Kim Gingerich Brenneman’s calling to teach at Eastern Mennonite University came as a literal, “out of the blue” phone call from her former EMU professor and then-psychology department chair Galen Lehman. She had been working at a community mental health center, but didn’t take much convincing: “Go back to EMU and teach with my professors? How cool was that!” she recalls thinking.
This summer, 30 years later, Brenneman is retiring. She is known for her astute scholarship and strong mentoring relationships.
A 1985 EMU alum, Brenneman earned a master’s degree and an EdS in counseling from James Madison University and her PhD in developmental and educational psychology from the University of Pittsburgh. She has conducted research in nurturing the growth mindset in college classrooms, cross-cultural experiential learning and cultural sensitivity, and building hopeful thinking in the classroom.
A “phenomenal scholar,” Brenneman is “equally at ease discussing positive psychology and cross-cultural pedagogy,” said psychology professor Gregory Koop, and “embodies collegial, yet rigorous academic discourse.”
She taught undergraduate and graduate psychology courses, plus led four groups on semester-long cross-culturals to India, where she had lived during high school.
“It was a remarkable experience for me to be able to share my love for India with students,” she said. “This also provided me a new opportunity to teach more experientially: no PowerPoints, no desks, sometimes no electricity, no white board. Teaching in the moment. Experiential learning. To me, this is the ideal setting for education.”
She also always had time to develop relationships with colleagues and students.
“She mentored me through my start as a faculty member,” Koop said, “but over the last five years I’ve come to realize that more than colleagues, Kim and I are friends.”
Students saw her as a role model and source of guidance.
“Her ability to always treat me with the highest respect for both who I am and the emotions that tag along with me has had an impact that will last throughout my entire life,” said Emily Suttles, who completed her psychology degree in 2016. “I have met many people who are good listeners, but she definitely tops the list, and I continue to strive to be that same type of listener for other people.”
Brenneman kept a yellow bucket on her desk well stocked with candy for students – and colleagues.
“When I hit a wall in grading, I knew I could trot down the hall and find Kim with a willing ear to hear my complaints, and a piece or two of chocolate to spur me on,” said Bible and religion instructor Carmen Schrock-Hurst. “Kim’s infectious laughter brightened conversations for many of us while we waited for the photocopier to finish or the hot water to boil.”
Even more important, though, was that Brenneman’s office was a “welcoming home and safe place,” Schrock-Hurst said. “She provided a home away from home for my son, her son and their buddies. But I think she also did that for many students and faculty.”
That was a logical extension of Brenneman’s experience as a new, young faculty member.
“I began working with senior faculty who were my professors when I was in school,” she said. “At some institutions, this might be intimidating, or it may be hard for faculty to see one of their students as their equals, but I was fully embraced at EMU and easily made the transition. When I became department chair after having been at EMU for a few years, I was encouraged and supported by my colleagues.”
While she is “trying to leave the future open to see what might present itself,” Brenneman isn’t totally unbooked: In 2021, she and her husband will lead an EMU Alumni and Friends tour to India.
More immediately, though she anticipates having her Shih tzu and miniature poodle puppy Jampa (which means compassion in Tibetan) trained and certified as a therapy dog for visiting in retirement centers, memory care units and hospitals.
Good wishes to Kim are welcome in the comments box below. Each message will be shared with her.