Professor Hannah Rockwell, Ph.D. leads by example
Professor Hannah Rockwell, Ph.D. has been teaching at the School of Communication for 25 years and she can’t think of a more perfect job.
The 2017 Outstanding Teacher Award recipient said one of her biggest joys in life is educating and spending time with her students at Loyola.
“…And it’s the one thing that keeps me in Chicago — because my family is in Oregon and California,” Rockwell said. “…The connection between having a faith life connected to my work life, and connected to an institution …that values the teaching of ethics and Jesuit ideals and principles that guide me every day — it’s a great fit. It’s who I am.”
Rockwell has taught more than five courses in the SOC, but her expertise lies in the philosophy of dialogue, critical-interpretive research methods, intercultural communication and gender studies.
Rockwell initially wanted to study linguistics only to find that the college she attended didn’t offer the major. She switched her major a few times before realizing communications was the right fit.
From there, she earned an MA in speech communications from California State University, Northridge and her Ph.D. in communications from the University of Utah.
Teaching a “good class” can “make or break her day,” Rockwell said. The most rewarding days are those in which her students are engaged and a “light bulb goes off.”
“When I teach and I feel like I’m losing [the students], I try to come back the next day and fix whatever went wrong the day before,” she said.
Rockwell wants her students to learn through the process of learning and to take responsibility of his or her own work.
“Do your best work, take pride in it,” Rockwell said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect, but good enough. If you focus on learning instead of the end point, then the grades come. The best students are the ones that engage in the concepts and come out at the end with some sort of transformative experience.”
Senior advocacy and social change major Aurea Delfin took intercultural communications with Rockwell as a sophomore. When presented with the opportunity to take her for an introduction to communications class, Delfin said she rearranged her schedule just to make sure she ended up in Rockwell’s class a second time.
“The fact that she just genuinely cares about her students is what makes her so amazing,” said Delfin, 22. “We’re not just another class to her. She invests her time into every individual student. That’s the beautiful thing about her.”
Rockwell said she tries to ensure each student is cared for in her class.
“Whether a student is a perfect ‘A’ student who is performing at top level or struggling, I try to treat every student the way I would want my own children treated by a professor,” she said. “Teaching isn’t only meeting content but also be in the pulse of what’s happening with students.”
Delfin said Rockwell never failed to put every bit of energy into her work, even when she was told her professor had been diagnosed with cancer.
“[Rockwell] bravely told my entire class that this wouldn’t hinder or get in the way of her teaching our class,” Delfin said. “I could feel the disbelief and astonishment my peers and I had for this woman as she was telling us about how she was not going to give up on our class regardless of her diagnoses…She never complained, not once.”
Delfin wrote a letter nominating Rockwell for the Outstanding Teacher Award, an annual award presented to a professor within the SOC.
In the letter, Defin wrote, “I want to thank the School of Communications for the opportunity to have met such a crucial and irreplaceable person in my life. I will forever be grateful for the time I have had as her student, and I hope to be half the woman Dr. Rockwell is in the future.”
Hannah Rockwell served as Associate Dean of the SOC from 2008 to 2013, she was previously Undergraduate Program Director for the Department of Communication, a Center for Ethics Fellow and Director of Peace Studies, and has even published a book titled, “The Life of Voices: Bodies, Subjects and Dialogue.”
Still, Rockwell asserts one of her greatest accomplishments has been the ability to balance her home life with her work life, specifically raising two daughters during her graduate career and beyond.
“Getting tenure, associate and professor…all felt like unbelievable accomplishments at the time because the odds were against me,” Rockwell said. “So, it’s hard to think about my professional life without thinking about my family life because they’re so intertwined.”
Delfin said Rockwell has “inadvertently” taught her life lessons though example, which she plans to carry with her long after she graduates.
Rockwell said she is proud of her students’ success and hopes that through communication, she can continue teaching important life lessons.
“I want my students to be better people because a lot of people don’t have any idea what they say and what they do affects other people,” Rockwell said. “Common courtesy, saying thank you and please — these are basic human values in my book. I want to convey that these seemingly trivial things can make a world of difference.”