Mary Joan Leith is full of surprises.
As an Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Leith says that students often have preconceived notions about what they are going to learn in her classes. She likes to challenge these ideas.
“I love surprising my students with crazy stories,” she says. “I like seeing students come into a class and think, for instance, ‘It’s not really something I’m interested in.’ Then I see them get excited. I like turning on the light bulb.”
Leith recently showed parts of the British comedy Monty Python’s Life of Brian to illustrate some of the facts about Jesus’ lifetime – and the students loved it. “I like to bring in unusual things, keep them on their toes; give the class the sense that it’s going to be worth it to walk into my classroom every day.”
The connections that Leith makes with her students early in their college careers often lead to friendships that last through graduation. Upperclassmen frequently visit Leith to tell her about an instance when what they learned in her class helped them in another course, or in the case of alumni, in their professional lives.
“One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about teaching in a four-year liberal arts college is that there’s a lot of flexibility,” Leith explains. “The school is very supportive of us trying innovative things.” From eliminating paper for a more environmentally responsible classroom to developing new and unique courses, she has a lot of freedom to be creative during her tenure.
“I love teaching at Stonehill because I love my fellow professors. I love the people that I work around who aren’t professors,” Leith says. “This is a wonderful community.”