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Hands-On Learning from an Alumna-Turned-Adjunct

Gemma Brennan portrait

For Gemma Brennan, Ed.D., ’84, ’93, some of the most valuable lessons she has taught haven’t been to children—but to fellow teachers.

“I didn’t see it coming—me teaching the teachers—but time has allowed me to have these different experiences,” recalls Dr. Brennan. “My university students look at me and say, ‘You’re a mom, a grandma of nine, you’ve been a waitress, and you know what it’s like to go to school at night to become a teacher.’”

Dr. Brennan attended Georgian Court University as an undergraduate student in education. She later earned her master’s degree at The Court and a doctoral degree from Seton Hall University. Dr. Brennan worked as a teacher and a principal, and she has been an adjunct faculty member at The Court for nearly 20 years.

Having faculty members on hand to discuss overcoming challenges to earn their degrees and excelling in their careers gives students a real-world perspective that Dr. Brennan is happy to share.

Education That Goes Beyond the Classroom

She goes beyond teaching GCU students about education techniques and theories. Bringing lessons to life is where she truly excels and continues to have an impact. As an active volunteer with the Toms River Family Health and Support Coalition, she saw an opportunity for GCU students to understand the difficulties some children face.

“I expose them to real people, real resources,” she says. “University students need to know that there are children who are homeless, and they need to hear those children’s voices.”

She invited a local mother, who was homeless at the time, to address the class.

“Pre-service teachers need to know that when a child walks into the classroom and they haven’t seen them in 12 hours, a lot could have happened,” Dr. Brennan explains. “When a parent loses a job and the family has to move, you have to understand what that means in the life of a child. When there isn’t enough food in the house, or when there isn’t paper to do homework, or when there are no pencils in the house, that translates to the classroom.”

The same lesson applies when a child’s parent is in jail and doesn’t want to use their last name because they are embarrassed. Or when clothing is an issue, and a family doesn’t have what it takes to get through a New Jersey winter.

“These are things that matter,” says Dr. Brennan. “As a teacher, you have to have a heart for students inside and beyond the classroom.”

Ocean Academy Principal Scott Corbett ’00, ’03 hugs Dr. Brennan.

Scott Corbett ’00, ’03, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at GCU, believes that sense of heart is exactly what makes Dr. Brennan such an asset to the Georgian Court community.

“Her connection to people motivates students, faculty, and community leaders,” says Mr. Corbett, principal of Ocean Academy, a small therapeutic charter school in Bayville affiliated with Ocean Mental Health Services. “She connects to all ages and is open to advancements, new ideas, and unconventional approaches to learning,” he says. “Gemma is never stagnant. She is always on the cutting edge and improving lives.”

Adapted from story by Gail H. Towns in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of GCU Magazine. Story adapted for the Web by Kristen Fischer. Photos by Russ DeSantis.

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,100 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 15 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates also make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at BrookdaleGCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.