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DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: Designing the Future of Online Education

Fall 2019

With no prior experience, this DCE alumna parlayed an E-Learning Instructional Design certificate to notable success at USC.

Kimberly Brower had just started working at USC when she ran into Tom O'Malia, a former mentor who was teaching at the Marshall School of Business. She asked why the acclaimed business school hadn't moved into online education. “Great question,” he said. Turns out, they were making plans to do exactly that, so he asked Kimberly if she'd be willing to help.

She jumped at the chance, but there was one big hurdle: Kimberly had taught online classes before but had no experience in instructional design, an essential element to designing, building and implementing effective online curricula.

So she went looking for a top ID program and hit the jackpot through UCI Division of Continuing Education.

“I came across an MA program at San Diego State, but I had already finished a master's in professional writing at USC, so that didn't interest me,” Kimberly said. “But I found this certificate program, E-Learning in Instructional Design offered by DCE, and it seemed directly applicable to what I was doing at Marshall School. And it was amazing. I was able to apply what I was learning practically the next day after starting class.”

She earned her certificate in 2013 and today she's Assistant Director for the Marshall School's Food Industry Program, responsible for a wide array of duties including designing and delivering online courses. Kimberly promoted herself from a pro bono contractor to her current position in just a few years, helping to elevate the school's online presence to national prominence.

Kimberly's rapid rise and notable success earned her a Distinguished Alumni Award at the 2019 UCI Lauds & Laurels ceremony in May, an honor that preceded her first foray as a DCE instructor in the new Instructional Design for Higher Education program.

“Getting the award was an incredible honor — and thankfully I didn't have to make a speech,” she said, laughing. “I just grabbed the plaque and sat back down.”

A skilled multitasker, Kimberly recently found time to chat with us about her journey and the various paths and roles she took along the way. At the end of the day, she'll tell you, it all connects.

“[T]he DCE certificate program definitely helped set me up for success.” Kimberly Brower

Let's start at the beginning, when you earned a BS in Entrepreneurship from USC. I know you eventually became a writer.

I originally wanted to be a journalist, but I was inspired to take the entrepreneurship course when I was walking down a flight of stairs at Bridge Hall on USC campus, in a dingy part of the building. For some reason I had this poem I really liked stuck in my head, the one that has the “March to the beat of your own drummer” passage. Well, as I got to the bottom of the stairs I passed a poster on the wall for the entrepreneurship program that said, “March to the beat of your own drummer.” It seemed like serendipity, so I enrolled.

What did you take away from that program?

In my undergrad thesis, titled ‘Reserve X,’ I wrote that someday it could be possible to, say, reserve airline tickets from a computer you have in your home. Keep in mind this was in 1980, before PCs. But that's what my paper was about, being able to do tasks like reserving tickets and such on some kind of a home computer. Might've been ahead of my time, but it goes to show that having a good idea isn't enough.

Tell me about your previous UCI Extension screenwriting classes. You must have had a movie or two in mind.

I wrote several screenplays. I just loved writing fiction and telling stories. Actually, I took four or five courses, as many as UCI had to offer in 2004. What I learned in those classes is applicable to what I do today. Effective storytelling is such an essential part of teaching and communication in general.

So just seven years ago, you were working for a medical center writing news spotlights and scripted colonoscopy videos. What made you decide to make the leap to instructional design?

It's really not as much of a leap as you might think. When I graduated from USC in 2008 with an MA in professional writing, I was hoping to finally become a journalist but couldn't find a job. Great time to graduate with a writing degree in ‘08, right? I couldn't find work, but I found that I could apply a lot of what I learned as a writer to instructional design. My advice to the instructors is to move away from lectures. I know they know a lot, but don't tell me, show me. That's the basis of good storytelling and teaching. Good writing structure can be applied to so many things. I often draw up storyboards to see how everything flows in an online presentation.

Can you give an example?

For a business taxation course, I designed an interactive video program where the student takes the role of the tax professional and is presented with different, complicated scenarios. In each, the student must choose what to do next and move on to the next scenario.

Getting that Distinguished Alumni Award must have been exciting. What was it like to get that sort of recognition?

It was a very humbling experience to see the other alumni being honored. I kept thinking, ‘Why am I here? There's someone who's a genius at robotics, someone who's working on a cure for cancer, taking up homeless causes. Why me?’ [laughs] But the DCE certificate program definitely helped set me up for success. Our program at Marshall is one of the top-rated in the country.

Along with your job at USC you'll be teaching for the DCE's Instructional Design for Higher Education program. How will you find time to do both?

There's no conflict at all. I do best when I'm multitasking. When I started implementing our online programs at USC, I was also earning my doctorate in educational psychology while renovating an old Victorian home in downtown Los Angeles. So I feel like, if anything, I've scaled back.

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