Wanda Wakkinen


Instructor of Communications

M.A., New Mexico State University

How long have I been here, and what do I do?

I have served at NMSU-A campus from August, 1999 to June, 2005, as an adjunct (part time) faculty, and from August, 2006 to the present as a Communications instructor. Below is a summary of how I came to be here and other information you might enjoy knowing.

How did I become a teacher?

Toward the end of a career in Occupational Therapy, while working at the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, I accepted Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) interns from ENMU-Roswell. I discovered that I enjoyed teaching them and inquired about teaching possibilities in the COTA program there.

Roswell??? You’ve got to be kidding!

I taught in the program during summers and as an adjunct faculty during 1997-2000, developing modified distance education classes (without the use of WebCt; it didn’t exist then!) which allowed me to travel to Roswell only once a week. In addition, I had taught dance for many years, including for the Community Education program here at NMSU-A, and delighted in teaching. I had discovered a potential new career and inquired about teaching possibilities closer to home.

After Roswell, then NMSU-A…

I was fortunate to be hired at NMSU-A and began working as an adjunct faculty member teaching SOC 101 (the introductory class for Sociology) in August of 1999. After several semesters, I was convinced that teaching at community college, specifically NMSU-A, was for me. I enjoyed teaching at the campus in Alamogordo and at Holloman Air Force Base (HAFB), but our financial situation demanded that I find full-time employment. After one of my sociology classes at HAFB didn’t “make,” the director mentioned that she could offer me more classes if I had a Masters degree in Communication Studies. This was an area that intrigued me and fit with my previous degrees (Human Services and Occupational Therapy), so I asked her for more information. She reported that there was a Masters in Communication Studies at NMSU and that classes were beginning the next day. After discussing this idea with my husband, who already loved teaching at NMSU-A, I started my new venture the next day.

Back to school…

While teaching as an adjunct during the day, I attended one 3-hour seminar class per week in the evening each semester at the Las Cruces campus. One semester, I tried two classes and didn’t do that again. This took 5 years! You can do it, too!

How did I do both? Good question. Then I added even more…

I had become quite involved with the NMSU-A campus, serving on committees (American Disability Act, Temporary College Faculty, and Long Distance Learning) and as an adjunct faculty representative in the Faculty Consortium. I also became more involved in the Social Science Club and officially became a faculty co-sponsor in 2006. I began teaching introductory Communication classes in Fall, 2003, with Dr. Gallagher’s support and guidance here. I was granted a Masters of Communication Studies degree from NMSU in December 2004.

Back to Roswell…

Again, it was necessary for me to seek out full-time work, and since there was nothing forthcoming at NMSU-A, I accepted a Program Director position at the aforementioned ENMU-Roswell COTA program. Unfortunately, things were not as they were presented, but it was just as well, as the long-awaited full-time Communications position at NMSU-A was reinstated. I was thrilled to be awarded the position and returned to begin full time in the fall semester of 2006.

Back home…

Initially, after a year in Roswell, I returned to teaching only the two basic classes in Communication: COMM 265, Principles of Human Communication, and COMM 253, Public Speaking. I have taught the two in various scheduling options (5-week, 6-week, 8-week, 16-week, Sundays only, and on a rotating schedule to serve security personnel at HAFB), at both campuses (Alamogordo and HAFB), and in several formats (face-to-face, hybrid, and online with two required face-to-face classes). Each of these scheduling and course formats met the needs of some of you, our students.

A new hybrid COMM 265 class!

The way I taught the COMM 265 online class included 2 F2f (face-to-face) 3-hour long classes (at the beginning and end of the class, for experiential activities). That was helpful, but I feel you need the interpersonal interaction and class development to effectively learn basic communication skills and to understand and apply the concepts. For this reason, I developed a hybrid class, which met 50% in the classroom, and piloted it as a 16-week class during the fall semester, 2008. We felt it was quite successful, and so I modified the class to teach in a 5-week format during Summer, 2009. It went well, but I think it would work better in 8 or 10-week sessions (more time for you to practice).

Special Topics classes!

With the support and encouragement of Dr. Gallagher, I began teaching COMM 291 Special Topics classes in the Spring of 2007. I have since taught Interpersonal Communication, Family Communication, and Cyberspace Communication. They were all quite successful. In spite of the students’ enthusiasm, it is difficult to get enough commitment for a F2f elective communication class to assure the class being held.

A new Special Topics class, a far out class, far out in Cyberspace!

Therefore, I began looking at your enthusiasm and practical needs for online classes. I also began hearing and reading more about the virtual world of Second Life (SL) as an educational platform. I learned from Pete Eidenbach and Jenna Kammer that NMSU had an “island,” and classes were being taught there. I signed up for an introductory class with Jenna, then a Historic Preservation class with Pete, and repeated the class with Jenna. We were all very excited about the possibilities and formed an informal Second Life faculty group. I sought out workshops at conferences and online, and began planning for a Special Topics class on Cyberspace Communication. With support from the group, I taught the class during the Spring of 2009. With assistance from my husband, Bill Lockhart, and Jenna and Pete, it was quite fun and a lot of work for all. There is a steep learning curve in Second Life.

Coming Soon: Intercultural Communication in Cyberspace!

I plan to teach a modified version, Intercultural Communication in Cyberspace, in Spring, 2010. We (you and I) will take on an avatar and ethnicity of your choice and visit places in Second Life (SL) related to your chosen ethnicity, learning about the culture and interacting with the avatars at those locations. As one of the class activities, you will act as a field guide, taking the class to a site related to your new culture. You will learn about the concepts involved in communicating interculturally and be able to observe and apply them in the Second Life environment. Research has shown that those who learn skills in SL can apply them to real life (RL). Perhaps this class will help you in communicating in different cultures in RL.

Community College Culture…

In addition to teaching, I am committed to the community college mission and culture. I have been quite involved in what I consider to be vital committee work (ADA, with special emphasis on visually impaired students, Faculty Retention, Student Retention, and Take Back the Night). I co-presented a workshop on “Gender in the Classroom” at the Campus Round-up, and gave a tutor training session on Interpersonal Communication to ASC tutors. As a faculty co-sponsor for the Social Science Club; reader for Read Across America, Readers’ Hour and Poetry Slams; performer for student talent shows and faculty events; make-up artist for a theater class show; participant in Crimson Day, Spring Fling, and student organization-led events; and a supporter of student plays and musical presentations, I am very involved in the all important campus activities which further involve you and create a supportive community for you on campus.

Community Involvement…

As a community member, I am supportive and involved in the arts and efforts to raise community awareness (for example, the Friends of the Library events), assisting in presenting Dances of Universal Peace to the community, and also supportive of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowships in Alamogordo and Las Cruces, particularly those involving womens’ issues.

How do I learn new teaching skills?

To support my role as an educator in a growing and changing field and time, I seek out professional development opportunities on campus, in neighboring communities and states, via professional organizations, and online. I have presented at several national conferences and take part in the Western States Association Community College Interest groups.

How can you, one of our valued students, benefit from all of the above?

Come join me for a class or two in
1) RL/Real Life (face-to-face)
2) RL/Blackboard or half and half (hybrid)
3) “in world” SL/Cyberspace!
4) All of the above

Visit me in my office (Faculty Office Building # 109), give me a call (439-3752), or send me an e-mail at wandaw@nmsu.edu.