New face in the communications department

Intercultural: Gretchen Montgomery is a professor in the communications department. Montgomery has been teaching intercultural classes within the department, studying how people from different cultures interact. 

contributor Kathryn Heger

Gretchen Montgomery began her teaching career in August 2019, as a professor at Washburn University in the Department of Communication Studies teaching intercultural communications classes. She overcame many challenges on the road to becoming a professor.

Montgomery started her journey in her undergraduate classes as a communications and Spanish major. Montgomery realized she had lots of interest in continuing her education and going to graduate school for her master’s and doctorate.

Montgomery loved being involved with intercultural communication and cultural identity at Nebraska Wesleyan University. After talking to her advisor at that time, she decided to continue her education and begin her journey to become a professor at Washburn. She focuses on how people with different cultural and social backgrounds interact, and the challenges and opportunities they experience through an intercultural context.

With the need to mentor students and pursue quantitative research projects at Washburn, she felt her experience in that field would be instrumental in her teaching skills. The class required having experience in that field to teach at Washburn, and Montgomery happened to fit the bill.

“The job call really connected with me to come teach here,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery came to Washburn’s campus to teach a sample class for what it would look like if she was hired for the job. She immediately felt at home after teaching her first sample class and knew it was the perfect fit for her.

“Washburn was the size of school and type of institution that would value my type of teaching,” said Montgomery.

Washburn’s small enrollment appealed to Montgomery because she liked the idea of teaching smaller classes and getting to know her students personally, as well as working with them on a one-on-one level. She connected with the smaller atmosphere Washburn provided, rather than a bigger university where she would teach classes with hundreds of students.

Washburn was the type of environment Montgomery was familiar with at Nebraska Wesleyan University. As a student, getting to walk into office hours whenever she needed help was crucial to her success. She realized Washburn was similar and wanted that friendly feeling at work every day. Getting to know her professors well and realizing they cared about her and the work she put forth was important to Montgomery.

When it comes to teaching her classes, Montgomery’s strategies vary on the types of students she has in her class. She approaches each lesson the same, yet makes changes depending on the class and how engaging the students are to the topic. Montgomery may spend more time on a lesson if the students are wanting to spend more time discussing about that specific topic. She is very reflexive to her classroom environment.

Facing adversities, Montgomery had to learn to balance school, work, and time for herself to accomplish her goals. Outside of college, she worked part-time jobs to make a living and learned to balance everything with her school work, even though it was a challenge.

Montgomery recognizes students who work hard in school and outside of school with part-time jobs, having been in that exact situation of trying to make a living and getting her degree. She always credits students doing the same thing and going through similar challenges.

“Graduate programs are tough, and it is a process to find your community of people to get through those adversities,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery knows how much advisors help and guide students in their journeys all while working to stay mentally stable the best they can.

Having hobbies outside of school is important to Assistant Professor Montgomery. She enjoys gardening, being outside and taking her dog on walks, since most of her time is spent inside while teaching her students.

Montgomery tries to grade papers and finish all of her work in the office, so she can go home to enjoy spending time with her dog and cat. A typical day out of office for Montgomery is catching up on TV shows she may have missed during the week or catching up with friends who are still in graduate school. She usually grabs lunch or watches football with her friends to unwind after a long week of school and teaching.

“I’ve been lucky to have lots of mentors throughout my undergraduate and grad school careers,” said Montgomery.

Before her journey in graduate school at the University of Kansas, Montgomery took more than a year off school before realizing she wanted to learn more and continue her career path of gaining her master’s degree and doctorate. She was still curious and had unanswered questions about the communications studies and cultural environment in which people live.

After Montgomery visited with her previous faculty at Nebraska Wesleyan about her interests in the culture part of communications and how people from different cultures create friendships and relationships, she was advised to apply for the graduate program at the University of Kansas. After completing two major research projects and a set of exams, she qualified and received her doctoral degree in Communications and Intercultural Studies.

