“It’s a good idea every once in a while to start something, to learn something that you’re an absolute beginner at . . ."
Written by Jennifer Tatum, Nonfiction MFA 2013
Photo by Jacob Boll
At age 51, after more than two decades of working with computers in the financial industry, Joyce Greening realized that the career path that she had chosen was not the path she wanted to be on. She no longer wanted to work in a bank, no longer wanted to work in Information Systems. She was singing with a low-budget opera company at the time, in a small theater, and everyone pitched in with their various skills to put on the show. Greening knew how to sew, so she began stitching costumes and eventually helped to design costumes. She says the experience was “life-changing,” that in that moment, while performing with this small opera company, she decided it was time for a change, and that change was to pursue a degree in Theater.
The degree would be her fifth, having already completed a BA and an MA in Russian History and Literature, an MBA specializing in Information Systems, and a Masters in Library and Information Sciences. She enrolled in a class at Columbia and became enthralled with costume design and construction. It wasn’t long before she had taken every class in theater costume design, and she started taking classes in the Fashion Studies department, where she was eventually asked to join the faculty as an Adjunct instructor of Garment Construction I and Advanced Garment Construction. She has yet to complete the fifth degree, but says if she could, she would continue taking classes at Columbia forever.
Greening has been teaching at Columbia for ten years now and she says, “What I really love best is teaching. I’ll teach anything.” For twenty-one years she taught bank employees and customers about computers and information systems, and that was always her favorite part of the job. She says that having a career with many twists and turns has given her a chance to “be a beginner,” that it has taught her a great deal about the different ways that people learn. As a verbal learner, she sometimes struggles with learning new skills that ask for a more physical learning style. She recently began playing classical guitar, a process that brought her back to the role of beginner, someone struggling through the process of learning a new skill. She says, “It’s a good idea every once in a while to start something, to learn something that you’re an absolute beginner at, because it’s a humbling reminder of how frustrating it can be when it seems that everyone else is getting it and you’re not.” Her students have a wide range of skills—some are beginners and some already have strong sewing skills, so it is her job to recognize this and to create assignments that are challenging enough for the more advanced students, but that give beginning students the space for mistakes and learning.
After many years in the sometimes combative environment of business, what Greening loves most about Columbia, about the faculty and students, is that she feels a sense of teamwork between colleagues. In her classroom, she often sees her students helping one another if they forget a certain fabric or tool. She notices that the faculty and staff actively participate in their departments and in the communities of their chosen fields, and the energy between faculty and students is one of support and everyone genuinely wanting each other to succeed. About her own teaching style, she says that her aim isn’t to “catch mistakes,” but for everybody to end up with garments they’re pleased with and to have learned useful new skills along the way. She says with a laugh, “I certainly don’t want to be anybody’s mother, but it wouldn’t hurt my feelings to be everybody’s benevolent aunt.”
As a life-long learner and student of the arts, Greening is an active participant in cultural events around Chicago. She and her husband are members of the Anthropology Alliance at the Field Museum where she is on the programming committee currently working on a 2013 event for Chicago Designer Mario Pinto, showcasing Pinto’s current exhibit at the museum. Greening is also on the Shedd Aquarium Gala Committee and is very excited about this year’s “007” theme, as she is an enthusiastic collector of James Bond memorabilia.
When she has a spare moment, she and her husband love music, the theater, the opera and she says that if she could pursue another degree, it would definitely be one associated with Music. In the summers, you can find her out on Lake Michigan, drifting about in a little red tugboat named Bigfoot Dreams.