Upon walking into the classroom on the first day of the semester, students in Brian Simmons’ communication studies classes are invited to kick back, relax and settle into the living room, but come the end of the semester, this living room will close. Simmons, a well-loved professor, will be leaving UP at the end of the school year to join the communication studies department at his alma mater, Oklahoma Christian University.
Simmons has been a part of UP’s community for the past five years, following the closure of Cascade College where he taught for 15 years. Students and colleagues say he will be well missed, but well wished.
“I remember getting there the first day of class and I knew I had picked the right major because he was so enthusiastic about what he was doing,” freshman Danny McGarry said.
After taking three of Simmons’ classes, McGarry looks at professors at UP in a new light.
“Him wanting to teach us so much had a huge impact on my view of professors in general,” McGarry said.
Simmons’ passion for what he teaches shines through his lectures, which cover everything from how to discern what flirting is to the value of understanding other cultures’ ways of interacting.
“As a teacher, Brian is very competent, very engaging, very passionate and truly believes that what we are learning has value for our lives,” sophomore Nathan Seppi said. “He’s just a fun guy to learn from.”
Communication studies Department Chair Jeff Kerssen-Griep has enjoyed working with Simmons during his time at UP.
“We’ve really benefitted from him being here,” Kerssen-Griep said. “Both as a person and a teacher he’s really admirable (and) someone to look up to.”
Simmons is known best for creating a “living room environment” where students are invited to relax, freely share their thoughts, ask questions and address Simmons as a peer instead of an authoritative figure. Simmons has enjoyed bonding with all of his students.
“Three years ago I was telling my class how much I love Taco Bell,” Simmons said. “I walked into class one day with about 50 chalupas and fed all of my students.”
The choice to leave UP has been a difficult one for Simmons, who along with teaching intro to communication, interpersonal communication, communication law and public speaking courses, is an adviser to the speech and debate team. Under his coaching, the team is ranked seventh in its division.
“I love it here,” Simmons said. “I love the classes I teach. I love the college students I work with. Honestly I feel guilty, like I’m abandoning my students, like I’m letting them down.”
Simmons’ decision to take a teaching job in Oklahoma came down to the job security it would provide for him and his family.
“They approached me about teaching for them,” Simmons said. “They have actually approached me essentially every year since I’ve been working here, and I kept telling them no. But they made an offer that I couldn’t refuse that gives me more job security in the long term than I have at University of Portland.”
Simmons will begin instructing at Oklahoma in the fall as a professor, teaching lower and upper division communication classes at the university, as well as working with their honors students.
Looking back at his time spent at UP, Simmons will miss the sense of community and place the most.
“My students and the people I work with have accepted me, liked me, and shared their lives with me,” Simmons said. “I have to start all over again from scratch. I know how things work and where things stand. When I came here I didn’t know anyone on this campus. So for five years I’ve created a sense of place. And (when I leave), it’ll evaporate.”
Sourced from Beacon