Human services professors teaches with passion

In Features

She sits comfortably, looking as though she doesn’t have a care in the world, with an enthusiastic smile and fluffy brown hair, wearing a black vest with beads hanging from it, black corduroys and black studded pumps that sport a peace sign on each side.

Dr. Kristi Kanel looks nothing like your average teacher. Those who know her best describe her as “colorful.”

She is upbeat and an overachiever; she does more in one day than most people accomplish in a week. She is one of those teachers that promises to illuminate the classroom even through challenging material. She is fun, caring and brings both happiness and optimism to all those she encounters.

Her secret to looking and acting young? Surrounding herself with young people. The hour-long spin classes she teaches multiple times a week also help.

“I work out at the gym everyday,” says Kanel. “I have been teaching spin classes for 10 years. Love them! They are so upbeat and high energy. I used to do it all the time anyway, so I figured, hey, why not get certified and paid for it? I consider it my mid-life crisis.”

Kanel began working as a part-time human services professor at Cal State Fullerton in 1983. In conjunction with teaching part time, she was a full-time therapist and going through a Ph.D. program at USC. Her private practice as a therapist lasted 25 years. She gave it up in 2005 to become a full-time teacher and start writing books.

Working at CSUF for 28 years, Kanel has been a big advocate for the Department of Human Services. In the 1990s, when the program was still growing, she started the “Inreach-Outreach” project, in which she volunteered to visit different high schools and community colleges to inform incoming students about the major and recruit future students.

Although she was raised in Buena Park, Kanel spent most of her youth playing in the sand at Huntington Beach. She was a part of the baby-boom generation and was raised in the typical “Leave it to Beaver” family.

“I was a flower child, a peace-knick, a rock ‘n’ roller,” Kanel says. “I loved the Beatles, loved to dance, I was a straight-A student and a bit of a tomboy.”

Kanel took drama classes in high school. She thought she wanted to be an actress but admits that she found a happy medium in teaching. She says she can still be an actress as a teacher.

A few of her many accomplishments include majoring in human services and minoring in Spanish, becoming bilingual, getting a master’s degree in counseling, becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist, receiving her Ph.D. from USC’s counseling psychology program, having three published books (with numerous editions), creating her trademark model “ABC Model of Crisis Intervention” and having many published studies.

She is happily single and adds her divorce to her list of successes. Her 18-year-old son is a senior in high school and has applied to 12 different universities, proving to be as excessively dedicated as his mother.

Kanel is always on campus and likes to be here. On top of teaching four classes, she is currently secretary of the Academic Senate and an active member on several university committees.

“Dr. Kanel is very committed to serving on behalf of the university,” says Diana Guerin, Ph.D., chair of academic senate and a child and adolescent studies professor. “One thing that really impresses me is her commitment to providing a quality existence for both students and faculty on campus and her willingness to speak. She is a very strong advocate for students.”

Kanel has been awarded Outstanding Professor nine times in the last 13 years. She believes she has been nominated because she is always available to students. She is a very hands-on teacher and her love with her interaction between her students is abundant.

Mikel Hogan, Ph.D., the chair of the Department of Human Services, has worked with Kanel for 28 years and has known her the longest on campus.

“She is highly published,” says Hogan. “She is upbeat and has received so many awards for being an outstanding faculty member. She has been outstanding in every dimension. What can I say? She’s just got it going on!”

Teaching for over a quarter of a century, Kanel smiles when reminiscing on the past and her days of using chalkboards and reel-to-reel films. Although she sheepishly points out that she is old school and will never teach an online class, she does admit that through Blackboard, her laptop, Blackberry and iPad, even when she leaves campus, her work never ends.

Passionate about dancing, every Thursday, before her class about human service delivery to Latinos begins, Kanel plays Latin music and teaches her students a new dance move. At the end of the semester, during their Cinco de Mayo party, she awards extra credit to those who dance and show off what they learned.

“I want to get them into the culture,” Kanel says. “The class is not easy, but I try to make it fun.”

Kanel says she does take her job and the material very seriously but is determined to have fun while doing it.

“I don’t give a lot of A’s. You have to earn your grade, and I am a very objective grader,” Kanel says very seriously. “Being a good dancer does not guarantee you pass the class.”

After realizing the seriousness in assurance of her last quote, Kanel smiles, as if to lighten the mood and says, ”But dancing will get you three extra credit points at the end of the semester.”

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