A look inside the mind of CHHS dean Dr. Jennifer Friend


Image Credit: Rockhurst University

Elizabeth Lynch, Staff Writer

Playing piano seems like second nature to Rockhurst’s Dean of the College of Health and Human Services, Dr. Jennifer Friend. Earlier this semester, she played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

“It was the first song I learned to play on the piano,” Friend said.

Friend has been playing piano since a young age and was taught by members of her family. Her dad played jazz and classical music, and hearing him play at home inspired her to learn how to play herself. Friend’s grandmother taught piano and was the church organist, and Friend “loved to hear her play during visits.”

When it came to learning the “Moonlight Sonata,” both Friend’s father and grandmother “taught me a few measures at a time,” she said, adding she always found it to be “a soothing piece of music.”

Along with Beethoven, Friend includes Chopin among her favorite classical composers. As for contemporary musicians, she enjoys the music of Ben Folds, Billy Joel and Regina Spektor. One of Friend’s favorite jazz songs to play and sing is “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” by Fran Landesman and Tommy Wolf. While her first sonata was “Moonlight Sonata,” her favorite sonata to play is Beethoven’s “Pathetique.”

At home, Friend enjoys “playing and singing jazz or pop standards in the evening” while her husband cooks and their dog relaxes nearby. “Digby, always sits in the chair next to the piano while I am playing, and it seems to relax him,” she said.

Friend has lived in the Kanas City area since 1988. Born in Ohio, she moved around quite a bit as she grew up. In 1981, she was living in Cape Canaveral, Flordia, and “remembers seeing the first space shuttle launch.”

She graduated in 1992 from Missouri-Kansas City with a bachelor of arts in secondary English education and taught seventh graders communication arts for four years. She said “I became a teacher because I wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of my students.”

One of Friend’s favorite teaching moments came in a seventh grade literature class. Each year, she brought props and costumes for the class to perform Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” around the holidays.

When the school got a new principal, she noticed “a dramatic change in the culture and effectiveness of the teaching and learning,” which led to her decision to become a principal too. “I wanted to be able to lead positive change on a school-wide scale,” she said.

After earning a Master of Arts in secondary administration in 1996 from UMKC, Friend worked as a principal for nine years. During that time, there were many opportunities to learn about effective instruction, but she never knew what to expect, such as the day when one student brought his pet snake to school and kept it in his locker.

In 2004, Friend received a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies: urban leadership and policy studies and education, and worked as a faculty member for the school’s Educational Leadership Program which helped principals and superintendents enter the workforce. She later became an administrator in its School of Graduate Studies.

Friend sought an opportunity where she could collaborate with faculty, staff, and students and advance the college’s mission and vision. Rockhurst was a great opportunity because of its caring culture and strong core values, all of which matched Friend’s personal mission, which is to “make a positive difference in the lives of others and to support positive change in communities.”

Friend recommends current Rockhurst students to “cultivate a growth mindset and the belief that you can accomplish any goal with planning, perseverance, and positive relationships.”