Chris Hutchison

Chris Hutchison

For Chris Hutchison, the seeds to a lifelong love of education took root in the late 1970s when he attended preschool through second grade at an unconventional school in the San Fernando Valley.

“I went to the Woodland Hills Farm School, which featured a natural environment complete with farm animals,” says Chapman University’s Assistant Dean of Students. “Being outdoors observing systems of life epitomized experiential learning at its finest. Learning through personal experience allows students to absorb concepts and learn in a sustaining way that can lead to personal and professional growth over a lifetime.”

Teaching a Love of Learning

Today Hutchison plays a key role at Chapman developing student love of learning through a wide variety of experiences. He oversees many student initiatives, including cross-cultural engagement, student organizations, the student union, the fitness center, fraternities and sororities and civic engagement initiatives.

Hutchison’s responsibilities, which include teaching undergraduate students in Chapman’s College of Educational Studies’ Leadership Studies Program, offer him a chance to incorporate experiential learning, including teaching the winter interterm course, Leadership Through The Eye of the Storm. Since 2008, as part of this course, he and the Assistant Director of Civic Engagement Initiatives, Justin Koppelman, have taken students to New Orleans every January to explore leadership and civic responsibility through the lens of the lasting impact of Hurricane Katrina. The trip includes working on home rebuilding projects with the nonprofit organization Rebuilding Together.

“The experience is powerful and transformational for everyone, including myself,” says Hutchison. “Students learn what it means to be members of broader society. They return to translate what they experienced so they can make a difference in their own communities. Spending time with a different group of students each year and seeing the continued changes in New Orleans also leads to my learning and development.”

Global Citizenship

The New Orleans trip offers Hutchison a chance to teach, learn and better live the concept of Global Citizenship—an ideal that Chapman strives to impart to students and which he feels is particularly important. As a matter of fact, Hutchison, who has a Master of Science in Education from the University of Oxford and a Master of Arts in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego, is so invested in the idea of civic learning and democratic engagement that his dissertation is on the subject. He is currently working toward receiving his Doctorate in Education with an emphasis in Leadership Studies from Chapman with a planned graduation of May 2016.

“The theme of my dissertation focuses on the concept that education—especially higher—has a role and responsibility in shaping a democratic society. Universities like Chapman aim to educate students to become democratically engaged to serve larger public ends beyond their own advancement. To accomplish this goal, the boundaries of classrooms are extended into local, national and global communities.”

Hutchison’s dissertation, which he just started, will focus on what occurs when the classroom extends into the surrounding community. To facilitate his dissertation, he developed an undergraduate leadership course designed to enhance student citizenship within the broader context of democratic civic engagement. The class will focus on current Old Towne town and gown issues between students and residents.

Hutchison’s theory is that actively involving students in an analysis of tensions occurring locally between students and the community will encourage the consideration of multiple perspectives and enhance greater understanding of the issues. He hopes students will become involved in problem solving that translates to positive change for everyone, as well as gives them lifetime skills.

“Chris is the perfect person to be writing a dissertation on this subject and teaching the accompanying class,” says Penny Bryan, Professor of Scholarly Practice in the College of Educational Studies, Faculty Coordinator for the school’s Masters and Leadership Development Program, a member of the founding faculty for the Leadership Studies PhD. program and chair of Hutchison’s dissertation committee. “He is a wonderful student and teacher, who walks the talk of being a good citizen. Thoughtful, fair, ethical and extremely hardworking, he also lives in Old Towne and is invested in making the community the best it can be. He possesses an authenticity that gives him credibility with students and has a knack for calming them down when they become passionate. This encourages reason that can lead to the best course of action for all involved.”

Dean of Students and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Jerry Price, echoes Bryan. “It’s great when staff is so committed to their work with students and yet have fun together. Chris’s personality makes it easy for this to happen. He has a positive attitude, but at the same time is very genuine. He is also a beloved team player who has very few ego needs; when staff members are assigned to projects or committees, everyone wants Chris, because he is such an active participant without any need to dominate discussions or priorities.”

Lifelong Learning and Leadership

Hutchison was born in Van Nuys and grew up in the San Fernando Valley as an only child with a large extended family that he credits for shaping who he is as a student, educator and person. He developed his love of learning and leadership from a combination of educational landscapes. After his farm-based learning experience, he attended Catholic schools through graduate school. “What I took from my parochial education was the intersection between values and education, and that is where the heart of my academic interests is now in terms of civic engagement,” he says.

In junior high, Hutchison became interested in leadership when he ran for student council and won. He held positions in student government throughout high school and college.

Joining the Chapman Community

After earning his Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies in 1996 and his masters in 1998 from the University of San Diego, Hutchison landed the position of Assistant Director, Student Activities & Organizations at Chapman. In 2001, he decided to take a position in new student programs at San Diego State University, but after a year decided that Chapman’s smaller school environment was better suited to the academic work he wished to do, so he rejoined the university in 2002 to oversee Greek life, community service, campus activities and advise the student government. Then in 2004, the opportunity to complete a graduate degree at Oxford University in England presented itself.

“It was a difficult decision to go to Oxford, because I loved my position at Chapman,” says Hutchison. “After some consideration, I decided to take the opportunity to attend Oxford, which was one of the most challenging, fun and overall rewarding experiences I’ve had.”

When Hutchison came back to the States in 2005, his position at Chapman was still available, so he returned to the school. By 2010, he became Director of Student Civic Engagement; then Director of Student Engagement in 2013 and this year took on his current position as Assistant Dean of Students.

“Chapman is the perfect fit for me,” says Hutchison. “I thrive when I’m challenged to learn and grow and given opportunities to make a difference. The educational setting at the university is energized and focused on empowerment and asking innovative questions about ways to work collectively to make the world a better place.”

Published in the Sep/Oct 2015 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Julie Bawden-Davis, Photograph by Mike Escobedo

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