Dr. Helen MacLennan didn't take her first college class until her mid-30s. Little did she know she'd become a popular business management professor at Saint Leo University less than two decades later.
Known to many as Dr. Mac, the 55-year-old serves as an assistant professor of management. She currently teaches undergraduate through doctoral courses for Saint Leo.
A third-generation native of Tampa, she comes from a military family. Her dad was a command sergeant major in the U.S. Army and her grandfather also served. She now resides in Lakeland, Fla.
The mother of two has a son, Kyle, and a daughter, Lauren. She also has six grandchildren. Plus, Lauren is a current Saint Leo University student enrolled in its online bachelor's in healthcare administration degree program.
Ascending to Higher Education as an Adult Learner
Like many adult learners on various paths in their lives, MacLennan pursued a college degree at age 35.
"I was a single mom with two kids at the time," she confides. "I thought to myself that I had to do something about the situation in order to care for my children."
That's when she started taking night classes at the University of Phoenix location in Maitland, Fla. She went on to earn her bachelor's in business management. She didn't hesitate to pursue graduate studies and earned an online MBA from Marylhurst University in Oregon. Her Ph.D. in management is from Sullivan University in Kentucky.
For several years, MacLennan worked at small banks in the Orlando area. At one point, she endured an event that ultimately changed the trajectory of her career.
"When I was about 35, I was working in a bank," she recalls. "I was shot at by a bank robber. Thankfully, I was not injured. But after that happened, I decided to think about a different career."
Following her time in banking, she moved on to doing real estate development and property management.
Her first introduction to teaching came when she volunteered to teach English as a second language at a local adult education center.
"I had students from France, Russia, Colombia and Mexico," she recalls. "I was actively seeking out opportunities to teach others."
She briefly taught management and ESL at Everest University in Orlando and served as an adjunct business instructor at Sullivan University.
Coming to Saint Leo University
MacLennan applied for a full-time teaching position at Saint Leo University in November of 2014. Tim Lowder, the business department chair at the time, gave her an opportunity. She started teaching there in the summer of 2015.
MacLennan teaches undergraduate, graduate and doctoral classes in Saint Leo's Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) online degree program. She teaches a few classes in this online DBA program and also serves as the chair on several students' dissertation committees.
Classes she has taught include Principles of Management, Leadership, Professional Development, Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship. Most of her classes have between 15 and 25 students in them.
She teaches a capstone course in the MBA program. One recent class had students conduct a unique practical project.
"They were studying business strategy analysis," she says. "They got to perform an analysis on the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce and the Ybor City Saturday Market in Tampa. The students created reports for each organization and provided them with these analyses. The two organizations said they were extremely helpful, and it was a great hands-on experience for the students."
Her Approach to Her Students
Since Dr. MacLennan primarily has adult learners between ages 30 and 60 who are currently working, she is very strategic in how she approaches each class.
"I know most students have worked all day in their jobs when they come to class in the evening," she says. "It takes a lot to keep them engaged at times, so I try to use lots of different activities and won't stay on one topic for too long."
Interaction, rather than lecturing, is the cornerstone of her teaching style.
"I try to keep lecturing to a minimum," she says. "I give them in-class assignments and group projects so they're digging for information and applying it. After a student has worked all day, the last thing they want to do is listen to their professor drone on."
Her students all have her cell phone number and can contact her with any questions. She also holds Zoom meetings in which the students can connect by voice or video to stay engaged with each other and feel part of an actual class.
"I think it's important to connect with your students both inside and outside of class because they should understand that you absolutely care about each one of them," she says.
From her vantage point, seeing something click within her students' minds is most rewarding about her role as an educator.
"I get excited when they get excited about learning. You see that lightbulb go on and they get it. Later on, they tell you how they have applied something they learned in class at work."
In addition, thanks to an entrepreneurship course she has taught, several students have communicated to her how that experience played a key role in them starting their own business.
Lending a Helping Hand Across Higher Education
In addition to teaching at Saint Leo University, MacLennan serves as a site evaluator for the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). This is an accrediting body for educational institutions and their business degree programs.
"I lead a team going to other universities and audit their processes," she explains. "I get a good idea of how other schools operate specifically in terms of their business degree programs."
She has visited and examined the business degree programs at Walsh College in Michigan, Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, Mount Saint Mary's University in California and even Charisma University in the Turks and Caicos.
In one of her online DBA classes on applied research, she works with students on writing research articles. Several of these articles have been published in academic journals and one was presented at a diversity conference at the University of Texas in Austin.
She has also published a number of academic articles on unintentional plagiarism, toxic leadership and organizational civility.
Words of Gratitude
MacLennan sums up her current career of getting to make a difference as an educator.
"I feel like I'm really lucky and grateful to be able to do what I do at Saint Leo," she says.