Faculty spotlight: Kat Ringenbach, moving the Brandman mission forward
Dr. Kat Ringenbach has a lot in common with the students she teaches.
She knows about life in the military because her father’s military career took her Florida, Pennsylvania, Turkey, Colorado, New York, Connecticut, Germany and Texas. His service in Vietnam helps her understand the challenges families face during deployment.
And like many Brandman students, she started down one career path – being an elementary school teacher – became interested in the idea of school psychology and then shifted focus again to consulting with the military and eventually teaching and develop courses in psychology at the university level.
“I tell students, ‘whatever you plan to do, expect that other things will fall into your path,’” said Ringenbach.
Ringenbach is one of five faculty members promoted to full professor this spring. She began teaching as an adjunct professor when Brandman was still Chapman University College in 1993 and became a core faculty member in 2001 and a full-time faculty member in 2002.
She’s seen a lot of changes at Brandman and was at the center of them as a president of the Faculty Assembly during its transition from Chapman University College to Brandman University. She will be back in that leadership role this fall.
Ringenbach is quick to deflect attention from herself and said moving from associate to full professor is not an achievement done alone. “I have colleagues, a dean who supports me in what I do. I’m at a center (Antelope Valley campus) that has the most amazing director and support staff. They’re there 100 percent, helping me and backing me up. If I didn’t have all those people in my life, I wouldn’t be a professor. They all keep me in line.”
Her colleagues are more than willing to hand the credit back to Ringenbach.
“Kat serves as a tireless mentor to assure that all instructors teaching her courses have the resources and support to help them provide the best possible service to students,” said Dr. Ellen Derwin, associate dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.
The dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Jeremy Korr, praised the way she organizes her course to be robust, clear and grounded in Brandman’s core values and for always approaching her work with the adult learner in mind.
Test and measure
Ringenbach’s background as a consultant included developing tests for measuring job performance, which were often used for determining promotions. She’s used that same “test and measure” approach in her classes to develop clear rubrics. Most recently, she helped launch the competency-based bachelor’s degree program (CBE) at Brandman for its beta testing.
“I wrote three of the competencies and I hope to still have a foot in it and tweak it as it goes. I think it’s a great program that has a lot of potential for people,” said Ringenbach who wrote the behavior and cognition and critical thinking competencies, and co-wrote the human experience competency with Dr. Leigh Ann Wilson.
In devising the CBE classes she worked from what the students need to learn, developing the final assessment before designing the content and learning activities. Critical thinking, writing skills and the ability to look at both sides of an issue are key components no matter what the content, she said.
Influenced by teachers
Ringenbach said her own critical thinking and writing skills can be traced to two teachers, who along with her parents, she said influenced her life.
An eighth-grade history teacher not only explained the past but also brought a newspaper to class and had his students discuss current events and do volunteer work. “I read books at a Head Start, I cleaned up creeks and we had walkathons to clean up the Hudson River and he tied all of that back to history,” she said. It taught her both how everything is related to something else and how important it is to be part of a community and aware of the environment.
“I also had a writing teacher in high school who really taught me how to give a voice to my thoughts and opinions,” said Ringenbach. She contacted that teacher to let her know what a difference she had made and learned a few months later that the letter she wrote was read aloud at the teacher’s retirement as a school principal.
“She had read my letter because she wanted other teachers to know that you have an impact even when you don’t realize it. Sometimes you wonder. You never know what you say or what you’ve done that will change their lives in a dramatic way,” said Ringenbach.
“More than anything, teaching allows me to show how powerful an education is,” said Ringenbach. “When you see a student who has improved over time or see a single mother graduate … she’s changed the live of her children … there’s a ripple effect. Sometimes you never see that ripple, just like my English teacher never saw the ripple, but I think it’s there and that’s what keeps you going.”
Ringenbach teaches both blended and online courses but prefers the flexibility of teaching online, in part because she and her husband have four children: one in college and, as of this fall, three in high school with multiple activities. Those activities also are the focus of her volunteer work where she uses her skills as a photographer to help with fundraising. She’s also instrumental in the “Yes to Kids” program in the Antelope Valley, organizing an annual writing contest and raising awareness about child abuse prevention.
Faculty Assembly president
She’s also looking forward to being president of the Faculty Assembly again. “I love doing the job. It’s kind of like doing my consulting work again. You work with people with different viewpoints, and you get to be an advocate for the faculty and implement things that help move the vision and mission of Brandman forward,” she said.
She sees managing expectations of what the university does as one of its biggest challenges. “Rigor is important. We are not a diploma mill and want our students to work hard and learn so they can be successful in their lives.” She would like to see the faculty have a greater say in the messaging that goes out to students about the university and its standards, including an emphasis on critical thinking skills, which employers seek.
“The one thing I can say that other universities can’t say is we (Brandman) have very good, open communication between the administration and the faculty. The president (of the Faculty Assembly) sits in on the board of regents meetings. That’s huge. We (the faculty) work hard, but there’s definitely a support system and that’s really important.”
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