Upon graduation, Montgomery realized she had a couple of mentors who helped her achieve her goal: A Professor at Washburn University. One was her advisor from her undergraduate career, Patty Hawk, who was a huge influence on her career path of communication studies – showing her how to make it a career and guiding her to attend graduate school at the University of Kansas. Her advisor at graduate school taught her how to be a researcher and helped her achieve her master’s and doctorate degree. Montgomery has stayed connected with her graduate school advisor and still maintains a great working and personal relationship with her. Those are the type of mentorships that kept her going through her graduate school career.

“We live in a world that there are forces that try to highlight and drive us apart based on differences,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery’s main focus for the classes she currently teaches is to see the cultural differences among others as a benefit and not a deficiency. She teaches her students to recognize and understand the differences in cultures and social groups and embrace all diversities. Montgomery said seeing the change it can make in her students’ lives within the classroom is motivating to her, and she wants to keep making a positive impact with this focus on her students.

“It’s easy to come to work when the work you do feels fun and important,” said Montgomery.

Professor Tracy Routsong, also in the Department of Communication Studies, had a lot of positive words to say about Montgomery. Routsong was a part of Montgomery’s search committee and she emphasized how engaging Montgomery is with her students. Routsong said students speak highly of her and always have positive feedback.

Routsong also said that Montgomery is the only new faculty member in over a decade in the Department of Communication Studies and has made a huge difference, bringing energy to the department. Having a new face and innovative ideas has impacted the professors in that department.

Routsong said Montgomery encourages the students to come in during office hours for help. She is good with mentoring the students and making sure she is acquainted with them on and off campus. Another positive aspect of Montgomery is her careful consideration to any departmental tasks, and willingness to follow through. A big move Montgomery has taken on is the Community Eligibility Provision program at the high schools. She has taken over that program to help students with their career paths and taking college classes in high schools.

“For Montgomery to take on such a big role in this program with no experience is very powerful and nice for the department and herself,” said Routsong.

According to Routsong, Montgomery has adapted well and stayed active. She attended different events and stayed engaged with the department. Routsong is excited to watch her in the classroom and observe her teaching strategies and maybe use them in her own teaching.

Montgomery is always learning to overcome challenges placed in her path. A hard challenge she faces every day is not being a people-pleaser. Some students enroll in her class for credit only, therefore, they don’t engage as much in learning as she would like. Montgomery has learned to not take it personally.

With this being her first official semester to teach, all of her classes have been engaging. When students give their feedback on the content, she takes their knowledge and applies it to hers. Teaching is more enjoyable when the students make an impact and speak their minds, sharing their knowledge on the lessons during class and getting to experience them.

Montgomery’s advice for college success is to take advantage of office hours and get help when needed. She mentioned it’s important for her to know her students’ strengths and interest areas, and what their lives outside of school are like. Montgomery said college is a good way to network with professors and gain more than just help on an assignment. She said professors connect a student with an internship or anything to help with his or her career, another reason why students should take the opportunity of office hours.

Jacob Klemz, a student of Montgomery’s class, said Montgomery is always able to engage and break up the classroom and do small activities about what the lesson is that day.

“Professor Montgomery always brings a pretty positive and light-hearted attitude when she comes to class,” said Klemz.

Klemz also mentioned Montgomery’s class has been the most interactive class in which he has participated. With her being a new teacher, Klemz said you can tell she’s new, but she cares and wants to figure out what best fits her classes. She appreciates feedback from her students on topics discussed in class.

“I would recommend her to someone as an instructor,” said Klemz. “She cares about what you take from the class over teaching a set amount of material.”

Klemz said Montgomery always likes the feeling of getting to help people and learning what their perspective is on things.

“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get the perfect grade or highest grade we can, but it’s important to find a balance between academic success and the college experience,” said Montgomery.

Montgomery believes it is important to be kind to yourself. Striving to be the best you can be and rewarding yourself is something everyone should do. Having a good healthy balance of experiencing college outside of classes is an approach everybody should be able to experience.

“It takes a level of dedication to your craft in being a professor or in any job you want,” said Montgomery.

There’s always room for improvement and wanting to improve should always be a goal in order to have success in your career.

Edited by Jason Morrison, Adam White, Jessica Galvin