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QCC Professor Earns National Teaching Excellence Award

March, 2020
  • Professor Brennan works to inspire his students.
    Professor Brennan works to inspire his students.
  • QCC Assistant Professor James Brennan
    QCC Assistant Professor James Brennan

When someone says they love what they do, you know they are in the right job field and Quinsigamond Community College’s Assistant Professor of English, James Brennan loves what he does. The professor has been teaching at QCC for the last 10 years and recently received recognition for his dedication and contribution to his students and his profession, by being honored with a National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) Excellence Award. He also was chosen as a Suzanne Rouche Faculty Scholarship recipient and will receive complimentary registration, travel expenses and lodging to the NISOD’s Annual Conference, which was to be held in Austin, Texas in May (due to the current national health crisis this has been canceled and is expected to move to an online format).

An avid writer, Mr. Brennan already has published works and has been thrilled to pass on his passion for writing to his students.

“I teach what I love and inspire students to love writing. It’s one of the reasons I love what I do,” he said.

Mr. Brennan has a bit of a kindred spirit with some of his students. He is a first-generation college student who went on to earn an undergraduate degree from UMass Lowell and advanced degrees from Rivier College; Harvard University and Bennington College.

“Neither of my parents finished high school, but my mother instilled in me a love of reading and writing. She stayed home and my dad worked menial jobs. We never had much, but I knew I wanted an education,” he said.

For many years, Mr. Brennan worked in the human resource field in corporate America always thinking that one day he might change careers to go into a field that was his true passion. In January 2010, he had his opportunity and began teaching a Saturday composition class at QCC Southbridge. The class morphed into a seven-year stint as an adjunct professor and three years ago he became a full-time faculty member. He has taught an array of English and writing courses, all with the goal of helping students be the best they can be.

“I can really empathize with students. I know what it is like to have obstacles,” he said. “I feel proud to help them.”

Recently, he helped students set up a creative writing club after a few students from his creative writing course last semester wanted to continue to get feedback from him on their writing. Today the club has four officers and is up and running.

“Inspiration. In a word, that is what I love about teaching at QCC: those times when we can inspire a student, but even more, the many times that our students inspire us. Celebrating students’ achievements is another wonderful part of the job: watching them graduate, writing recommendations for them as they pursue further education, nominating them to receive scholarship awards recognizing outstanding achievement,” he said.

Mr. Brennan fondly remembers a student who was in one of his speech classes. The student was painfully shy and had a stutter, which made a class of this nature particularly difficult.

“I worried about how he would get through the course. Speech, of course, is best learned by doing. My preferred pedagogy is experiential, as well as leveraging relationships, mine with students and students’ relationships with one another, to build learning communities and trust. In that environment, feeling supported, this student thrived,” he said. “Not only did he successfully complete all of his prepared speeches, we could not get him to stop talking in front of the class. He volunteered for every role, for example speech timer that would get him up front and talking.”

Mr. Brennan told of the joy the student felt getting up to speak in the class.

“Sure, the stutter came back every now and then, but it didn’t stop him from being one of our most accomplished speakers by the end of the semester. And he made quite a few friends in class that I have a feeling will extend through his time at the college and perhaps beyond,” he said.

Mr. Brennan said that while he is honored to be receiving the NISOD Excellence Award, it is experiences like these that are the true award.

“I’m one of many people here at QCC who are recognized this way. At QCC ,we are all like-minded working for the common goal of our students. I’m very happy to be part of this community…and it really is a community,” he said, adding, “I believe in the product and feel fortunate I do what I do.”