Through the combined use of wit and colorful anecdotes, Richard McMillan leads his Latin American history course in a discussion on the Siege of Tampico, Mexico.
McMillan has been a professor of history since 1996. During these 20 years McMillan has learned a number of tricks to keeps his students interested and attentive.
“It isn’t that history is boring,” McMillan said. “History professors can be boring and so I just try not be dull.”
McMillan is aware that if a student is laughing at a joke he made in the beginning and end of the section, then they were likely listening to the lecture in between the punchlines.
Freshman Robert Vanecek, 18, has not settled on a major. As such, this is first semester taking a class with McMillan. Vanecek is impressed by how easily McMillan is able to deliver the course information.
“[History] justs comes easy for him and it seems like it just keeps flowing,” Vanecek said. “It’s kind of like a river, it just keeps on coming.”
Though Khazzaka prefers McMillan, he has taken a history course with a different professor. The styles of the two instructors stood in stark contrast of each other.
“I’ve taken one history class that was a little less interesting. The teacher wasn’t really interactive with the students. He just gave a lecture and that’s about it,” Khazzaka said.
McMillan believes that when there is good atmosphere inside the classroom and students are laughing at his jokes then they will more likely pick up their books and study.
“If you enjoy your class you’re probably going to study and that is kind of my objective, to get you to study so you will learn,” McMillan said.
English professor Charles Sheldon has been at Pierce College for 28 years and has worked alongside McMillan for the duration. In that time, Sheldon has always been impressed by how much McMillan cares about his students.
“He was very engaging and energetic day after day,” Sheldon said.
It is Sheldon’s personal belief that part of his colleagues success can be attributed to his teaching method.
“Each teacher has a particular way. And he’s very artful,” Sheldon said describing McMillan’s teaching method.
Freshman Jacob Barron, 17, notes how unusual yet unique McMillan’s delivery of class lectures is. Balancing the wealth of knowledge with colorful side stories, McMillan streamlines the lessons so that they do not overwhelm his students.
“When he goes over things that happen he says why it happened, how and when it happen, and who was involved. He is very indepth and he really does drill the information into you,” Barron said. “He really does convey the information really well.”
Another trait that sets McMillan apart from other instructors is his peculiar view on tardiness and how he handles it. He would rather have a student come late than not showing up he says.
Some faculty members, as McMillan describes, lock their door when class begins. This is a practice the professor refuses to implement as he feels it is potentially more harmful than being a few minutes late.
“If you’re late, the doors locked and you can’t get in. You’re not learning,” McMillan said. “You’re locked out of learning.”
Previous to McMillan becoming a molder of minds, he dabbled in several careers before realizing his calling.
McMillan began his education at Los Angeles Valley College, where he received his Associate’s Degree. He took a 14 year gap and later went to California State University, Northridge to where he earned his bachelor’s degree in History.
McMillan later returned to finish his teaching credential and earn his master’s degree.
McMillan first began as a teacher at Jordan Middle School in Burbank for about 4 years. And then was picked up to teach at Pierce in 1996.
For McMillan, teaching was never the original career goal. His father owned a Volkswagen parts and accessories and his original career goal was to own his own auto parts business and to race cars.
“I was the first auto parts store in Burbank to sell Castrol engine oil. It was like wow, almost exotic,” McMillan said.
That all changed when the industry changed. Chain stores, like AutoZone and Pep Boys, started to come up, and the shop couldn’t keep up with the competition. McMillan had to make a choice either continue to run a dying industry or find something to do that will make a living. During that time McMillan had two kids, no insurance, no retirement, and no savings. So he closed the business he couldn’t sell and went back to CSUN.
“I can be a history teacher,” McMillan said.
During his vacation, he and his wife go to ballparks around the country. He has been to 22 of the 30 Major League Baseball Stadium. And has visited 35 of the 50 states. McMillan’s Faculty Office is filled with souvenirs and He says this year while visiting a ballpark, he will also planning on visiting civil war sites.
But when he comes back, he says he can’t wait to return to teaching.
“Can’t wait to get here. I try to teach summer and winter. If I didn’t teach summer and winter, I’ll go crazy. I’ll be stopping people on the sidewalk saying ‘Can I tell you about the election of 1912’,” McMillan said.