By Malen Blackmon
Sunlight glistens through windows of empty offices in X Building as biology professor Glenn Kasparian enters after a busy day of teaching. Kasparian had a hand in X Building’s design in the mid-1980s. Natural light shines into the building’s classrooms and office windows, which were strategically placed. “I wanted every office to have a window,” he said. Kasparian has taught at Brookhaven College since its founding in 1978.
Kasparian began studying medicine like his father, but realized in pre-medical school he wanted to help people in a different way. After leaving medical school, still searching for his passion, he said, he spent a brief stint as a McDonald’s employee, surrounded by younger coworkers and managers. He said he remembers telling his boss: “You can’t yell at the kids like that. They won’t want to do anything for you.”
Kasparian’s early career in teaching and working with people started at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. The institution was where Helen Keller received her education and Charles Dickens once visited during a speaking tour in 1842. Kasparian worked as a house father, caring for 25 boys with mental and physical disabilities.
He used his medical field experience to re-diagnose one of the young men in his care. After speaking to the boy’s family, he recommended a medical prescription. The child’s doctor took the advice, and Kasparian saw improvement in the child’s behavior, attitude and energy.
While at Perkins, he met Janis, his wife. She and Kasparian moved to Dallas after she earned her master’s at Boston University.
When they moved, Kasparian said, he was again unsure what career he wanted to pursue. His father suggested he move back home and continue pursuing a path in medicine, but Kasparian had his eyes set on teaching.
Kasparian began working as an instructional associate – essentially a lab coordinator – at El Centro College during the day. At night, he taught classes. He earned his master’s degree from The University of Texas at Dallas during this time. When Brookhaven opened in 1978, Kasparian played an integral role in developing the science program.
At Brookhaven, Kasparian gave his first lectures in the gymnasium, with students piling onto the bleachers. In K Building, professors instructed labs side by side with only dividers to separate them. The lack of space led to the construction and completion of X Building.
Kasparian has been described by students as caring, inspirational and hilarious. He said he loves teaching, coming to work every day and developing healthy relationships with his students. Shams Awad, a student, said Kasparian is very easygoing. “He is the type of teacher that you can talk to, and if you don’t understand something, you can ask him,” Awad said.
Kasparian said he enjoys the diversity of Brookhaven. He has had students from all over the world. Over the years, he said, he has incorporated pop culture in his classrooms to help students better understand each other and the world. He said the most interesting thing he has learned from his students is the language young people use and how it has evolved over time.
Kasparian wants students to understand their classmates and to know that while world problems might not affect them directly, the problems could affect their classmates. The person a student sits next to could be thousands of miles from their family, who may live in a war zone. So, he encourages his students to respect and support one another.
Kasparian also teaches Wu-style tai chi at Brookhaven. He used to see tai chi practiced in a local park and wanted to learn. One day, he saw an advertisement on a billboard for lessons and made a call.
Tai chi master Richard Peck taught Kasparian from his home in Garland, Texas. His doctor recommended it for health reasons, and Kasparian had always been fond of the idea of learning tai chi.
After speaking to Peck about his readiness to teach the class, he proposed the idea to the physical education director at Brookhaven, and the class was soon created. Over the years, the class’ students have transitioned from eager, youthful pupils seeking to learn an aggressive form of martial arts to older individuals seeking the type of relief tai chi provides.
Retirement is not yet on Kasparian’s mind, “I just want to keep teaching,” he said, thinking of the possibilities ahead. He still enjoys walking into X Building, teaching students and taking the time to learn from them, as well. His advice for students: “Keep your mind open.”