Head of new health care management degree ‘commutes’ to teach

Rick Haye | University Communications

At any college or university, there will be a percentage of commuter students, those students who live in the area and choose to live at home as opposed to staying in dorms. At Marshall, commuter students travel from places such as Charleston, Barboursville, across the river in Ohio and Kentucky, and especially here in Huntington. However, students are not the only commuters at Marshall.

Professor Dr. Kent Willis is a ‘commuter professor.’ Willis teaches at both Marshall’s Huntington and South Charleston campuses. Aside from traveling from one campus to another, Willis is the director of Marshall University’s Lewis College of Business new bachelor’s degree program in health care management. Just as commuter students might face some challenges, so does Willis.

“The biggest challenge is trying to keep the need of the students,” Willis said. “I’ll have students that need to talk to me in South Charleston, some that need to talk to me in Huntington, and some that it’s very hard to talk to them in either place. I hear a lot of complaints because students in Huntington don’t want to have class in South Charleston, and vice-versa. I just have to tell them that it’s out of my hands but let’s make the most of it.”

Luckily for Willis, travel is not something he is unfamiliar with. Although he is originally from the area and he received his first degree at Marshall, Willis has worked in many different fields in many different places. His professional career began at Tennessee Gas Pipeline. Since, Willis has worked in several places, such as Cytocare in Huntington, Laboratory Corporation of America Holding in Charleston, King’s Daughters Medical Center in Ashland, and taught classes at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia before returning to Marshall. Willis said he attributes his prior work and experiences to his teaching abilities.

“It helps me immensely, it gives me experience to bring to the classroom,” Willis said. “Students like to hear real stories, and that’s what I like to tell, especially from the health care world. It seems to register well with students.”

Just like all the experience Willis has accumulated, he then pushes that towards the student. In his degree program, a practicum is a required class, and Willis said he believes that is very crucial.

“Since I teach in the health care management field, we have a practicum required,” Willis said. “It’s good because a lot of my students once they graduate get an opportunity to work where they did their practicum, and that’s a great place to start. You get some experience, you get your foot in the door, and your career path begins. Any student, I don’t care where, if you get a practicum or an internship, or even volunteer work, just to get some experience, it’s so good to put on your resume. Employers look at that and like that.”

Rick Haye | University Communications

Willis has been a professor for relatively much less time than he has spent in other fields. There certainly could be challenges to transitioning to the classroom. For Willis, he did not seem to mind at all regarding the transition. It was only positives regarding his love for the classroom. Willis is known as a very student-centered professor. As earlier mentioned, Willis said it is hard for him to meet with all the students who need to meet with him whether in Huntington or South Charleston, but that in itself speaks volumes about him. Students feel comfortable approaching him, and know that he will help them when they need it.  When speaking about the students, Willis said “I like when you can tell students really get what you’re talking about and when it’s important to them. I love when they realize that what you’re talking about they can really use in the future.”

It is really no coincidence that Willis ended up teaching at Marshall University, and is now teaching at two of the main campuses affiliated with the university. Between growing up in the area and receiving several degrees from Marshall, Willis was seemingly meant to teach here, and said he loves it.

“I really love how a lot of the people who are associated with this place tend to come back and stay at this place,” Willis said. “A lot of my colleagues like myself, part of our education came from Marshall University. It feels good to come back to educate these students, and then to see those students meet the need of this community.”

Much like the commuter students at any college or university, there are challenges for a professor who commutes from two different campuses. Willis undoubtedly faces these challenges, being split between two campuses. Willis puts the students in high priority in his health care management classes. Although this presents challenges, Willis said he embraces these challenges and does the most he can for his students. For these reasons, and the experiences he brings to the classroom, Willis is a very well respected and esteemed professor at Marshall University.