Faces of UWest: Jennifer Avila


Name: Jennifer Avila

Length of time as UWest community member: Starting 3rd academic year this Fall Semester

Role: Professor

Courses taught at UWest:

English 101: English Composition
English 102: Composition II: Critical Thinking
English 495: Writing Culture: Literary Imagination & Cultural Identity (Comprehensive English Capstone)
Literature 430: Topics in Chicana/o Literature

Currently reading: Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez

Hobbies: Spending time with family, cooking, playing tennis, going to the gym, being outdoors, watching all sports, and traveling.

Favorite UWest community memory: “The basketball tournament is one of my favorites. It was a student, faculty, staff basketball tournament and I really, really enjoyed that just because everyone is coming together and just having fun.”

Favorite UWest academic memory: “All of my students have had done amazing presentations in my English 102 class, and I think what’s been a highlight is giving them really loose directions and seeing what they come up with. And I get really personally connected presentations that relate to the course topic, but that are really relevant and important to each student. Students give a little bit of themselves to the class and I appreciate that. I really enjoy the honesty and the openness that everyone feels to put themselves into their work and their presentations and their essays. “

Favorite authors/books: “I have a lot of favorite authors. One of my favorites is Gary Soto, a poet and short story author. Oliver Mayer, who is a playwright. One of my favorite novels of all time is Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. I also am a big fan of Ernest Hemingway, and Sandra Cisneros is also up there.
I have a favorite of every genre. A lot of non-fiction, a lot of theory that I love and I like. I’m very much about reading all different kinds of genres. I love poetry. I love theatre. I love short stories, non-fiction.”

Did you always want to be a professor?: “[Laughs] No, oh my goodness, no! You know, when I started going to college I didn’t even know what I wanted to major in so I went into higher education not even having a major. And once I had my major I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher even then. I just knew I loved the discipline I was studying so English was meant for me. I always loved books; it’s just been a passion of mine. It is part of my identity, just reading literature and having a deep appreciation for art. A lot of my family is in music so I come from that background of artistic appreciation. I think literature is just my niche for doing that.
I didn’t even think about being a teacher until towards the end of my master’s degree, to be honest. I started my master’s degree just because I didn’t want to stop learning and studying English and enjoyed it that much. I also didn’t want to stop because I was a collegiate athlete and had another year of eligibility that would have paid for my masters so I stayed on the team and I absolutely loved it. I don’t know how all of the pieces came together for teaching but I actually went into my masters knowing I wanted to get my PhD. That’s always kind of been the goal of mine, getting a PhD and continuing my love of the discipline and immersing myself in it. I didn’t want to stop being an English major so when it fell into place was when I became a TA in my PhD program beginning in my second year of coursework.  You kind of have to get your financial support and that’s how I started teaching and I loved it. I absolutely loved it.”

Bridge 2 University: Preparing Students for College

This summer’s Bridge 2 University program is designed to prepare incoming students for their college careers. The no cost, three-unit course is composed of classes and activities scheduled over a span of six weeks. Each week covers a different main topic and students will participate in mindfulness exercises, journal reflections, class discussions, and group discussions both inside and outside of the classroom. The mindfulness exercise portion of the class engages the weekly prompts and students will learn to apply it in a personal way to metacognitively reflect their transition to college. In the last week of the program, students will spend one week living on campus to get a feel of life as a resident.

Recent graduate and soon to be MDiv student, Scott Gabel, sat down with Professor Jennifer Avila to learn more.

SG: What can students expect to learn out of the Bridge 2 University program?
JA: In my class, in particular… it’s going to be a wide array of skills and practical knowledge that we are going to cover, so things like the fundamentals of research, information literacy, goals, stress management, wellness, and then reading comprehension and writing skills. So the goal is to cover a wide array of topics because being in college does involve so many different angles and aspects to it that might make it challenging at times.
And then beyond the class with the Student Life portion is going to be community building… getting acclimated and immersed in the University of the West culture and community in a fun way, so there’s a lot of fun activities planned. And ultimately I think it all comes down to establishing a comfort level for students, a familiarity and creating a sense of community for them in these six weeks.

SG: And so what are you most excited to teach?
JA: It’s really hard to pick one thing but I’m most excited to teach the “real stories, real experiences” portion and that’s going to involve just honest conversations about everyone’s past experiences and our educational journey, good and bad… myself included. I’m looking forward to sharing with students my own anxieties that exist to this day and my previous hurdles that I’ve encountered. I’m also going to have a guest speaker that will share some experiences as well and keep the conversation going so I’m really excited about that part of the class.

SG: How is UWest different than other colleges or universities that you’ve gone to?
JA: It’s different in a lot of ways. One way is just how small and connected of a place and community it is. Every aspect of this university is closely connected as a community and that’s something I’ve never expected before. It’s even more connected than even my high school, let alone the colleges I’ve attended. And with that comes small class sizes and I think stronger support for both student and faculty, easy access to resources. I feel like everyone is accepted and welcomed and that’s also something that doesn’t come so easily at other places.

SG: What do you think defines a good teacher?
JA: A good teacher is someone who is not trying to teach the students but is someone who is trying to help students learn, and there’s a difference. So when you try and teach someone something I think it’s coming from the top down, without much interaction from the student. But I think the teacher needs to create situations for students where they are generating the knowledge, they are making the magic happen on their own and I’m just helping them do that.
I also think a good teacher should create a space and an environment where students can be open, honest, comfortable, safe, and have difficult conversations and talk about things that maybe they never thought of before. I think it’s part of the teacher’s responsibility to establish that environment and make that environment happen. It doesn’t just happen on its own. So I think that’s another marker of a good teacher.

Classes for the B2U program begin June 20th. Please contact info@uwest.edu or (626) 571-8811 for any questions.