Part 1 of 2: Mike Mennard reflects on Union and his dreams for impacting families
For 13 years, his office has been home to all things pirate, endless poetry books and stacked coffee cups. For 13 years, he’s been sure to ask you “How’s your day?”, even if it was only 9 a.m..
But next school year, a new professor will find a home in the cozy corner of room 408-D as Mike Mennard, associate professor of English and Communication, sets his sights for a new adventure: full-time poetry, children’s music and children’s education.
“My strength, I believe, is building confidence in others. This made me see teaching as inspiration,” said Mennard as we reflected on his time teaching.
Mennard’s inspiration for teaching sparked when he first began instructing at Pacific Union College following his experience as a full-time musician (during which the spelling of his last name was changed from ‘Mesnard’ to ‘Mennard’). Then, after three years, he came to Lincoln in support of Michelle Mesnard, his wife, when she was offered a teaching position. He taught as an adjunct until the teacher in his position left for the Philippines, then gladly interviewed for and landed the job.
Now it’s more than a decade later, and he still speaks with passion for teaching.
“The students kept me here,” he said. “I hate graduation with a passion. It’s an exciting time, but all I see are friends leaving.” However, it’s not just any general college student that tugs at Mennard’s heart strings. Union, he explained, is different.
“Most places, the students are, you could say, infected with the cynical worldview of today’s culture. But, for the most part, Union students care—they believe,” he said. “I think they are more unique than they know.”
Of course, Mennard admits that teaching has its challenges. He especially remembers the first time he tried advising a student. “I was terrified. I thought I was going to ruin her entire life by advising her wrong,” he said nervously.
He doesn’t remember his first day in the classroom but admits being more comfortable in front of a class than at his desk. Given his bubbly personality, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
“Now, one thing they don’t tell you is how lonely teaching can be,” Mennard admitted. “You think because you’re surrounded by students and colleagues that teaching is collaborative. But, you’re primarily responsible for your classroom and material. While you have great relationships, teaching is a very individual profession.” It was different than where I worked previously in public relations where there were teams and everyone contributed to projects.”
But students and challenges aside, Mennard is appreciative of the growth Union has led him to discover over the years. He’s learned what he can do, and what his weaknesses are. “I’ve been humbled,” as he phrases it.
“I’ve discovered that it’s okay to not have an answer. I believe teachers in particular, even Christians, are uncomfortable saying ‘It’s a mystery, I don’t know.’ I think I feel comfortable saying that now than before teaching. Sometimes I just don’t know the answer, or I’m not satisfied with answers given. But, you never stop searching for that answer. And I think that’s what counts.”
Now as Mennard jumps into another track, the answer he’s searching for lies in making a difference for families through his interactive children’s music comedy group, The Mighty Magic Pants, his own poetry and utilizing the Nebraska Arts Council and others to help reach out towards children through education and music.
His summer is booked full of programs for families across the country, his school year is being planned, and he’s even begun exploring the idea of opening a family friendly comedy theatre as his end goal.
“We want there to be more for than just kids. We want families to come together and laugh, be challenged and learn together,” he said. He can’t give away many details yet, but plans to create a place for families to meet for movie nights, daytime events, educational lectures and even karaoke.
“I think giving families opportunities to share, learn and laugh together can only have a positive effect,” Mennard exclaimed. “It seems like we’re just making people laugh, but I believe we are changing the world.”
And the best part is that with this new adventure, Mennard will be able to utilize what he enjoys most: creating. He admitted that it’s scary to go from the safety of a secure job to one where things constantly change but is confident that this is what he is meant to do next.
“It’s been good for our son, Ramsey,” he expressed. “He sees us tackling our dreams rather than just being satisfied with where we are at. It’s good that we continue to grow.”
Luckily, Mennard loves teaching his Biblical Literature class enough that he plans to continue teaching it as an adjunct professor every other year.
“Students enter terrified that if we analyze the Bible as a literary document, as poetry or stories, that it will somehow suffer. But I have yet to see a student come out of that class who doesn’t have a greater esteem for the Bible,” he said.
If you still want to have a chat about how your day is going, sign up for Biblical Literature, or reach out for a long-lasting friendship. His office, even if it’s not at Union, is always open.
Emy is a sophomore studying communication.