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|Faculty in the Spotlight
Melanie Morris & Brandyn Heppard
Melanie Morris admits she was not a “stellar” college student. After graduating from New York City’s highly competitive Stuyvesant High School, she felt unchallenged at the State University of New York at Albany. Morris finally hit her stride when she enrolled in a few business classes after graduation and went on to earn an MBA and a JD from Temple University.
Morris, who has taught at RVCC since September 2004, believes her own college experience, as one who struggled before succeeding in higher education, is beneficial to her role as associate professor of Business Law at RVCC. “I walked a mile in their shoes,” she says of her students.
She also understands the struggles her students face in balancing education and work responsibilities. “I know all the reasons why schooling can take a second seat,” says Morris, who worked full-time as a chef and restaurant manager while in college.
Morris’ route to teaching began out of necessity while working as a public defender. After giving birth to her first child, she started teaching at Philadelphia’s Peirce College to earn extra money. It was an eye-opening experience. “I started to feel that my careers were inverted,” recalls the now mother of three. She realized that she should have been a teacher first—and a lawyer second.
Morris then spent four years teaching at Cedar Crest College before she was attracted to RVCC because of the College’s commitment to technology. Morris, who has always been interested in how technology can make education more accessible, has been a pioneer in integrating technology in teaching. Her classes in business law, legal research and litigation incorporate such tools as screen casting, podcasting, a “game show” created from an animated PowerPoint presentation, YouTube videos and more. “If I can make students laugh, I can make them remember,” says Morris, who is now serving as interim director of Online Learning.
Morris’ colleagues appreciate her creativity. “As a dynamic professor she brings an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm to her classes. Students are continually engaged in innovative and cutting-edge ways,” says Pattiann Kletz, chair of the College’s Business and Public Service Department.
In the end Morris, who serves as a Middle States team co-chair and a member of the Forum Steering Committee, hopes her students will retain something that ignites a spark and makes them realize their potential. “Changing lives for the better—that’s really what it’s all about.”
Brandyn Heppard remembers being “blown away” by his first philosophy course as an undergraduate at Loyola College (now Loyola University). But he was reluctant to tell his mom he wanted to major in philosophy. He could just imagine her reaction: “What are you going to do with that?”
Fortunately for Heppard, his mother—who had raised her son alone after his father died when Heppard was very young—was supportive of his choice. It’s a decision that has benefited countless students in his role as RVCC instructor of philosophy, a position Heppard has held since Fall 2010. He previously served as an adjunct instructor at RVCC.
Growing up in Morristown, where he still resides, Heppard recalls he was an “overachieving slacker” who performed well on standardized tests but was satisfied with getting a “B” in class. His attitude changed, he says, when he became interested in philosophy. For the first time, he was passionate about studying something new and was motivated to learn more on his own.
Before beginning his graduate studies at the New School for Social Research, Heppard spent several years working with young people in a variety of roles at the Somerset Hills YMCA and at Catholic Charities, among other places. He also has served as director of the Somerset Hills’ summer camp since 2006. Heppard, who has been at a Y camp every summer since he was five, says he wants to give campers the same positive experiences he had every summer while his mom was at work.
Heppard also spent several years pursuing his other passion: music. The singer, keyboard/guitar player and percussionist toured with a band called R.A.I. Nation, which he describes as combination of reggae and hip-hop. The group even performed with such acts as the Black Eyed Peas and Kanye West. His current band, Universal Rebel (www.universalrebel.org), was formed in 2006.
Despite his love for music, Heppard is extremely committed to his day job at RVCC. The instructor describes RVCC as “head and shoulders above any other institution I’ve been at.” As a faculty member in the Humanities, Social Science and Education Department, Heppard says it’s been an “amazing experience” to be part of an interdisciplinary department with a very supportive collegial atmosphere. “The faculty is amazing,” he adds.
His colleagues also offer praise for their co-coworker. “Brandyn Heppard displays all of the qualities of a great teacher. He is very student-centered, enthusiastic and totally engaged with his students. He’s also an outstanding colleague and scholar, says Department Chair Dr. Karen L. Gutshall.
Heppard also enjoys wearing many hats at the College—from serving on groups like the Curriculum and Ed Policy Committees, to advising student clubs. Heppard has been involved with the Philosophy Club and will serve as club advisor for the 2011-2012 school year. He hopes to give the club a “more active, engaged role” and bring well-known speakers to the RVCC campus. He also plans to serve as an advisor to Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society. Eager to continue his own education, Heppard is beginning a doctoral program at the New School for Social Research.
Innovative Learning | Faculty Profiles