Nancy Grass Hemmert: Life in the fast lane

Nancy Grass-Hemmert's interest in communication studies started in third grade, when her mother allowed her to sit in on a psychology class she was taking at Los Angeles Valley College. "They were talking that night about perception," said Grass-Hemmert. "And I still do the perception lectures in all of my classes because that really was a profound awareness for me, an awakening, where I thought about seeing the world from somebody else's perspective."

Grass-Hemmert's thirst for recognizing the way other people saw the world and the way they all came together through different points of views ultimately peaked her interest in what would be her future job as Chair of Communications Studies at Santa Monica College.

However, not wanting to be just like her mom, she started college as a business major before switching to communication studies.

While studying at California State University, Northridge, Grass-Hemmert's mom recommended she pay a visit to some old professors when her passion was rediscovered.

"I walked into the communication building and I knew instantly I was home," she said. "I knew instantly that, oh my goodness, I am a communications major, I am just like mom."

Immediately changing her major to communications studies, Grass-Hemmert described her change in paths as a "know it when you feel it kind of thing."

But as passionate as she was, the road to her ultimate goal did not pave itself so kindly.

"I studied a lot. I was kind of an intense student," she said. "I don't advocate that students forgo everything else in their life for school. I really believe there should be balance but I did not have balance, I was kind of nuts."

After a failed college attempt at the University of California, Los Angeles, Grass-Hemmert went back to school with no specific goal in mind, only knowing that she wanted to teach.

At the age of 30, already married with children, she decided to compose a 10 year plan in which at the end she would have finished undergraduate school, received a masters degree, and attained her PhD., all the while teaching part time on track for a full-time tenured teaching position at a community college.

But even with a rejuvenated determination and a drive to succeed, Grass-Hemmert's road to her ultimate passion took another left turn, facing another tough situation to overcome.

In the midst of all her work, Grass-Hemmert came out after meeting the woman who would go on to become and remain her wife for the next 16 years.

"One day she walked into my life and everything went crazy to hell and I fell in love," Grass-Hemmert said.

But with this newfound love came a heavy set of emotions to handle, making it difficult for Grass-Hemmert to manage the twists and turns of her life throughout this time, nearly succumbing to the pressure of it all.

"I came really close to dropping out of my graduate program when I was trying to make the decision with what to do with my life and it was very challenging," she said.

Her husband was also one of the few people who supported her decision, encouraging her to follow whatever feelings she had at the time. The separation from her husband left no hard feelings between them and they have remained good friends to this day.

The decision did not sit well with some of her friends however, but with the support from her ex-husband as well as additional support from her children and other family, she was able to turn a would-be roadblock into a motivator and refocus the track she had started.

As far as finishing her Ph.D program, Grass-Hemmert recalls her oldest son being her biggest push. He no longer had Ph.D aspirations himself because of her postponement of school, so she made a deal with him that would require her to attain her doctorate's degree in time for him to finish middle school.

Not ready to let her son give up his dreams, Grass-Hemmert emerged from school with a dissertation and a doctorate's degree in communications studies.

"His grades immediately went back up," said Grass-Hemmert. "It matters what you do for your kids."

Fast forward a few years and Grass-Hemmert now sits atop the media and communications department at SMC. As both the department chair and a professor, Grass-Hemmert wants her students to know there is no obstacle too insurmountable when you have the right push.

"Once you decide what it is you want to accomplish, nothing can stop you but yourself, so just keep going, " she said.

And for people who feel their time for seeking life goals has passed, Grass-Hemmert urges them to see things in a different perspective.

"Five years from now or ten years from now, you are going to be that much older either with or without the degrees you want. Time is going to pass either way," she said. "In the end, you are going to get to that age where you will either have done it or you don't, so it's up to you."

With new developments at SMC, including the reconstruction of the Academy of Entertainment Technology campus set to open in 2015, Grass-Hemmert does not believe in putting exact time tables on the projects, believing that whether they go through or not, the department will be ready to take on anything.

SInce Grass-Hemmert became the chair in the Fall of 2012, she described the time as an unforgettable ride.

"I love everything about my life," Grass-Hemmert said. "There are always rough spots but I am so grateful to Santa Monica College. I still feel like I won the lottery when I got this job."