Passing on knowledge and advice that will help both students and their industries thrive are among the top reasons California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) alumni return to their alma mater for the university’s annual Professor for a Day. Experiencing teaching at the college level and as a potential future career option is another.
This year, 31 alumni became honorary professors in the most industry-diverse cohort in Professor for a Day history, which after six years has grown to cover several days.
Alumna Dehra Lopez (’12, M.S., Occupational Therapy), an occupational therapist (OT) who works full-time for Windsor Gardens Convalescent Center in Long Beach, tried her hand at teaching OT students in the Occupational Interventions III course.
“Professor for a Day is a great opportunity to let people experience teaching to determine if there is an appropriate fit because not everybody can teach. You have to have the aptitude for it,” said Lopez, who is both a full-time clinician in the nursing home and performs at-home health for patients. “I’ve been practicing since 2012 and my job is very physical. I’m cognizant that I will not physically be capable of doing this forever. That’s part of the reason I’m here. I’m trying to purposely diversify my skill set so later on academics could be an option for me.”
Organized by CSUDH’s Office of Alumni Relations, Professor for a Day pairs each alumni with classes that match their fields, which Lopez appreciates. In fact, she believes that OT professors help more patients than those practicing in the field since they are continually educating new cohorts of clinicians.
And more clinicians may just be what the doctor ordered. During her lecture, Lopez told the students not to worry about finding work; that there are plenty of jobs in the diverse OT workforce.
“You won’t have a problem getting a job. It might not be your dream job initially but it’s a great way to get experience and to figure out what you really like,” shared Lopez, who spent less than half of her time lecturing before taking the students into the OT lab next door for hands-on instruction.
“My first job was for a for-profit. I bounced around and they tried to push me into management. I was like, ‘Hey guys, I’m a new grad. Let me get my footing,’” she added. “Now I’m at a not-for-profit, and I love it. After working for a while I started doing home health, too. That’s what is good about OT—the world is your oyster.”
Alumnus Mike Mazur (’99, M.A., Business Administration) founder of El-Segundo-based 3 Phases Renewables, a leading supplier of comprehensive renewable energy solutions, enjoys taking on new challenges and knew that teaching would be one. He was assigned an Introduction to Environmental Studies course during Professor for a Day.
“I decided to take a shot at it [Professor for a Day]. The last time I taught was right after graduating from engineering school. I had started work as a young engineer and taught an electricity class in college at night,” Mazur recalled. “I always take challenges and I’m in a business that requires risky steps, but now it’s in the environment industry rather than engineering.”
Teaching again was an interesting and meaningful experience for Mazur. “I hope it [his lecture] will be beneficial for them in the future. Since I have plenty of gray hair now, it’s probably time for me to start sharing some of my knowledge and experience in the renewable industry with younger people.”
Mazur appreciates the Professor for a Day program’s main objective of exposing students to the knowledge of seasoned professionals in their selected field of study.
“It is a big deal to have people from industry teach you . I always value practitioners in conjunction with professors,” he said. “People coming from the real world bring a lot of value to students. It’s the next best thing to actually working.”
During his lecture, Mazur and his students explored the various forms of renewable energy, such as solar, wind, and geothermal gas, and where they come from and how the industry is structured.
“It’s a very good industry right now. Job openings are growing. Renewable energy is still kind of an emerging industry, even though I’ve been doing it for 20 years,” Mazur said. “Energy in the past was mostly secluded behind the closed doors of utility companies. It wasn’t taught well in college, and not too many schools are teaching it now. I think it’s time to take it seriously if people want to want to create ‘green deals,’ and a huge part of that is education.”
Mazur has advice for other CSUDH alumni interested in experiencing teaching for the first time.
“Go teach kids. I’ve heard others say it’s a great way to connect and a great way to express yourself, and it is. You could also think of it as another venue to promote who you are, what your company does, and why your products are good for people,” he said. “But most importantly, it creates continuity, transparency, and a connection to the real world for them. It’s really important to think who you will be doing it for—the next generation.”