With more than 12 years of online teaching experience behind her at the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC), Leah Westerman is a veteran professor who also mentors fellow UAGC instructors. She has mastered the art of instructing via the always-evolving platforms, and she has what it takes to ensure her students succeed in her classes. Plus, she has unique work experience that adds to her varied expertise.
You might be surprised to hear that Westerman, who is lead faculty in the Bachelor of Arts in Human Resource Management (BAHRM) and Master of Human Resource Management (MHRM) degree programs in the Forbes School of Business and Technology® at UAGC, used to be a practicing attorney. Some of the observations she made as an attorney in Pennsylvania contributed to her decision to make the switch to online higher education.
Westerman currently teaches the following business and human resource management classes at UAGC:
- BUS 303: Human Resource Management
- BUS 311: Business Law I
- HRM 610: Employment Law and Labor Relations
- BUS 123: Business Writing with Confidence, Clarity, & Style
She is also a faculty advisor for the UAGC Forbes School of Business and Technology® Society for Human Resource Management Chapter, which is a virtual student chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the world’s largest association committed to human resource management.
In addition to being a faculty advisor, Westerman is a member of the Forbes School of Business and Technology® Center for Women’s Leadership. Their mission is to provide a community for networking and professional development and to make recommendations to organizational practices through existing and novel research. Their statement: “We envision a world in which all women are empowered as leaders.”
Westerman received her education in the state of Pennsylvania, including a Juris Doctor from the Dickenson School of Law at Pennsylvania State University and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a concentration in Economics and International Business from Drexel University. She started practicing law in Pennsylvania in 2004 and defended clients against medical malpractice lawsuits and later practiced civil litigation and business law.
While working as an attorney, Westerman was chosen to write for the “Penn State Environmental Law Review.” Her article was titled, “Infertility Caused by Exposure to Environmental Endocrine Disruptors.” She had been researching adoption rates and why they were so high, which led to Westerman wondering why an increased number of women couldn’t get pregnant.
“People were becoming infertile due to environmental issues,” Westerman recalls. “Then they would mess with the environmental toxins found in consumer goods — plastics, chemicals, cleaning supplies, and more. They can cause infertility in both men and women.”
Westerman said she started researching whether or not these companies should be liable, and that work led to her being chosen to write the research paper.
After working for nearly 10 years as an attorney, Westerman started to consider a new path.
“Toward the end of my legal career, I was doing a lot of employment cases,” Westerman recalls. “Being involved in the litigation, you realize how important the HR role is, and following the law.”
It was also around that time when Westerman says she made a discovery.
“I decided to teach in higher education after seeing how the faculty were helping to change students’ lives,” she explains.
Leah Westerman, left, with her supervisor, Dr. Katie Thiry, Department Chair of Organizational Studies at UAGC.
“As a working adult, I saw friends and family who went back to school to get their graduate degrees, and I was intrigued, so I thought, ‘I could teach people. I’m compassionate.’ I thought that I would be a good fit,” she recalled.
We recently spoke with Westerman, who elaborated on her career as an online professor of human resources management. Read on to learn more about this highly respected UAGC professor.
Getting to Know Leah Westerman
UAGC: What’s your teaching philosophy?
Westerman: My teaching philosophy is to strive to ensure students learn the fundamental content of the course and to communicate effectively with students, as we are an online university. My objectives are to help students achieve their educational goals and prepare them for future career pursuits.
Also, I keep open lines of communication with all my students. We need to be available for our students — whether it’s a Zoom, a call, or an email — and also appreciate that they do have other stuff going on in their lives.
UAGC: What do you enjoy most about teaching?
Westerman: The interaction with the students and teaching them about topics they are not familiar with and helping them reach their goals, whether inside or outside the classroom.
UAGC: What’s your philosophy when it comes to education?
Westerman: I want to be a professor who leads students to achieve their education goals as well as one who is caring and understanding.
UAGC: What’s your advice to students on succeeding at UAGC?
Westerman: I think communication is key. If there’s no communication, there’s potential to be issues. We have to be up front about everything, from grading to policy, we have to be open, and listen to the students.
UAGC: What excites you about working in the field of teaching HR and HR management?
Westerman: HR is a great field as we are able to have an influence on the employees as well as the organization and help people in their professional development and to reach their career-related goals.
HR is working with people and you need to know how to communicate and deal with people on a daily basis. I think it’s constantly evolving, as we’ve seen through the pandemic. How we work and how we handle things has changed drastically in the past 18 months.
UAGC: How does your HR experience relate to your instruction at UAGC?
Westerman: I’ve seen both sides, from the employee and the employer. I think I can bring my real-world experience into the courses.
UAGC: Do you have any HR advice that you’d like to share with students to help them achieve success?
Westerman: Never give up. We’re all going to have challenges, but we can’t just give up when we have one. Challenges are what make us stronger.
I also believe students should develop the right competencies for the career-related field of their choice and also apply their classroom experiences and learning materials to real-world career-related experiences.
UAGC: You’ve taught online now for more than 12 years. What’s the advantage of having so much experience under your belt?
Westerman: I think the advantage right now is I don’t have to learn anything new in the online setting. We saw so many of these brick and mortar schools that quickly converted to remote, and the professors were struggling to teach. I know what the students are expecting. Even though the platform might change, the heart of the classroom is still the same. I think communicating with students and setting expectations up front is key to student success.
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.
Charlene Melson is a regular contributor to the Forward Thinking blog.