Teach in London this summer? Yes!

london students

Looking forward to exploring London this summer with these six students: Clockwise from left: Rainshine Heffner, Ella Fredericks, Anna Nelson, Yohana Lewis. Rachel Jones, Samantha Thomas.

It’s really happening. Next month, I’m heading to the United Kingdom to spend two weeks teaching a communications class in London, England.

I’ll be leading a group of six students from the Portland area to one of the world’s most influential cities to study Media Literacy, using London as our classroom.

On Friday, July 13th (no superstitions for me), I’ll fly nonstop from Portland to Heathrow Airport. Arriving mid-morning Saturday, I’ll take the Tube to the furnished apartment waiting for me in the Kensington district and await the arrival of my students over the next couple days.

We’ll start off with a walking tour of the immediate neighborhood walking tour, a formal orientation at our classroom, a doubledecker bus tour of key sights and sites, and a traditional British afternoon tea.

From there, we’ll launch into a jam-packed schedule of guest speakers, site visits to advertising and public relations agencies, an online-only newspaper office, a local television station and (fingers crossed) a nonprofit agency that trains low-income minority youth for jobs in the TV and movie industries. We’ll also take the train one day to tour the BBC studios in Birmingham, west of the city.

We’ll visit the Houses of Parliament, tour the Museum of Brands, meet with a group of U.S. journalism students who are also studying in London this summer, and take to the streets to document our learning experiences through photography. We’ll also make time for group dinners, some sightseeing, and whatever else comes our way through serendipitous cultural experiences.

I will do all this while getting paid as if I were teaching a summer session class on campus. Sounds too good to be true, right?

And to think that this trip has its roots in a popular Midwest game known as cornhole.

***

I wrote about the possibility of teaching internationally late last year, after I’d put together a syllabus and daily schedule at the invitation of Portland State University’s Education Abroad office and then gained the necessary approval of the Department of Communication.

Read “Media Literacy in London” here.

I had expected that recruiting 12-15 students would require a lot of time and energy and follow-up, but I never imagined the process would have so many ups and downs and discouraging moments.

Initially, dozens of students expressed interest and asked for more information, and a handful of them immediately opened a formal application. As the months went by, the number of serious applicants rose and fell as students backed out, some out of concern over the program cost and others because they landed a summer job or internship.

It was touch-and-go, but ultimately Portland State and a partner organization called CAPA, a Boston-based company that works with universities on international programs, gave the go-ahead with 6 students in late May.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The students — four women, two men — met each other for the first time at an orientation session last week and we have another meeting planned in early July. I can see now that having a smaller group than originally planned is going to be just fine. Even with just six, there are enough challenges coordinating schedules and communicating among ourselves.

Five of the students are from Portland State; one is from Washington State University Vancouver, where I also teach. Though some have previously traveled to Canada, India, Peru, New Zealand and the Dominican Republic, it’s the first time in London for all of them — just like me.  We’ll be there July 16th to July 30th.

***

I’m still tweaking the syllabus and daily schedule of activities, but the overall purpose is clear. This will be an immersive experience for both students and professor as we roam the city, meet with experts in all communications fields — journalism, PR, advertising, entertainment — and compare what we know of U.S. media to what we don’t yet know about the U.K. media.

None of this would be possible without the people in PSU’s Education Abroad office who provided encouragement, support and guidance at every step along the way.

Hannah Fischer is the Faculty-Led Program Coordinator and the one I’ve worked with most closely on matters ranging from recruitment to program budget and travel.

Adrienne Bocci is the program’s Graduate Assistant. (Well, actually she’s just finished her masters in Educational Leadership & Policy and is moving on.) She sat in on some student interviews and information sessions with me. and was a big help to students as they filled out their applications.

Jen Hamlow is the director of the Education Abroad program. And this is where the cornhole connection comes in.

hannah-jen 2

Hannah Fischer, left, and Jen Hamlow of Portland State’s Education Abroad office, provided encouragement and support for my London teaching proposal.

Four years ago, a mutual friend, Leroy Metcalf, recruited both of us and another woman to join his four-person coed team during a six-week season played at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Northeast Portland.

Cornhole is basically an indoor version of horseshoes. Instead of pitching metal shoes at an upright post, players toss beanbags, filled with raw corn kernels, at a small, sloping target made of wood and set on the floor. Just as you earn points in horseshoes for a “ringer” or a “leaner,” you get points in cornhole if your beanbag drops into a hole cut into the wood or blocks your opponents from doing so.

