes Research. Though he said he wanted to be involved with environmental research focusing on clean water, he also wanted to work with the students at his alma mater.

Many academic departments across the university have faculty who have returned to CMU — teaching students who fill the seats they once sat in. Whether it be the personal relationships established with mentors or cherished memories of their undergraduate years, many of these faculty members return because they can relate closely to fellow Chippewas. They utilize having the perspective of both sides of the classroom.

“I feel really fortunate to be back here teaching,” said Elizabeth Bradshaw, a sociology professor who graduated from CMU in 2006. “I can empathize and understand where students are coming from.”

Bradshaw takes this connection to heart and now advises three registered student organizations on campus — Justice Society, Student Environmental Alliance and Take Back the Tap.

“Your perspective changes and you see different things,” Learman said about both studying and teaching in Mount Pleasant. “It is like looking through glasses with different colored shades. You once saw sporting events and now you see parks.”

When Stacey Pattison was a theater student at CMU, her mentor, Jill Taft-Kaufman, left a lasting impression. Pattison said Taft was caring and brilliant, which made her work hard in class and caused her to fall in love with poetry.

Pattison completed her undergraduate at CMU in 1995 and graduated with her master’s degree in 2012. Now she teaches dramatic arts courses at the university and uses poetry techniques and practices in class that she learned from her mentor as a student.

“I try to do with the students that I have now what was done with me,” she said. “I think I can relate well with my students and build a comfortable relationship with them.”

Because her experience as a student showed how they can grow and work harder when they have a relationship with their professor, Pattison works to create a comfortable atmosphere in her class. She strives to provide motivation and help to reduce her student’s performance-related anxieties.

Like Learman and Pattison, Bradshaw also found mentorship during undergrad. She said it was Brian Smith, who is now an internship coordinator at CMU, that convinced her to go to graduate school.

Coming back to CMU, Bradshaw enjoyed working with the faculty who were teaching her just a few years ago. There was “no hierarchy” when she came back, Bradshaw said. Her old professors treated her like an equal.

Faculty members who return to CMU often do so because they respect the university after their experiences as an undergrad. While Learman traveled across the country to do research, Pattison was involved with on-campus theater and Bradshaw performed in a rock band.

As a theater student, Pattison said she worked so closely with her peers that they practically became family. She performed in at least two plays per semester.

During college, Bradshaw was supporting herself and frequently returned home to work.

“I missed out on what the campus actually had to offer,” Bradshaw said. “(So) it’s actually kind of nice to be back here as a faculty member.”

Although she feels she did not get the “full campus experience,” Bradshaw said the activities she did while attending CMU stuck with her.

“I play drums in a rock band. I did then, and I still do,” she said. “I used to tell my parents I was going to be a rock star.”

Bradshaw and her boyfriend started their band, “The Free Life,” in high school and continued developing it throughout college. Though some members in the band have changed, Bradshaw and her boyfriend are still together and frequently play music.

When Pattison received a call from her former department chair offering her a teaching job once a position was available, she accepted immediately. She said she was thrilled to return to CMU, back to her roots where her family was and work in community that already felt like home.