Although she has spent her entire career in education, Stephnie Hopple is relatively new to CalSouthern, having joined the university in the summer of 2012 to help guide CalSouthern through the initial stages of applying for regional accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).
Recently, Stephnie was named director of CalSouthern’s newly formed Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCTL). We thought you would enjoy getting to know Stephnie and learning more about this critical new role. It’s a position that’s central to CalSouthern’s mission and indicative of the future direction of the university.
CalSouthern: Could you tell us a bit about your background in education?
Stephnie Hopple: I’ve been in education my entire professional life. After earning my bachelor’s degree (yes, in education), I got into teaching. I taught every grade (with the exception of fourth) between kindergarten and eight grade and enjoyed it at every level.
After I received my master’s (education with an emphasis in human relations and counseling), I worked in administration at the school and county levels before getting into higher education.
CalSouthern: What draws you to education? Why do you enjoy it so much?
Hopple: I’ve just always enjoyed teaching people, whether it’s in the classroom or not. It’s in my blood, I suppose. Every position I’ve held, I have found that I have relied heavily upon my teaching skills. I also love the fact that while education is structured, there is room for creativity, spontaneity, humor and self-expression.
CalSouthern: Why did you decide to transition into online higher education?
Hopple: I’ve worked at both traditional and online institutions, and what I love about the online environment is that it provides educational opportunities to those who might not otherwise have them due to their busy schedules, finances, living in a remote location—any of a number of different reasons.
And having taken both online and traditional courses, I really appreciate the convenience, flexibility and efficiency of online learning. I also found that I got more out of my online courses. I was more engaged in the material on a week-to-week basis online, as opposed to the traditional classroom environment where my involvement early on in the term was sometimes more passive.
I don’t mean to disparage traditional universities; they will always have a very important and prominent position in education. However, in my opinion, there’s no denying the fact that the online environment offers significant and unique advantages.
CalSouthern: You have been at CalSouthern for a little more than a year now. Why did you initially decide to join university? What was it about CalSouthern that appealed to you?
Hopple: What drew me to CalSouthern—and I’ve heard others say the same thing—is the culture. You can feel it the moment you walk through the doors at the Irvine campus. People genuinely care about each other, and about the learners. I almost hesitate to mention it, because it sounds like a marketing cliché, but it’s true: when the staff makes a decision, the learners’ best interests are the first consideration. I see it daily.
Also, everyone was very welcoming to me. People’s opinions matter here; they are all considered and none are summarily dismissed. Everyone—regardless of position or seniority—has a voice. That’s probably what I love most about the university.
CalSouthern: Tell us a bit about the new position. For what purpose was it formed?
Hopple: CalSouthern’s faculty mentors are first in line when it comes to daily personal contact with our learners. They are absolutely integral to the quality of the education we provide and, ultimately, to the success of our learners.
Our deans have been doing a fantastic job providing the mentors with ongoing support, but as the university grows and more responsibilities are put on the deans’ plates, we decided to create a new department tasked specifically with making sure our mentors have all the tools they need to provide the best possible educational opportunities to our learners. The new Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning will ensure that we will continue to give our learner the one-on-one guidance and support that CalSouthern has always been known for, even as the university continues to grow.
CalSouthern: As director of the FCTL, what are a few of your goals for the department?
Hopple: I want to promote more faculty involvement in university governance and give mentors a way to more effectively communicate with a powerful and uniform voice. This will help the university more effectively identify and meet their needs, and give us the ability to address any cross-institutional issues as they emerge.
Another critical issue—as we continue to experience significant growth—is to make the faculty hiring and on-boarding process more streamlined and effective to ensure that our faculty is of the highest quality with the expertise and experience to meet evolving learner needs. This will also help us to closely manage faculty workload to make sure we have the necessary resources to continue to provide highly personalized instruction and one-on-one support.
CalSouthern: What has you most excited about your new role?
Hopple: I am most excited about working with the dedicated educators who make up our faculty. Each and every mentor that I have met with personally is a wonderful representation of the CalSouthern culture I described above. We share the same passions and values regarding education, and it’s going to be a real pleasure to work with them.