We all had fun and went our separate ways. But then last year, when I was preparing to begin a new job as internship coordinator in the PSU Communication Department, I heard from Jen. We met for coffee and she explained how her office helps students obtain international internships — and then she went on to ask if I’d ever considered teaching internationally.

“Huh? Me? How? When? Where?”

Jen told me that it was pretty much up to me. Along with regular professors, adjunct instructors like myself can submit a so-called faculty-led proposal for whatever and anywhere they want to teach, including course title, location and duration. And just like that, the seed was planted. Now it’s borne fruit and I’m preparing for a two-week adventure like nothing I’ve experienced before.

Thank you, Leroy, for inviting me to play cornhole. Never would have met Jen otherwise. Never would have had this opportunity.

 

Advertisements

Gliding to graduation

PSU Comm programJune is a month for graduations — from kindergarten and fifth grade to middle school, high school and, of course, college.

On Friday, June 15, it was my pleasure to be in the room for a Communication Graduation Celebration sponsored by the Department of Communication at Portland State University.

Faculty, parents and friends turned out to show their support for more than 200 students — 180 undergraduate majors, 30 minors and 15 master’s degree candidates — at a Student Recognition Ceremony honoring them and a select group of scholarship winners.

Commencement exercises for most PSU students are scheduled for this Sunday, Father’s Day, but some schools and departments are holding their own, smaller ceremonies in advance of the big event. Such was the case with the Communication Department.

On a campus teeming with 27,000 students, the Comm Department has about 550 majors. Perusing the Class of 2018 list, I was pleasantly surprised to realize I knew almost half of the new majors and minors either from teaching them in class or supervising their internship during the past fall, winter or spring quarter.

There were plenty of star students to celebrate, including:

  • A graduate student who went back to school at age 47 and completed her masters this year at age 55. She is set to teach three classes next fall as an adjunct instructor at a local community college.
  • Another master’s student who inspired her grandfather to return to school this term and take a 2-credit class so he could obtain the bachelor’s degree he’d fallen short of decades earlier.
  • A scholarship winner with an interest in journalism who’s already just completed his junior year at age 19.
  • A home-schooled student who graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA and is set to marry her fiancé this summer.
PSU jeff robinson

Jeff Robinson, chair of the PSU Communication Department, announces a scholarship winner during Friday’s graduation celebration.

In addition, I was delighted to see a student who labored to get a C- in the first class I taught two years ago as she took on both full-time school and full-time work while struggling with depression. She came to me in near tears when she lost her textbook (they can be expensive, you know) so I loaned her mine to get through the rest of the term. She gave me a handwritten thank-you note back then, and on Friday she recalled the loan of the book. Degree in hand, she has lined up a summer internship and a job at a local construction company. I’m so happy she prrsevered

***

Friday’s program was the first of its kind I had attended since joining the faculty two years ago. As the last day of the spring quarter, Friday also marked the end of my second academic year at Portland State. As milestones go, I suppose that’s pretty modest. But, coupled with a similar two-year milestone at Washington State University Vancouver, where I also teach, it feels pretty damn good to be at this point. And as I look ahead to what comes next, I can’t help but feel excited.

But let’s not get ahead of things. Indulge me with a quick look back at the past year.

Fall 2017:

At PSU, I taught my bread-and-butter class, Media Literacy, while also taking on a new role as internship coordinator in the Comm Department.

People often ask me what I mean by media literacy. It’s not the study of journalism, per se, though it certainly involves the goal of better understanding the historic role of the U.S. press; the enduring news values that fuel the mainstream media; and the changing technology that has ravaged newsrooms and revolutionized the way content — yes, content (text, photos, videos, audios, graphics) — is delivered.

 

Where media literacy once meant being able to read the written word, it now means being computer literate: specifically, being able to access, analyze, create and distribute a message.

It means being able to follow a narrative and character development on TV or in a movie or podcast. It means being able to grasp the meaning of logos, symbols, emojis and hashtags. It means creating your own media — a Facebook post, an Instagram photo, a YouTube video, a tweet, a meme — and sharing it with others. And, lastly, it means being able to discern who is sending which message for what purpose — not such an easy task in a world where manipulation lives side-by-side with the pursuit of the truth.

