Virginia Meyn

Humanities and English Instructor Virginia Meyn

HUMANITIES & ENGLISH

Virginia Meyn

I joined Saddleback College in August of 1979.  I’d just returned with my husband Henning and our two young children from two years’ residence in Germany.  Shortly thereafter we found ourselves headed for southern California.  Henning had been hired at the Port of Los Angeles through a lifelong buddy from his native Hamburg.  Both of us were forty-two years old, former East coast university professors facing a whole new world.

My career had begun as assistant professor of German and Comparative Literature at Brown University; Henning was getting his doctorate there.  Upon completion he had accepted a teaching position at SUNY at Albany.  So when we moved there I left my job at Brown to take up part-time teaching at universities in our new vicinity.  Understandably, I was expecting to resume a university career in California.

Fate, or Fortune, would have it otherwise!  Before we left for the West coast, a trusted hometown friend from Ohio who’d lived in Laguna Niguel and taught at Orange Coast had told me about Saddleback College.  He spoke in such glowing terms that without the shred of a doubt I suddenly knew I wanted to apply there.

Two days after arrival in California I called and spoke with Mike Runyan, then acting dean of Liberal Arts; an interview was arranged. One English 1A course was available on the Mission Viejo High School campus, the strange beginning of a new career and a new commitment to a college and community I came to love. 

The honeymoon lasted throughout my part-time years. Then the “real work” began.  With full-time hiring in 1986 came new obligations.  Since my doctorate was in comparative literature, the humanities survey courses were a natural fit in addition to my composition classes.  Two years later I was encouraged to take the Chair of Humanities and Languages position and remained so for 8 years.  During that time colleague Pat Grignon and I wrote and received two National Endowment for the Humanities grants for faculty summer study 1991 and 1992 in Chinese and Japanese and in Latin American literatures and cultures.  Liberal Arts dean Dan Rivas and Pat were great teammates, under the inimitable guidance and support of our president Constance Carroll.  Without the support of President Carroll and our faculty and staff, especially our library colleagues, our little humanities trio would never have succeeded. 

Those were unforgettably productive years, topped by a grant for a national NEH Institute in the summer of 1995.  During those years our monthly Humanities Hour was created, welcoming distinguished speakers from faculty and community, and, starting in 1988, a monthly theme-based gathering of multi-disciplinary faculty at our home to share ideas and a meal.  So many warm friendships and collaborations developed from virtually every discipline and office, ranging from our own liberal arts division and including fine arts, the social and physical sciences, library, business, and not least of all physical education. The two McCulloughs (Rich and Vince) were present at every gathering, balancing acts between, say, a DNA experiment on our living room coffee table and a Tai Chi lesson out on the patio. It was during those years that the core course of the then new Honors Program was launched, as well as team-taught seminars and lectures, and a host of exciting courses that were integrated into the curriculum by our participants in the NEH seminars. 

I feel profoundly grateful for the opportunities we were given to push beyond the limits of traditional course expectations and explore across cultural divides—and to learn ways of collaborating with our colleagues, sometimes over bumpy terrain.

Another highlight of my Saddleback career was the Women Authors class I taught over many years beginning in the early ‘80’s.  From those classes several ongoing book groups and close bonds were formed.  And I discovered a more stimulating way of teaching and sharing a love of literature than I’d ever experienced.  Our new Women’s Studies chair Anne Cox provided opportunities for creative classes, among which was “The Lives of Women Then and Now” television course she encouraged me to create and teach in my first full-time year at the college.

Speaking of opportunities, I was given a chance to take a class of our students to Oxford for a study abroad semester.  And, most special to me personally, I was privileged to teach an interdisciplinary class entitled “Gods, Clocks and Visions” with Henning during my last 6 years at the college; he had lost his former teammate and needed a replacement.  Henning would sweep in every Monday night from Los Angeles—the perennial commuter. His was the voice of philosophy and science, and mine of literature and the arts; the history of ideas was our backdrop. The late Jody Hoy was the inspiration for that class and the pioneer interdisciplinary studies program; we honor her memory. 

The challenges I faced?  The bumpy terrain to which I earlier referred?  Challenges are inevitable, particularly when campus politics and personalities become involved.  As time went on and my jobs as chair and grant director were winding down, it felt like time to wind down my career at Saddleback.  The golden era had come to an end.  I retired in 1998.

When I think about Saddleback, the first warm welcomes pop into mind, and the growing sense of community I experienced among treasured colleagues and co-workers. I’m reminded above all of my students. I will never forget a wonderfully astute and dedicated student in my very first 1A class, for example, whose excitement sealed my commitment to community college teaching, or a particular class of composition students whose eagerness and creativity awed me (and still do), or an evening class of French culture students whose papers I still keep on file; they worked so hard to bring French culture to life on the stage of our classroom, literally—and they stole my heart.  And there were many others, including the Women Authors classes; several of those students were participants in the television course.  What a ride that was!

I am grateful to each and to all for a wonderful journey.