If you’re still wondering what major to declare, you won’t be guessing once you take an interpersonal communication class with professor Patricia Harris-Jenkinson. You’ll be a communication major by the end of the semester.
Students who take a class with Harris-Jenkinson find a diamond in the rough. They say she’s straightforward with her curriculum. She hands out an 11-page syllabus on the first day of class that has the whole semester planned out. Students say she seems hard at first, but what’s tough love without the tough? Yet she’s described as nice, encouraging and understanding of students’ busy schedules.
“She’s a great professor, and she incorporates real life into her class,” says Reggie Yadao, a former student in her public speaking class. “She wants her students to pass.”
Harris-Jenkinson, or PJ as most students call her, stands by the slogan of the Communication Department: the quality of your communication directly correlates to the quality of your life. Her hope is to impact students’ lives, teaching the communication skills that will help them flourish personally, and in society, and change the world for the better.
Or maybe change their majors to communication by the end of the semester.
“I can help people become better communicators and help them have better lives,” says Harris-Jenkinson. “I tend to be a very helping type of person.”
Harris-Jenkinson, 58, has been a member of City College for over 20 years. A full-time professor, she once walked the same halls and pathways of City College as a student-athlete, with the same ever-present question of what to do after college. She says she definitely wasn’t thinking of becoming a professor, and definitely not a professor of communication studies.
She says she rebelled against the idea of being a teacher. She was on the speech team in high school, and everyone told her she would be a teacher. She thought differently. When she started community college, she was a psychology major, until she was bored by the classes and went undeclared.
At the same time she was on the speech team at Cosumnes River College and a member of the City College swim team. Harris-Jenkinson realized her passion for communication while competing on the speech team. She then transferred to Sacramento State to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in communication, and later a master’s.
While she was a graduate assistant for a Sacramento State professor, the instructor asked her if she would like the opportunity to teach a public speaking course — two days before the semester was to start. Trying to impress her professor, she agreed, with hopes there wasn’t enough funding for the class. That was a Tuesday. She began teaching that Thursday and hasn’t stopped since.
Her goal now is to help students figure out how to find their path. Her heart stayed with City College and she continues to be inspired by the diversity and hard work of the student body here, who split their time between family, work and school — something she knows all too well.
While being a part-time professor in the ’90s, she was also an operations manager for a market research company, Meta Information Services, where she climbed the ladder to vice president of opinion research. In 1992 she gave birth to her oldest daughter, who was born with epilepsy and hydrocephalus, similar to cerebral palsy. To take care of her daughter, Harris-Jenkinson left her 9-to-5 job and worked her way to a full-time position at City College, and a more flexible work schedule.
“Life gets in the way,” says Harris-Jenkinson. “But you’ve got to manage it, you’ve got to do what you have to do.”
Harris-Jenkinson’s teaching style is interactive, interpersonal and helpful. She considers her class a safe space to voice opinions, and most importantly, to have fun while learning. She’s not just a droning voice at the front of the class, and she works to include her students in class discussions.
“She’s a great teacher,” says former student Jordyn Whitaker. “She really wants her students to understand what she’s teaching.”
Harris-Jenkinson’s advice to students going into the communication field is to know that your degree can take you anywhere, as long you work to get there.