My class of 50-plus draws a mix of students, mostly Comm majors who take it for credit toward their bachelor’s degree, but also a fair number of others who take it as an elective. Having those extra perspectives — from folks who are studying film, business, criminal justice, advertising, etc. — is what makes for richer discussions and fascinating assigned essays.

Winter 2018:

Along with another section of Media Literacy at PSU, I taught Sports and the Media at WSU Vancouver, a dual load that meant I spent two mornings a week on each campus.

As someone who broke into journalism as a high school sports writer, and someone who follows sports of many kinds, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed teaching Sports and the Media. Again, it’s not a journalism course that’s meant to turn students into novice reporters, photographers or broadcasters.

Rather, it’s a course that I teach from a sociological perspective, with sports as a reflection of society at large. There is no aspect of modern culture that doesn’t touch sports and that’s what it makes the course so compelling. Think of it as sports and the intersection of (fill in the blank) civil rights, feminism, athlete activism, sexual and racial discrimination, crime, technology, economics, politics, Title IX. The list is endless.

In this class, we spend far less time discussing wins and losses and statistics and far more drawing connections from past to present. Examples: The Black Power salutes on the medals stand at 1968 Mexico City Olympics and the take-a-knee movement that spread from the NFL to backlash from the White House. Pioneering athletes like Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King and Colin Kaepernick. Old-school print media coverage of athletes as heroes versus 24/7 coverage in the age of Twitter, where athletes speak for themselves, break their own news and exercise their rights as free agents.

 

WSUV operates on the semester system, so I had a 16-week term versus 11 weeks at PSU. The extra weeks meant I could invite seven guest speakers to educate my 30 students on what it’s like to work in journalism, media relations, broadcasting or for a professional team. Short version: You need to have curiosity, passion, self-initiative, a multimedia skills set, excellent writing and interviewing chops, a tremendous work ethic, and a very thick skin. Students were shocked, though they shouldn’t have been, by the meanness and sheer volume of vulgar insults hurled at women journalists by irate fans and online commenters.

I owe a big thanks to this semester’s all-star lineup: Lindsay Schnell, USA Today; Jamie Goldberg and Tyson Alger, The Oregonian/OregonLive; Tom Goldman, NPR; Chris Metz, Portland Timbers and Thorns; Rich Burk, Hillsboro Hops and NBC Sports; Casey Holdahl, Portland Trail Blazers.

Spring 2018:

I didn’t teach this quarter at PSU, so once classes ended at WSUV in late April, I was able to take my foot off the gas for the past six weeks. Compared to peak busyness in the winter, it felt like a gentle glide to the end of the term. Still, there was plenty to occupy me as the Comm Department internship coordinator.

During the school year, I had a total of 40 students who registered in the internship-for-credit class. The number rose from 8 in the fall to 14 in the winter and 18 in the spring. Supervising these students was a pleasure because I could see how they were applying lessons learned in the classroom to the workplace. At the same time, I could see their personal, as well as professional, growth develop as they gained insights into their own personalities and working styles, as well as their ability to adapt to supervisors’ expectations and widely differing office cultures.

PSU interns

From left, 2018 winter quarter interns: Laurel Zarcilla, Joryn Harris, Mabinty Olson, Samantha Garcia and Emilee Caldwell. All except Sam are graduating this year. Joryn won the Communication Department’s Outstanding Academic Achievement Award.

The options that are available with a Communications degree were pretty evident as students fanned out across the city to work in public relations, marketing, event planning, social media, video editing, web site design and more. PSU has no journalism major, but that’s fine so long as students leave with a solid foundation of writing, research and communication theory.

Fun facts about the interns: Of the 40, 31 were women (78 percent) and 18 were students of color (45 percent). For the summer term, at least 7 are signed up and there may be two or three more before classes start again June 25.

None of the work I did with the interns this year would have possible without the support and guidance of my Canadian-Ukrainian colleague, Tanya Raomaniuk. She is the Comm Department’s academic and career advisor, and during the previous school year kept the internship program going until it could be handed off to me.

In turn, I am handing off the program for now to Marisa Miller, a well-regarded and newly minted master’s degree candidate with an outgoing personality. Marisa will be supervising the interns during the summer quarter because I will be away from campus.

PSU marisa miller

Marisa Miller knits unicorns for family and friends when she’s not working on her thesis.

And where will I be? Across the pond, teaching Media Literacy in London for two weeks beginning in mid-July.

More on that in an upcoming post.

