Faculty Spotlight: Dr. John Hrebik
Dr. John Hrebik, hailing from a working-class family in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, overcame personal and economic struggles as a student to pursue his dream in academia. Inspired by his parents’ hard work, he deeply values education and its transformative power in shaping individual lives.
As a first-generation college student, John initially felt overwhelmed and underprepared for the sprawling campus environment of the University of Pittsburgh. However, he persevered, determined to overcome the challenges. When he embarked on his graduate studies, he was pleasantly surprised by the nurturing and hands-on experience offered by a smaller program. This shift in environment provided John with the support and guidance he needed to thrive and further fuel his passion for academia.
“The further I went into education, the more I realized that a community college was really my ideal place to teach,” shared John. “I can identify with students who are coming in and feel they’re not prepared or don’t belong. That was me.”
Having played drums throughout his upbringing, John found a unique way to connect with his students by incorporating music into his English lessons. For instance, he encourages students to select songs that resonate with them and creates Spotify playlists to set the tone for the class.
To foster personal connections, John assigns research papers that explore a student’s association with a person, place, or time through their chosen song. He also challenges his students to curate a “Soundtrack of My Life” by associating multiple songs with various events from their own lives, culminating in the creation of an album cover.
Additionally, John creatively utilizes music videos as a teaching tool to help students develop effective note-taking techniques. Through these innovative approaches, John bridges the gap between education and students’ personal interests, making learning engaging and meaningful.
We caught up with John in between beats. He was happy to sit down and share with us about his experience at CFCC.
WHAT YEAR DID YOU START WORKING AT CFCC AND WHAT BROUGHT YOU HERE?
I began working at CFCC in January of 2022. Over the course of my fifteen-year teaching career, I have taught in a variety of academic settings: a four-year university, a liberal arts college, and a technical college. Collectively, these experiences have prepared me for a career at the CFCC.
That said, I actively pursued positions at community colleges that offered a variety of technical programs, as well as transfer opportunities. In addition, I became interested in CFCC due to its emphasis on the arts; specifically, music. When I finished my Ph.D., my goal was to work at a college that would afford me the opportunity to collaborate with a music department. And, lucky for me, I landed at CFCC.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR WORK?
I love the fact that I can inject creativity into the classroom to inspire students to write about their experiences. Specifically, I can use music as a model for the writing process, which is a genre that resonates with all of my students in some way. In essence, they can look to their favorite band or artist for guidance rather than a textbook or me. For many of us, music is a natural part of our daily lives. We use it for motivation, comfort, understanding, stress relief, and healing. Music is woven into the backcloth of most days, making it the perfect medium for encouraging authentic, passionate writing from my students.
WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING, WHAT DO YOU DO?
I absolutely love strength training. For me, working out provides a way to clear my mind in order to generate new ideas. In addition to lifting weights, I enjoy yardwork and being in nature. And, of course, I spend much of my free time playing and practicing the drums.
WHO HAD THE GREATEST INFLUENCE ON YOUR EDUCATION AND/OR CAREER PATH?
Hands down my parents. They have always encouraged me to chase after my dreams. Moreover, they instilled a tireless work ethic in me at a young age, which enabled me to establish myself as a teacher/scholar.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
I remember two specific pieces of advice that I carry with me to this day. The first came from my grandfather when I was twenty. I distinctly remember being home during summer break after my sophomore year of college. I was confused and overwhelmed at the idea of choosing a career path. Specifically, I was interested in areas that did not seem to check a “career box.”
He said, “Do not be afraid to try to pursue your interests, as well as different areas of study. Individually, they may not seem connected, but trust me, there will come a day when these interests and experiences come together.”
And, twenty-six years later, he could not be more right.
The second piece of advice came from my older brother, Jason. I had just graduated from college and I was still struggling to find my way in life. At the time, I was working as a personal trainer and playing drums in a local band.
I was helping him and his wife move into a new apartment and he pulled me aside and said, “Johnny, you have a world of opportunity in front of you. It doesn’t matter if you want to continue personal training, tour with your band, or choose a completely different path. Whichever one you choose, though, just be sure to do it with passion and enthusiam. Find a career that utilizes your skills, interests, and creativity. And, most of all, find a career that inspires you each and every day to work far beyond your perceived potential.”
WHAT IS SOMETHING NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT YOU?
I was a personal trainer for eighteen years. I started training clients while in college, then I continued working full-time as I completed my M.F.A. and my Ph.D. Personal training was the BEST preparation for being a teacher.
I wrote the majority of my dissertation while training clients in the gym. I would jot down notes as I trained clients when an idea would pop into my head. Then, at the end of the day, I would enter these notes into a Word doc and begin crafting the given chapter or section from it.
DEGREES & CERTIFICATES
Ph.D. in Composition and Rhetoric, M.F.A. with a concentration in Poetry, and B.A.
National Council of Teachers of English and Phi Theta Kappa