Three Westmont Departments Welcome Promising New Professors to Campus this Fall
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Michelle Hughes ’89 (education) who first arrived at Westmont as a transfer student 23 years ago. She has worked as a teacher and assistant principal in Santa Barbara for two decades.
Hughes enrolled at Westmont looking for a small liberal arts education and a supportive community. The English major was active with Young Life, participated in England Semester and earned her teaching credential. She also fell in love with Santa Barbara and stayed after she graduated.
For seven years she taught English at Goleta Valley Junior High School, assuming several leadership roles. Later, she enrolled at CSU Northridge to earn a secondary teaching credential, an administrative services credential and a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy studies.
She returned to the Santa Barbara area as an administrative intern at Dos Pueblos High School. “That turned into 13 years as an assistant principal, which really brought me back to Westmont today,” Hughes says. “I had an opportunity to blossom and jump around to all the different responsibilities within the position. I learned the big picture of the school: understanding the school community, managing a budget, dealing with difficult parents, evaluating teachers and handling safety issues.”
Hughes says her greatest accomplishments at Dos Pueblos include working on the Western Association of Schools and Colleges leadership team and heading the school’s writing and research teams for California Distinguished Schools and National Blue Ribbon Schools.
Michelle’s husband, Chris Hughes ’88, is also an educator, teaching junior high physical education. They have two children.
“I’ve had a plethora of fantastic experiences, but the last couple of years God starting tugging on my heart, and I opened myself up,” Hughes says. In the fall of 2008 Hughes became an adjunct professor at Westmont in the education department, which led her to apply for the full-time position. “It was truly the Lord,” she says.
“The best part is I feel that I’ve returned to Westmont wanting to serve,” Hughes says. “That’s the biggest thing, to serve and live out your faith through your work and your life. Westmont gave me that charge. And now I get to return with my backpack full of experiences, bringing a taste of reality to the teaching program.”
Tom Knecht (political science) says a television news story influenced his decision to return to Westmont. A professor at the University of Denver at the time, he had just interviewed for a position at Westmont, where he was once an adjunct professor.
“A week after the interview, my wife and I were praying early in the morning and had the TV on,” Knecht says. “I glanced up and said, ‘What’s President Beebe doing on TV? We turned up the volume and, sure enough, it was about the Tea Fire.
“They interviewed a woman and she said, ‘We didn’t have a whole lot of time to get stuff, so I grabbed my Bible and my teddy bear.’ I still get emotional just thinking about that. What a great witness. That kind of solidified our decision to come back. What a wonderful blessing it is to be able to teach here.”
After graduating from Stanford, Knecht worked as a greenskeeper and ski instructor before enrolling at UC Santa Barbara, where he earned his master’s degree and doctorate in political science. He first taught an international development course at Westmont in 2002. “We looked at economics from a Christian perspective and asked what we ought to do as Christians,” he says. “It’s incredibly challenging to reconcile theories of economic development with what the Bible says about caring for the poor.”
Two years later, Knecht was teaching in Denver, where he spent five years. He and his wife fell in love with the city and the University of Denver. But the opportunity to teach at Westmont was too good to pass up. “I’ve always wanted to teach at a small, liberal arts Christian college,” he says. “Westmont is my dream job. I enjoy meeting with students, being a mentor and working in a place where that kind of faculty interaction is encouraged. I feel energized in the classroom. Academic progress is important, but there’s also emotional and spiritual health.”
Knecht’s research has focused on the role of public opinion in foreign policy and also on homelessness. An advocate of service learning, he seeks to engage students in volunteer activities.
Debra Quast (library and information services) says, “Librarians sometimes describe themselves as generalists, knowing a little about a lot. My life has been like that.” The mother of four children was the first in her family to attend college. She started at Long Beach City College, transferred to UCLA and graduated with a degree in English. When she heard a radio ad for the library science program at USC, she thought, “That is exactly what I can see myself doing. I’ve always loved books and libraries.” She then earned a master’s degree in library science from CSU Fullerton.
For the next few years, Quast devoted herself to her family before returning to work as a part-time librarian at her children’s school. “God is so good,” she says. “I was right at their school. It was part time. They could get used to a working mom. I could get used to working again.”
The next year, she became the circulation librarian at Azusa Pacific University, where she stayed for more than two decades. Her many positions included work in circulation services, special collections and reference. She started a library instruction program, developed a strong liaison program with faculty and led the library’s Web team. Eventually she was named chair of university libraries, overseeing resources and services for three on-campus libraries and seven off-campus regional centers.
During these years she earned a second master’s degree, studying educational technology at APU. Her research interests include student success in higher education, information literacy and the usability of the Web.
When she started at APU the school had fewer than 2,000 students; now more than 8,500 attend the school. “As an administrator, I really missed making those close connections and walking alongside students,” she says.
One way she kept in touch with students was teaching school librarianship as an adjunct professor at APU’s School of Education and information literacy as an instructor at Glendale Community College.
“I look forward to working at Westmont and creating a college library that helps students develop a love for the life of the mind,” she says. “Information comes in so many different formats, from the printed word to electronic media. It’s overwhelming for students, and they need library faculty more than ever to help them discern what good information is. They need to be able to think critically about the information that surrounds them.”
Jane Wilson (education) never envisioned being a teacher. But as a student at the University of Washington she discovered a passion for thinking creatively. “I was doing interesting work in children’s literature and realized that if I got my elementary credential I could be creative every single day in the classroom,” she says. “Growing up I never thought I’d be a teacher, yet I’ve enjoyed a satisfying career in education.”
Wilson, who began teaching elementary school in 1974, returns to Westmont as an assistant professor in the education department after teaching as an adjunct professor from 1996-2006. She spent the last year as academic dean of Providence Hall, a Christian high school in Santa Barbara. She also worked at Azusa Pacific University for 13 years, most recently as an assistant professor and site coordinator in the multiple subject teaching program.
Wilson has sympathy for aspiring teachers in challenging economic climates. Her first teaching job was temporary due to budget restrictions. “Every March I got a pink slip, and every August they hired me for a new position,” she says. “I taught second through eighth grade and got a lot of experience in a short amount of time.”
While teaching at a junior high school, Wilson served as the student council adviser and activities coordinator, which allowed her to be involved in statewide leadership training programs. “I loved it,” she says. “I flew around the country, speaking at conferences for student body leaders, school assemblies, and faculty training sessions.”
Wilson scaled back the traveling when her children started arriving, but she continued to teach. After recovering from cancer, she went back to school to earn an advanced degree. She completed a master’s degree and a doctorate in education at UC Santa Barbara, where she studied intrinsic motivation in the classroom. “I learned how to create an environment where students are compelled to learn for the pleasure of the process and not just for the grade or the punishment,” she says.
“I’m looking forward to being able to collaborate and think creatively with the professors in the department of education, perhaps in ways that we can’t even imagine right now,” she says.
Wilson’s husband, Tim, works as associate dean of students at Westmont, and the couple have three grown children.