Thanks, Dream Team

PWA Dream Team Expo

The PWA Dream Team (sans our leader, Kevin Jeans Gail) raises a glass following the NW Youth Careers Expo in March 2018. Clockwise from left: Kristen Kohashi, George Rede, Sherri Nee, Susan Nielsen and Kari Smith Haight.

If it’s true that all good things must come to an end, then today is as good as any to face that bittersweet fact.

After two years of working alongside some of the smartest, most creative and dedicated people around, I’m getting ready to close the books on my time at the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance.

I started there in the fall of 2016, just nine months after I had taken a buyout from The Oregonian/OregonLive, intending to transition into semi-retirement. Instead, I wound up getting an adjunct teaching gig at two local universities and falling into a wonderful part-time opportunity at PWA, where I worked in service to a great organization with a great cause: helping local high school students prepare for college and career.

As I explained a year ago on this blog:

“With literally a handful of employees, [PWA] builds relationships with local employers and educators to serve up a steady diet of career-related learning experiences that introduce area high school students to jobs and careers that might have eluded them otherwise. The school year calendar is loaded with career days, field trips, job shadows, internships, mock interviews, classroom visits — and the NW Youth Careers Expo, a signature event that brings 150-plus employers and 6,000 students together for a day of career exploration at the Oregon Convention Center.”

The two years have passed quickly and I’ve been enriched, professionally and personally, by my time with PWA.

Today marks the final meeting of the board of directors during the 2017-18 calendar year. The board will elect new officers, say hello and goodbye to new and departing board members, and welcome a slew of guests to a year-end gathering at a downtown architectural firm.

I’ll wrap up my work in the following days, clean out my desk, return my laptop, and turn my attention to other things, including a busy summer calendar and several loose ends related to my college classes.

But first, a look back at some of the work and all of the people at PWA — our self-described “Dream Team.”

My September 2016 blog post:  “My other job”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

***

I was hired as the communications coordinator, the only part-timer in an office with three other employees: Kevin Jeans Gail, the founding executive director; Susan Nielsen, the program and communications director; and Kristen Kohashi, the program manager.

While Kevin and Susan worked constantly to create and nurture partnerships in the education and business communities, Kristen focused on graphic design (both print and web) and served as a one-woman IT department in addition to managing an after-school mentoring program.

I played a supporting role in the areas of grant writing, social media, database management, and writing for our blog and newsletter. Occasionally, I’d get to represent PWA at local schools and colleges, and other times I’d recruit friends and former co-workers to attend and/or help out at the NW Youth Careers Expo and other events.

Last fall, we were thrown for a loop when Kevin had to take an extended medical leave from work. Susan stepped up as interim executive director and essentially did two jobs  (her own and Kevin’s) for the next several months.

Sherri Nee, a former journalist who helped start two nonprofit projects in Portland, had just joined our team in September, primarily helping with Career Days and recruiting employers to participate at the Expo and a related breakfast event. Shortly after, Kari Smith Haight came aboard as program coordinator, assisting with grant writing and helping Kristen manage the after-school mentoring program.

Sometime during my first year with PWA, we dubbed ourselves the Dream Team. It was tongue-in-cheek, of course, but the nickname really did embrace two things — the fact that we accomplished so much with so few people and resources; and the happy reality that our personalities meshed so harmoniously.

As a group, we tend to be extroverted introverts (except for Kevin, whose outgoing personality and passion for kids makes him among the most well-connected individuals in the city). More importantly, we work efficiently, without ego and in total support of each other and our target audience — the kids.

That dynamic continued with the hiring of Sherri and Kari, who fit in seamlessly with their self-deprecating humor and outstanding work ethic. My personal bonus? Being the only guy in a room with four other women and hearing so many stories about husbands, children, pets, food, fashion and personal foibles, real or imagined.

As for the work, my favorite memories include:

  • Seeing the diverse faces of Portland teenagers light up on a field trip to the PCC Swan Island Trades Center, where they worked in teams to wire a simple electrical circuit, and at Oregon Health & Science University, where they learned about potential careers in radiology, speech therapy and other areas other than medicine and nursing.
  • Speaking to a journalism class at Parkrose High School with Molly Harbarger, a former newsroom colleague who’s half my age and still working as a reporter at The Oregonian/OregonLive.
  • Recruiting caring adults of all ages and backgrounds to volunteer in various capacities, including as writing mentors, classroom speakers, mock interviewers or Expo exhibitors. Some friends came to show their support simply by attending the PWA Expo Breakfast and then making generous financial contributions afterwards.

