April 27, 2021

Spotlight Interview: Bree Hemingway

Interview by: Liz Bayardo Cardenas PFF Fellow, Doctoral Student, School of Community and Global Health

Bree Hemingway is trained in public health at Claremont Graduate University’s School of Community and Global Health and has over 10 years of experience working in evaluation and research in nonprofit health organizations. She currently works as Assistant Director of a Master of Public Health (MPH) program and is adjunct faculty at California State University, Dominguez Hills Health Science Department, and California State University, Los Angeles Master of Public Health Program. Bree is committed to education and passionate about empowering and training future public health practitioners. Additionally, she is a doctoral student in the Evaluation and Applied Research Methods program at Claremont Graduate University, with research focusing on evaluation training among public health professionals.

“It’s awesome to have an activity in your life that you’re that excited about, and it’s so great to see people learning and growing.”

How were your expectations different from the reality of teaching? 

It’s always different. I’ve taught the same course several semesters, and every semester is a different experience for me. Even though the content isn’t changing much, I always have a different dynamic within the classroom, which can be exciting and invigorating. That means I never get bored and also comes with its unique challenges that keep things interesting.

I had another interesting experience when teaching my first undergraduate class for the very first time. I remember walking into the classroom and immediately felt that there was a power difference. The students got nervous, and it was so strange for me considering I had been a student for so long, and I felt like nothing inside me internally had changed. I realized then that it was important for me to build my students’ trust and respect and appreciate that there are power dynamics in the classroom. The whole act of teaching and learning is about being vulnerable and being comfortable with the level of vulnerability. Trust is so important to build in the classroom to create a safe place for teaching and learning to happen.

What are some of your best techniques for inclusive and equitable learning?

Start with the content itself – I like bringing in articles and readings representing a wide range of audiences and populations. I teach public health, so it’s important to bring in issues of health disparities and health equity from different communities and connect them with real-life work. It has been helpful to make this link the content using an inclusive lens. PFF was super helpful in understanding …[how to] think about and engage my class while being cognizant of students’ needs.

The syllabus – making sure your layout has inclusive policies that can include documenting absence policies and even being mindful of the tone you use. The syllabus is a useful tool to thoughtfully consider how you will shape your classroom.

What are some changes you would like to see in higher education? Or predictions for how you see higher education changing?

I would like education to be more accessible – I think it’s very cost-prohibitive right now. This includes opening it up to populations who have been underrepresented in higher education and creating pipelines and resources to help students thrive in higher education. One key component is the representation between faculty and students and making it a space where students can do well no matter where they are coming from, no matter if they are first-generation or a population that is not typically represented.

As a result of COVID and the switch to online learning, I wonder how technology will continue to be integrated into the classroom and if distance learning might be more common.

I’ve spent most of my work in health education, and I have been thinking a lot about curriculum design and making it innovative and focused on problem-solving. In public health, the curriculum is moving to be more practice-based and problem-solving, especially for masters and doctoral public health students. Problem-based learning incorporates different course elements, for example, biostatics, evaluation, and other disciplines to problem-solve through specific real-life problems.

What are the three key pieces of advice for other teachers or your younger self? 

Be patient with yourself as a teacher – No matter how knowledgeable and comfortable you are with the material, teaching it is a different experience, so be patient with yourself. There are going to be days that go better than others.

Reflective practice – use quick notes at the end of the week or at the end of the course to note what worked and what didn’t. It’s really helpful to use as a way to improve your curriculum and performance as a teacher.

Have mentors and other colleagues in your network – That has saved me many times – from technical glitches to tools and resources. Especially during the transition during the pandemic. Even if it’s to commiserate or get some feedback from those who understand what you are going through.

How has the PFF program impacted your teaching?

PFF couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I took PFF just when I was transitioning my teaching to online. PFF did a great job transitioning the class for us, and I got to see it demonstrated and be engaged in different online activities. I picked up different ideas to engage different learning styles in an online space. We had a lot of opportunities to reflect on our practice and approaches. Lastly, it helped me build a network of mentors and a real toolkit of different strategies that I use in the classroom.

What do you love most about teaching?

It’s so dynamic, and it’s always changing. It never gets boring to me, and I’m always learning more about myself and the material I’m passionate about. You learn so much about yourself through the process. And – it’s just really fun! I always have a good time and enjoy great discussions. It’s awesome to have an activity in your life that you’re that excited about, and it’s so great to see people learning and growing.