2 different paths, 1 destination: Mother-daughter teaching duo brings passion for education, nursing to UMSL

by | Feb 8, 2017

Jodiey Cochran never intended to follow in her mother's teaching footsteps – until her own UMSL nursing journey gave her the chance.
Judith and Jodiey Cochran, UMSL

Judith Cochran (at left) has been the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor in Tutorial Education at the University of Missouri–St. Louis for 18 years, though her career in academia started long before that. Her daughter Jodiey never intended to follow in her teaching footsteps – until her own journey in the UMSL nursing program resulted in the chance. Now they’re both almost as devoted to their respective students as they have always been to each other. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When people first hear that Judith and Jodiey Cochran both teach courses at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, they might be tempted to think, “Well, of course. Like mother, like daughter.”

The Cochrans’ story, however, is not as simple as that. While they both now lead classrooms at the same university, their individual journeys to get there have been quite different.

Judith Cochran is a professor in the College of Education at UMSL. In fact, she’s the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor in Tutorial Education and – the truth is – much of her life would make great material for a richly detailed memoir.

She has stories to tell about gathering neighborhood children together for lessons when she was as young as four. In high school, she was president of her school’s chapter of the Future Teachers of America. She began her career as a high school teacher in a crime-riddled section of Los Angeles, and also taught literacy skills at an all-male probationary camp in the city before relocating to Arizona for graduate study.

Later, she became a Fulbright Scholar in Egypt and lived and taught throughout the Middle East for three years.

She’s also traveled and lectured extensively in India and Europe, been a guest speaker at Oxford and the University of Bath and has published numerous books and articles on the intersectionality of democracy, education and religion – a topic she’s exceptionally devoted to.

And all of that is just for starters.

She came to UMSL 18 years ago because she saw the Des Lee endowed professorship as a unique opportunity. Through her role as director of the Regional Institute of Tutorial Education, she would aim to better the lives of urban school children by way of the community partnerships her position would allow her to foster.

She keeps a framed photograph of Lee on her desk in Marillac Hall.

Judith is an educator because it’s the only career she’s ever truly wanted.

Jodiey Cochran teaches in the UMSL College of Nursing. A pediatric nurse practitioner, she is also an UMSL alumna who earned both her bachelor’s and master’s in nursing from the university and is now hard at work on her soon-to-be-finished doctorate.

She was only in the 7th grade when she and her mom settled in St. Louis. By the time she was ready for college herself, though her mom told her she could go anywhere she wanted to go, she says she willingly chose UMSL because – after moving many times in her younger years – St. Louis felt like home.

She started out by majoring in civil engineering, then switched to biology and even entertained the idea of veterinary school. She worked as a veterinary technician and had her own dog-walking business. In the midst of all of these first-year-of-college changes, she met a friend who was pursuing nursing. Seeing her friend’s commitment, taking a job at a hospital herself and learning about all of the ways nurses have an impact through their compassionate, detailed care made her change her course.

Once she did, she was hooked.

As her mom proudly points out, she became steadfastly dedicated to nursing and to UMSL. She became president of the Student Nurses Association and was on the dean’s board as a student adviser. She kept going and gained admittance to the College of Nursing’s incredibly selective master’s program.

Through all of this, teaching was never really on her radar – until she graduated and her alma mater sought her out to return as an instructor.

The chance to give back to other future nurses convinced her to give teaching a try.

Jodiey is an educator because life presented her with the opportunity.

Each of the Cochrans’ different paths makes a certain kind of sense now to Judith as she reflects on their journeys. Teaching, she says, draws people to it in two ways.

“I believe some people are born for it,” she explains, “and I think others find it because it integrates a lot of things in their life into a purpose that is serving others.”

She further adds that she’s not surprised at all that serving others is something her daughter excels at.

“She really has done some remarkable things through her care and compassion for people. I’m so proud of her, and I’m really fortunate that she is the kind of woman she is.”

Jodiey, too, is equally proud of her mother. Though she says her mom was certainly a great role model for how to be successful in the world of academia, she was much more than that.

“The most important thing she has taught me is how to love unconditionally,” Jodiey says of Judith. “It may sound cliché, but she not only gives that type of love to me, but to everyone around her. The way she cares for her friends and family extends to her students as well. She wants everyone to succeed and have the best quality of life and education. I hope I can give back to her the way she has given to me.”

According to Judith, Jodiey already has given back, simply by being herself and striking out on her own path. Their differences, she says, have been one of her life’s greatest blessings.

“I think oftentimes, as women, when we have a daughter,” Judith says, “we think they will be a clone  – a carbon copy of who we are. That hasn’t been the case with us at all, and I must say it has been really lovely. It’s been wonderful to get to see the world through her eyes. It’s a special sort of double vision that only parents can experience.”

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Jami Hirsch

Jami Hirsch