UNMRKD WOMAN: Arleen Bejerano
This month we sat down with Arleen Bejerano, a professor at Chapman University (and dog mom to the sweetest pup, Poppy). Between growing up in Papua New Guinea, getting her PhD and living in New Zealand, Arleen has lived a lot of life. To learn more about her life and path to becoming a college professor, read below!
For the readers who don’t know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in the Philippines and moved to Papua New Guinea shortly after I was born. I moved here right before I started high school. I have spent most of my time in the US in California.
I am an instructional associate professor in the School of Communication at Chapman University. I have been with Chapman for about six years now. I had a little break in between, I was living in New Zealand working over there. So I had three years [at Chapman] , went to New Zealand, then came back. It’s a nontraditional path because usually when you leave, they don’t let you come back.
How did you become a professor/did you know you always wanted to teach?
I had no idea this was what I’d be doing. If you asked me when I was a freshman in college, I would not say I would be here. I was actually terrified of public speaking. How I really got into it is my freshman year in college when I took a public speaking class. And I was terrible. I was the person who stood up and did their speech in one breath - one long, stressful breath. But I realized I needed to get better at it. So I took more communication classes because I wanted to improve my ability to speak in front of people and to different audiences. As I was taking classes, later on in my junior and senior years, one of my professors asked me to be her TA (teaching assistant). It was something I had never thought about. She said, you do really well in my classes and seem to get along with all of the other students, do you want to try being my TA? So I did and I loved it.
I loved working with all the students and helping them with things they didn’t understand. She asked me again the following semester if I would be her TA for a class. This was a special class - it was a research methods class specifically for students who had previously failed the course. There was this initiative to see if a more personalized class with a small amount of students would help students succeed. Everyone passed the class that semester. After that, my professor said wow, you really have a knack for this, have you ever thought about graduate school? No I had not. But she encouraged me to apply to graduate school, so I got my undergraduate and masters at Long Beach State. After my masters, she said you should keep going, you should get your PhD. So I did, she wrote me my recommendation letter and really was the one who mentored me and helped me become who I am today.
Do you think your upbringing/living in a different country has shaped the way you see American society today?
I would say I am more cognizant of how others view America and American culture. Just like everyone knows, stereotypes are bad, but we have stereotypes of being American too. Just being cognizant about that has made me more aware of representing American culture well when I go abroad to travel a place where Americans are may not necessarily welcomed. It definitely made me more globally aware of life, of things.
With things like social media that are becoming more prevalent in communication everyday, how do you (as a COM professor) adapt to keeping up with new communication technology? Do you feel the need to implement it into your courses?
Yes, I do. It is a way to keep everyone engaged. I think students now expect you to use technology. I think if you don’t use it, it shapes the way students relate to you or they think you’re outdated. There’s so much technology out there, I’m always learning new technology that I didn’t even know we could use. We have a wonderful technology center on campus that we can use to learn about all these new technologies and how to integrate it into the classroom. I think we are fortunate here to have it because not all schools have that. It keeps me up to date.
Do you think technology has helped or hurt our ability to communicate as humans?
Both. I think it’s helped because it has given us more ways to connect. I think it’s hurt in the sense that we have become more closed off as we rely on technology so much. I don’t need to watch the news because I can listen to the news on demand whenever I want and however I want it. In that sense I think it can lead to people just seeking out information they want to hear in order to confirm what they already believe. But technology and media are great because you can get information out and connect to a lot of people, so there are so many great uses of it too. There is a tendency to misuse anything, and that is present in new technology and media we use. I think one of the ways it has hurt us is that we expect instant communication now. I’ve had a student email me at 12:37 in the morning one time, but I’m asleep at 12:37. They then sent a follow up email at 7am and 9am. I’m teaching classes up until about 1pm so when I finally checked my email I was like oh gosh, she was really disappointed I didn’t get back to her after 12:37 in the morning. I think people get impatient because of the fact that we can communicate so instantaneously. So people expect communication to be instantaneous. If it’s not, then they get upset.
Have you seen any changes in the interactions between students from when you started teaching to now?
Actually I have. I would say when I first started, face to face meetings were more common, especially with student projects. But now it’s more common for students to collaborate online like on Google Docs. But that’s what that technology is invented for, so if people can use it effectively then sure but I know that not everyone knows how to use it effectively.
As a professor of Communication, do you have any advice for anyone looking to go into a profession in the related field?
I think just being passionate about what you do. Don’t go into something because there is a lot of money that can be made in a particular career or industry. Don’t go into it because you heard someone say oh this is nice. Go into it because you love it and are genuinely interested. I know that’s how I got into my job. I didn’t know what I was interested in when I was an undergraduate in college but someone was able to say you’re good at this, you should look into it. And the more I thought about it, I thought that teaching was something I could do everyday for the rest of my life.
What does “unmarked” mean to you?
Not being confined to a box. Not letting labels define who you are. You are letting people know who you are instead of people labeling you.
Rapid Fire Q’s
Stay updated with Arleen and her adventures with Poppy here.