Education, puzzles and music strike a chord with Dean Jeremy Korr
Banjo player, traffic expert, historian, academic dean, folk singer, contra dance leader, higher education pioneer, crossword puzzle maven. Pick any two, and you’re probably in the presence of a Renaissance man or woman. Pick them all, and you have Jeremy Korr, dean of Brandman’s School of Arts and Sciences.
“I am an inherently interdisciplinary person,” said Korr, who earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in American Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park.
Guiding the College of Arts & Sciences
That comes in handy when he’s shepherding a department that offers majors in everything from an associate degree in general education to a master’s in social work. Just don’t ask him which he takes the most pride in.
“That’s a little like being asked to choose your favorite child. I am proudest that the faculty and the entire Arts and Sciences team have created several new programs, giving students opportunities in life that they wouldn’t have had before,” he said.
Among those new or revised programs are the B.A. in Social Work, the Masters of Social Work, the B.A. in Integrated Social Science, additional and more up-to-date emphases for legal studies and psychology with criminal justice and sociology updates coming soon.
“Each program goes through a full-scale review and upgrade every six years. It’s not their grandparents’ sociology degree. It’s a 21st-century, skill-providing program,” said Korr. Part of the impetus is to ensure that each program makes use of the latest information and approaches to education, including online, blended and self-paced options. The traditional formats of some programs, inherited from the days when Brandman was Chapman University College, just don’t work for Brandman’s adult learners.
Leader of the dance
That’s the academic side of Korr’s life. Away from Brandman, he’s best known as a community folk dance leader and contra dance (an East Coast version of the Western square dance) caller.
“It’s a 250-year-old American style of folk dance, a cousin to English country dancing but more exuberant,” said Korr, who is in demand at least monthly throughout Southern California and serves on the steering committee of the National Workshop for Leaders of Community and School Dancing.
It’s a family business. Korr learned from his father, whose second job was leading community folk dances at events, weddings and bar mitzvahs in the Washington, D.C. area. “It’s easy fun stuff to get people smiling,” said Korr. “Community folk dancing is very simple folk dances from multiple cultures and the US.”
Contra dancing is equally family-oriented. It’s how his aunt and uncle met. It’s how he met his wife.
It also fits into his other folk pastimes: playing the banjo, which he learned from his father, and folk singing.
“I think I’ve been an active folk singer since before I was born. My parents would host folk singing parties. My family still does.”
He’s also part of the team that created the sequel to the folk sing-along bible “Rise Up Singing.” He worked on the chord committee and song selection team for “Rise Again Songbook,” started in 1997 and completed in 2015.
“It was a labor of love. Anybody can use these books to sing along,” he said. Each book as 1,200 songs with words and chords but no musical nomenclature.
People who spend a good chunk of their day commuting have a variety of ways of keeping themselves awake and amused. But as someone whose doctoral thesis looked at the history of highways and freeways, Korr says he consoles himself during high-traffic days in Southern California with the idea that he’s doing participant observation research.
He’s done plenty of it. After completing his Ph.D. at the University of Maryland in 2002, he joined his wife in California when she took a faculty position in the biology department at the University of LaVerne. For a while, he strung together short-term contract positions at UCI and Cal State Fullerton, joining what was then Chapman University College at the Victor Valley (now Victorville) campus as full-time faculty in social sciences.
That made for a 100-mile round trip four days a week. Two years later he traded that for a 6-mile round trip to the Ontario campus, eventually adding associate dean and then interim dean titles and transferring to the Irvine campus. He became dean without the “interim” in 2013.
A heritage worth preserving
As part of the small group remaining from the pre-Brandman name-change days, he sees preserving the university’s heritage as his responsibility while hiring new faculty and developing new programs, always with an eye on the adult learner.
“Being able to work with the experts in multiple fields and watching how they create the curriculum content and infuse their teaching with passion and expertise is a wonderful experience. I’ve learned more about many different fields than I ever knew before,” he said.
He also feels a strong commitment to Brandman’s students, making sure they have a strong core of liberal arts skills and knowledge. “Several members of my family were adult learners. The opportunity to work with adult learners was a welcome one, and still is.”
“College is not all about career. It’s not about every item you learn must be about a job. It’s also about making sure you have well-rounded citizens, informed citizens and contributors to society and communities. In fact, many of our students, especially our undergrads, are already on a career track. We don’t need to teach a fire chief how to fight fires but how to excel as a leader and as a citizen.”
It’s a puzzle
When he’s not guiding Brandman faculty, promoting the liberal arts, calling dances, playing the banjo or analyzing traffic from an academic perspective, Korr can be found in Rancho Cucamonga with his wife, Christine Broussard, a professor of biology, and their son, a seventh grader. It’s highly likely they’ll be playing a board game or working a crossword puzzle.
Korr has been a member of the National Puzzlers League since he was 15, joining at the invitation of New York Times and NPR puzzle master Will Shortz.
Being an expert at puzzles also comes in handy when you’re juggling classes on more than 25 campuses, the needs of 30 full-time faculty members, 800 adjuncts and thousands of students, ages 18 to more than 65 while making sure that broad-based skills are embedded across all majors.
“Brandman is more nimble,” said Korr, referring to the university’s ability to make sure students are able to demonstrate those skills. So, apparently, is the dean.
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