This month’s Member Spotlight highlights our Santa Monica member Jennifer Killham, PhD, a Course Coordinator with the Early Childhood Education Online program at the University of Cincinnati, where she teaches courses specifically designed for working professionals.
Jennifer received her bachelor’s degree in experiential education and psychology from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and her master’s and doctoral degree in social and cultural foundations of education from the University of Cincinnati. She has taught a wide range of undergraduate and graduate level courses focused, including the critical analysis of schooling and teaching in the United States and techniques for the effective implementation of culturally responsive pedagogy. In 2015, the Early Childhood Education Online program was recognized by USA Today as “5 Great Colleges for Studying Early Childhood Education.” USA Today highlighted her program for its emphasis on early field experiences in high-need urban schools.
We spoke with Jennifer to bring you the inside scoop on her life at Cross Campus.
Q: In one sentence, describe who your company is and what you do.
A: One sentence?! This question is going to be surprisingly tough to answer in one sentence, not only because I am verbose but also because of the uniqueness of what brings me to Cross Campus. How about this? (pause)... Rather than describing my teaching institution (University of Cincinnati), I think it is more interesting if I describe who I am and what I do.
I am fortunate to wear many professional hats (e.g., educator, researcher, author, director), all of which allow me to be a tenacious visionary, expansive thinker, and thought provocateur.
Q: What is the problem you're solving?
A: I use games to increase young people’s sense of agency and intellectual curiosity. One way I do this is by assisting K-12 teachers in the implementation of an online character-playing history education project called Place Out of Time. For more information about Place Out of Time, you can read some of the articles I have written about the project or check out the University of Michigan’s Interactive Communications and Simulations group website.
Q: What brought your company to Los Angeles, and what do you like about the startup ecosystem here?
A: My company is actually not based in Los Angeles, but as an online faculty member I can work from anywhere in the world. I had my eye on Amsterdam. To be honest, I really never thought I could love another place in the world after being entranced by the tulip-filled fields of The Netherlands. Impossible, I thought! While I had my pick from cities like Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, and later Los Angeles, it did not take long for me to cherish my morning Breeze Bike commute into Cross Campus in Santa Monica.
The benefits of being a Cross Campus member revolutionized the way in which I work, reinforced my professional identity, and helped me develop impactful relationships with other members. I am thankful for the professional camaraderie that I has been fostered at Cross Campus and look forward to getting to know more of our new members in the coming months. For anyone I have not yet met, stop me to say hi when you see me without my headset. These member benefits were particularly important to me after graduating with my doctorate degree and being permitted to work remotely. Oh, and this answer would not be complete without recognizing the significance of cute critters like Rockie the French Bulldog, the abundance of the magical fermented nectar called kombucha, and the close proximity to the Waive Car HQ.
Q: How has being a part of the Cross Campus community helped you or your business grow?
A: Cross Campus, as a workspace, is conducive for the kinds of intellectually rigorous activities my job requires. It has been extremely helpful for me to be surrounded by passionate go-getters who believe wholeheartedly in what they do. Observing people working hard and pursuing their goals helps inspire me. I can certainly say that my doctoral degree would have been significantly easier had I been surrounded by the dedicated crew of Cross Campus members.
Q: What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
A: I am pretty satisfied right now. During my time as a Cross Campus member, I have spearheaded a symposium for my field’s leading international conference, served as a the guest editor for a special issue of a journal, and was elected to serve on a prominent leadership committee.
I have published one textbook, two book chapters, and five journal articles. Those writings address parents, teachers, and researchers, and cover wide-ranging topics such as game-based learning, social media, and race issues. Two of these writings have been selected to be showcased at the National Council for the Social Studies in Washington, D.C. this December. The most recent of those publications can be found in the current issue of the International Journal of Game-Based Learning. With such a productive workspace, I have managed to squeeze in more time for sunsets and salsa dancing.
Q: Tell me about a time you failed at a goal you needed to achieve.
A: I often contemplate this notion of “failing better” and the importance of creating safe spaces to try new things, risk failure, and be inspired by dissatisfaction. As I reflect on a time when I failed, I recall when I campaigned for the position of Campus Ambassador with my university’s Graduate Student Governance Association. The Campus Ambassador was a coveted position because it was not only a paid position but it had a full tuition scholarship. I felt like I needed this job so I could stay on campus until I completed my dissertation. I ran around to every building on campus and took a photo of myself with a “There’s no UC without U!” sign so I could instill the idea that I cared about each of the campus organizations. Election day arrived. The votes were tallied and I lost by two. I remember the moments that followed so vividly because it was then that I knew with certainty I had one thing left to do: graduate. It was in losing the election that I was able to completely devote myself to the single most rewarding experience of my life: my dissertation.
Q: What are some of the characteristics of people that have been successful at your company?
A: As background, I wear many professional hats, including teaching online for a university and serving as a project manager for a scholarship for international game developers. In regard to my teaching, the mission of the University of Cincinnati’s School of Education is to broaden and refine the knowledge and competencies of teachers, especially practitioners in high-need urban schools. In regard to my scholarship, the mission of the International Ambassadors program is to provide a career-development-focused community to diverse, service-oriented individuals who have fewer opportunities for professional development in the games industry in their local communities. Given these contexts, the characteristics that I find to be the most impactful include self-motivation, intentionality, and fortitude. An appreciation for stuffed pug animals is a plus.
Q: If your company were a Hogwarts house, which one would it be?
As a voice-centered relational scholar, I place emphasis on positively impacting the world, addressing social inequalities, educating the whole person, and understanding the voice of the people I serve. This agenda seems most congruent with Hufflepuff, the house which values patience, justice, and loyalty.
A: Who do you respect the most, and why?
I have been blessed with having a number of amazing mentors, all of whom care about my professional and personal well-being. Ian McKenzie, the head of the Conference Associate (CA) program at the the Game Developers Conference (GDC), is one of my most valued and respected mentors.
The CA program, with over 400 volunteers every year, helps ensure that the conference runs smoothly and attendees have the best experience possible. Over the last five years of service, I have witnessed the CAs serve with unparallelled gusto. Each year, my curiosity about the factors that influenced such a positive work environment were complemented with increasing responsibility. Ian had a knack for investing in people and believing in their potential-- often nurturing a talent we had not yet seen in ourselves.
As I experimented in my new leadership roles, Ian provided me with the confidence to do so. There were many take-away lessons from his leadership, and the one I want to share with you today is the saying “People grow best in the sunshine.” By this, Ian was constantly encouraging me to build people up and to acknowledge a job well done. Each year, I leave the conference feeling more capable and confident, and carry this inspiration back to my work at the University.
Q: Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years?
A: My ten-year strategic vision includes a tenure track faculty positions at a R1 university, as well as a pug-oriented business plan, endless scoops of ice cream, and the same level of invigoration I currently feel while working at Cross Campus. My one-year plan, however, is far more practical and relevant. I am eager to discuss possible collaborations with teams fueled by the compassion and thoughtfulness.
Please be in touch if you think there is potential synergy between your projects and what I have to offer. If you want to know more about my background, please find me on LinkedIn.