Instructor Linda McKean is a Shining Example of Making the Most of Change

By: Jeff Nazzaro

UCR University Extension Instructor Linda McKean When Linda was in third grade, her mother, raising five children as part of a six-decades-long marriage, began her own academic career at RCC. She was thirty-six. It was unusual enough for the time that she received a special award as a “woman of distinction” for reentering the educational system at a nontraditional age. She went on to earn a Master’s degree at forty-five, along the way impressing in Linda not only the importance of education but also a long view of pursuing one. “Lifelong learning, in my house, was something inbred in us. We were never afraid of change because my mom taught us to see it as a new opportunity,” Linda says.

“Lifelong learning was inbred in us.”

Linda, a straight-A student through every level of school she’s completed, knew there simply wasn’t enough money to go around for college; so, after graduating from high school at sixteen, she enrolled in cosmetology school to get a job that would allow her to save money to further her education. “I liked cosmetology so well, I was good at it, and I was making good money, so I said, ‘I’ll just stay with this until I don’t,’” she remembers.

“I graduated from cosmetology school and opened a beauty salon in Sacramento…’

Along the way, she got married, moved to Sacramento, and owned and operated her own beauty salon while helping her husband run a jewelry store in Reno. Following an amicable divorce at thirty-five, Linda “sold everything,” moved back to Riverside, and started college --proving that there are indeed second acts in American lives, and yes, you can go home again.

She began studying Manufacturing Technology in Quality Systems at RCC, leaving short of an Associate’s degree, but with a UCR University Extension certificate, to begin work as an inspector at Inland Empire Foods.

After two years, she moved into the medical devices industry as Quality Manager for Rolenn Manufacturing. In 2007, she moved to a new medical device manufacturer, for whom she traveled all over the world, spending time in Asia and South America, helping grow the company. It was there she cut her teaching teeth, directing Root Cause Analysis seminars to the company’s overseas manufacturing partners.

“At 35, I moved back to Riverside, started college, earned my first UCR Extension certificate in 1993, a Bachelor’s degree in 2004, my Master’s in 2013, and started teaching one class a quarter…”

Prior to that, in 2004, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Business and Management and later, after a bout with cancer, her Master’s of Management in 2013. Linda started teaching one class a quarter at UCR University Extension in 2016 while still working full-time, before focusing on her third act—educator—while continuing to study, earning certificates in Total Quality Management and Project Management, in addition to becoming a Project Management Professional (PMP).

“That’s what UCR University Extension’s programs are all about,” Linda says. “If you’re not learning, you’re going backwards. Look at me: I’m sixty-six years old, I’ve had multiple careers, and am now an instructor.” This almost continuous immersion in learning has kept her not only up to date with rapid technological, methodological, and modal changes as a teacher, but also in tune as a student.

That, combined with her life’s experience, grants Linda a keen insight into her students’ needs. “To me that’s essential,” Linda says, “because if you don’t know your audience, how are you going to teach them? The largest percentage of my students are coming back to school just like I did when I did my first certificate at UCR Extension back in 1993. I hadn’t been in a classroom since 1972 when I graduated early from high school, other than to get a beauty license. So, I feel them.”

“That’s what UCR University Extension’s programs are all about. If you’re not learning, you’re going backwards”

Linda ensures her students are not only engaged but also equipped to make the most of that engagement. As such, she keeps herself eminently available for help to make sure her students are able to access and utilize everything they need to succeed. “I spend my time helping my students develop their skills so they can learn,” Linda says. “If they can’t use the learning management system, they’re not going to stick with the program. Retention is everything. You have people investing in themselves, and the minute they get frustrated they’ll leave, so we as instructors have to be cognizant of where our students are.”

Linda, who turns sixty-seven this fall, shows no signs of slowing down. She has long said that at seventy she will evaluate where she is and if she wants to keep teaching. For now, the online teaching modality is providing her with an incentive to fulfill another of her longtime goals, to travel, while continuing with her passion for teaching at UCR University Extension.

“I’m one of the fortunate ones now in that I teach because I want to,” she says. “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a great life and a lot of fun. I’m definitely a child of change.”

And the next act is still to come.