Dr. Jennifer Mobley is a Communication Studies professor and advisor here at Grove City College. She’s taught several classes, including Research Methods, Public Relations, Writing for the Media, Professional Communication. I have taken Research Methods and Public Relations with her, and I can say that I have experienced her unique, hands-on, student-focused teaching style firsthand. She always jokes about the coincidence that she ended up teaching at Grove City, her alma mater, because she had always been extremely opposed teaching for her whole life. I was lucky enough to hear her story of how she ended up here, and how her unconventional teaching style plays such a big role.
How is Grove City different now than it was when you were a student?
Mobley said that a lot of things here at Grove City are still similar her second time on campus, and in some ways it feels as though she’s never left. The campus itself has literally changed, however, as some iconic buildings at Grove City such as HAL and the Student Union hadn’t been built yet when she was a student here. Culture-wise, Mobley said, the college has somewhat changed. For example, the term “Grover” used to have a positive connotation, being associated with hard-working students, but now it is somewhat more negative and synonymous with “perfectionist” or “over-achiever.” Positively, though, there is now an openness to creativity that wasn’t here when she was a student. She said that there is more diversity of opinions, it is less homogeneous, and it is more complex and nuanced than the Grove City stereotypes like “Groverachievers” and “Ring by Spring” make it out to be.
Dr. Mobley has many fond memories of her time here as a student, one of which being the ability to see how close and tight-knit the English and Communication professors were. She feels lucky to be able to return and be a part of the English-Communication family here, especially since it is a part of a greater intellectually and spiritually transforming community that so closely embodied her own values.
You were at first opposed to the idea of teaching. What did you want to do instead?
Dr. Mobley started out at Grove City as a secondary education major; however, the more she experienced it, the more she disliked teaching. As a matter of fact, it got to the point that Mobley swore to herself that she would never become a teacher. By her junior year, she had changed majors from Education to Communication, and most of her schedule was filled with comm classes such as journalism, public relations, public speaking, and persuasion theory. Within this new discipline, the opportunities were wide open for her. After this, Dr. Mobley gained a lot of communication-related experience during her time as a Grove City student.
Mobley worked as a writer and a journalist, and eventually she became the editor of The Collegian, the campus newspaper. She spent the summer after her junior year in Poland and then in Israel with the Anti-Defamation league, which is a summer-long fellowship helping newspaper editors understand Middle Eastern peace issues. In Poland, she was exposed to Jewish history, and then in Israel, she got to witness it as it happened. Mobley wrote a series of articles as a part of this program, and so far she liked journalism; although when she began her senior year, her writing interest shifted from journalism to creative writing.
Creative writing allowed Mobley to do things her own way and take her time writing without the deadlines that come with newspaper writing. At this point, however, she didn’t have a solid career path, but she was encouraged to enroll in graduate school as a placeholder until she knew what to do. Mobley, on the other hand, believed that when it came to grad school, one should know why they are attending or not attend at all. With no other post-graduation plans, however, Mobley found herself attending graduate school while applying for advertising jobs, writing jobs, or whatever she had to do. The first job that she landed was in event planning, followed by career services, public relations, grant writing, and program design and development. Mobley was invigorated by the ways that these jobs allowed her to bring people together, and she didn’t see a way that teaching would allow her to accomplish that.
How did you end up teaching?
Dr. Mobley wasn’t specifically opposed to teaching at Grove City. She was opposed to teaching at all. The reason for this was that she believed that she wouldn’t be able to fit the traditional mold of what a teacher should be. She isn’t the type of person to assign worksheets and textbook readings, talk about right and wrong answers, and grade quizzes.
Dr. Mobley fought the idea of teaching every step of the way, because she needed to be able to make a real difference for people and for the community. If she were to teach, she wanted to be able to take an experimental, applied, unconventional approach to learning. As a Grove City student, Mobley had gotten the chance to work with the college on a massive bicentennial celebration campaign in both her PR class and an independent study. This was the first time that she got to apply what she had learned in her communication classes and work outside of the classroom to make a difference. She knew that this was the style of communication work she wanted to do. Her passion could not be contained within the four walls of a classroom.
Unfortunately, during her graduate education, Mobley was required to teach a course in order to graduate. Still fighting it, she said that she wanted to do the work, not teach it. The only way that they were able to convince her to teach was by telling her that she could do both. She could apply real-world communication experience into the classroom, and she could work alongside her students. So with her luck, Mobley was assigned to teach a public speaking class. This was a required course for all students at that university, it was two hours long, and it was at 8 o’clock in the morning. The students didn’t want to be there, and Dr. Mobley definitely didn’t want to be there.
Cliché as it turns out, however, the rest is history. Dr. Mobley walked in on the first day of class and instantly fell in love with it. Convinced that the first day of class was a fluke and it really would be terrible, she approached the next class skeptically. Again, though, she loved it. It turned out that she didn’t have to teach out of a textbook, she didn’t need to make everyone do the same thing, and she didn’t have to be the traditional teacher. In the public speaking class, she worked alongside students to help them develop usable speeches, she brought in speakers from the community, and she was able to be herself: and this is why the students loved her so much.
What brought you back to Grove City?
While in grad school, Dr. Mobley was invited back to Grove City to speak to the Women of Faith group, and while she was here, she stopped into a classroom for a moment. In the room was a janitor who had been her classmate during her undergrad in an education technology class. He mentioned that he had seen a sign for her speaking to the Women of Faith, and he told her that she had been so kind to him in their class and she had helped him a lot. Mobley said that this reminded her of how personable everyone is here, and she said that the community truly does stick with you. By this time, she had decided that she would indeed like to teach, but she was more interested in possibly moving to the west coast, possibly teaching at a secular institution. She had been urged to teach somewhere that offered tenure and allowed her to do research. Those around her saw her return to this private liberal arts college as a step back from where she was headed.
Mobley, however, had an intuitive feeling that she could bring out the creativity in Grove City’s students. She knew that she wouldn’t fit the mold here, but she would be able to do her own thing and fulfill a need for unconventional students without linear career paths. She could show them that even if they don’t follow the straightfoward way of life, there are so many opportunities for everyone. She could show them because she had lived through it: after college, she hadn’t known what she was going to do, but she had worked in so many different areas of communication that she would bring out the creativity in students and increase their confidence in an unconventional career path. She ended up manifesting this ideology into students by replicating professional experiences within the classroom, being involved with nonprofits and companies, meeting with students one-on-one and in small groups, and tailoring her communication specifically for different students.
If you could give one piece of advice to incoming freshmen, what would it be?
Dr. Mobley said that she lives by a quote from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet that says “Live your questions.” There is always a pressure to come up with answers today, but she believes that this puts unnecessary pressure on oneself. She doesn’t want her students to miss the greater part of being present and building relationships here and now, because there is no one day when you wake up and say “I have arrived.” Life is an ongoing process, and even as an adult, she still wonders daily where she will end up in six months or in a year. The future is a mystery, and she says we ought not to be afraid of it, but excited about what could happen. Mobley said that becoming is a process, and it is bigger than a job title or what you do from nine to five, but rather it is the person you are in the midst of those titles. She said that for her, it is about helping students become who are created to be in those small moments, because those small things are the things themselves. For her, it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey.