Beyond the borders of the classroom

Posted on 11 February 2015 by admin

Professor Christopher Smejkal continues to teach ‘making a difference in some way’

Staff Writer


St. Louis Community College Meramec has no shortage of dynamic teachers and Assistant Professor of Communications Christopher Smejkal is no exception.

Smejkal has been here since 2001. Beginning as a part time professor 14 years ago, Smejkal eventually became a full-time professor at Meramec in 2007 and has stuck around ever since.

Born and raised in Troy, Ill., Smejkal earned an undergraduate and a master’s degree in Speech Communication with a minor in English from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) in Edwardsville, Ill.

Originally Smejkal hoped to attend the private University of Dubuque Iowa to study environmental law; however, due to financial reasons, Smejkal decided to attend SIUE instead.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do after I graduated high school,” Smejkal said. “I immediately fell in love with the campus and the people.”

After college, Smejkal had a bit of a journey before beginning a teaching career.

“I just started interviewing for random jobs,” Smejkal said. “For the first 15 months out of college I worked for the Girl Scouts as their Membership Development Manager. It was a horrible experience. Through some research I conducted on my own I found out that I was perhaps the only male in the country to have that role at the time.”

Despite disliking working for the Girl Scouts Smejkal said, “It definitely taught me what I didn’t want to do.”

After that Smejkal decided to pursue a teaching career out of a love for working with people.

“I applied for one of two positions as a teaching assistant at SIUE and I got it,” Smejkal said.

Smejkal was paid while earning a master’s degree and taught two classes: Public Speaking and Interpersonal Communication.

“I fell in love with teaching,” Smejkal said. “I have the best job, I get to do what I love.”

Smejkal teaches several classes at Meramec; yet one stands apart from the others.

“Gender Communications is what I am most passionate about. I’m passionate about issues concerning men and women. It’s important that men talk about issues that pertain to both men’s lives but also women’s lives,” Smejkal said. “I think it is important for young males to hear it from another male. There are so many myths behind it [gender] and I just want to dispel some of those.”

Smejkal assigns a charity project every semester in Gender Communications that demonstrates a desire to make a difference in others’ lives.

Smejkal breaks the class into small groups. Each group selects an issue pertaining to gender and then together finds “a charity that champions that issue.” Each group presents to the class about the issue as well as advocates for their chosen charity. Once all the presentations are done, the class votes for the group that did the best. Each student donates $5 to the winning team and Smejkal puts money on top of that total.

“To date, in those classes, students have raised over $5,000.00 to charities locally and around the world,” Smejkal said.

With a passion for students, as well as the content being taught, it is not the tangible rewards that drive Smejkal to continue teaching.

“I think too often in any job you get bogged down by tangible outcomes: salary increase, a title, promotion, an award; I honestly don’t focus on those things. Money has never driven me. What drives me is making a difference in some way.”

In addition to the desire to inspire students’ lives, Smejkal has another passion: backpacking.

“I like it because it is partly physical, but a lot of it is mental,” Smejkal said.

Smejkal went backpacking for the first time during a high school trip at the age of 16, but became passionate after high school at the age of 18.

For several summers after the birth of this newfound hobby, Smejkal worked as a ranger and backpacking guide in Cimarron, N.M. at Philmont Scout Ranch.

“All I did was backpack, take people out and teach them low impact camping skills and survival skills,” Smejkal said. “I like the solitude of it, being out in the elements, the rawness of being away form the hustle bustle of everything. It was a way to re-energize me. Like my soul needed it, to be out in the elements doing that.”

Smejkal has backpacked in many places over the western part of the United States: such as Utah, Colorado, Washington and the Grand Canyon from rim-to-rim in August in 120 degree weather.

During one backpacking trip Smejkal came within feet of a “giant blonde bear.”

“You’re not supposed to run when you see a bear. You’re not supposed to act quickly. We just started to make noise. I started clapping really loud. The bear slowly turned and walked away,” Smejkal said. “We kind of freaked out so we grabbed our bags [and] walked very swiftly away. So for the next hour we sang Violent Femmes ‘Blister in the Sun’ at the top of our lungs.”

Smejkal teaches three classes at Meramec: Oral Communications, Gender Communications and Public Speaking and said he desires to go above and beyond what is in the job description.

“Learning to me is just not what you get from a book, it’s about your experiences, figuring out how it fits into the bigger picture,” Smejkal said. “I learn just as much from my students as they learn from me. I walk away feeling more enriched than when I came in at the beginning of the semester.”


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