For all of the above, I am thankful. I’ve had the privilege of working with great people, of  meeting a lot of great community leaders who serve on the PWA Board, and of hanging out with energetic high school kids and their teachers and principals.

george-susan

George and Susan during a Career Day visit to The Oregonian/OregonLive, where we worked together for several years in the Editorial Department.

I’ll miss driving out to the PWA office in Southeast Portland three afternoons a week. But I know I’ll also welcome the opportunity to claim that time for myself. With another year of teaching ahead of me at Portland State and WSU Vancouver, it will do me good to let go of one thing in order to focus on another.

Thanks, Dream Team!

 

Justice for George

parking tickets

The contents of these envelopes helped ease the sting of two parking tickets.

For me, one of the most annoying sights in daily life is the bright yellow envelope tucked under a windshield, signaling that I’ve been ticketed for overtime parking at a city-owned meter.

I’ve largely managed to avoid them while teaching at Portland State University in downtown Portland, but I got nailed twice within the same week late last year — and that left me feeling pretty frazzled.

So imagine my delight when two envelopes of a different color (white) recently arrived in my mailbox, each bearing a document with an official seal of the State of Oregon Judicial Department. They were refund checks, and they arrived without a note of explanation.

But I knew what they were: Redemption! Double redemption!

I could have paid the $44 fine for each of the citations and just moved on. But considering that I typically pay $6 each time I park on the street (the hourly rate is $2), it would have cost me a total of $100 just to do my job on those two half-days. That was too hefty a price in my view, so I appealed.

Yes, I’m one of those who makes time to write to the court to ask for leniency, knowing I can’t take more time to appear in person before a judge.

I admitted that I overstayed the time limit — though it wasn’t by very much either time. But I argued that I was doing “meaningful work” that ran longer than I anticipated; I wasn’t just hanging out at a coffee shop socializing.

In the first case, I taught my regular 8 am class on a Monday, then returned in the afternoon – well outside my regular office hours — for two additional one-on-one meetings and a group discussion with four students. The latter ran long and I returned to my car to find I had received a ticket.

In the second case, on a Friday,  I came in to the office for a single meeting with a student – on a day that I normally am not even on campus – and again got caught up in a discussion that went longer than planned. Another ticket. Sigh.

I ended the letter with an apology and a pledge to adopt a new strategy to avoid further parking citations. I now set an alarm on my desktop computer and on my mobile phone so that I give myself an audible reminder before my metered time expires. It’s working quite well.

I’m happy the judge considered my appeal.

Each refund check was for $20, which nearly cut each $44 ticket nearly in half. With the combined $40, I took Lori to dinner. Forgiveness never tasted so good.

Postscript: Twice last week I pulled into a parking spot on the PSU campus and twice I was rewarded with “free” time.

On Monday, a woman who was leaving the space ahead of me waited until I settled in and offered me a parking receipt with about 90 minutes on it. Sweet.

parking stub

Free time? Why, yes, thank you.

On Thursday, I had moved my car from one spot to another one and was approaching the parking station with my debit card when a man called out, “Hey! Can you use 16 minutes?”

“Sure can,” I replied. “Just what I need.”

Maybe the parking gods have a way of evening things out in the long run. Thanks, generous strangers!

“I Am Muslim”

hijab-fashion-for-muslim-girls-2015-7

What is it about the hijab that makes people so uncomfortable?

Only one student stepped up to the challenge in the Media Literacy class I taught during the just-finished winter term.

It was an extra-credit assignment: Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed piece and show proof of publication.

Sofia Velasquez, a soft-spoken junior who sat in the back row, wrote a short piece that she submitted to The Vanguard, Portland State’s student-run newspaper.

It appeared in print last month under the headline  “I am Muslim.”

During the term, we talked about “vulnerable audiences” such as children and “vulnerable subjects” of news coverage such as the mentally ill, the frail elderly and undocumented immigrants.  Individuals belonging to certain racial and religious minority groups (such as Muslims) also can be vulnerable because of overly simply, often negative characterizations that fail to take into account individual differences.

As Sofia wrote:

“In the U.S., I represent perhaps what many people don’t want to admit. I represent the new America: an America that is composed of multiple identities, languages and cultures. I have come to discover the most harmful and most dehumanizing thing to do within our society is to make generalizations. The harm that comes from putting people into certain boxes and labeling them is far more complex than we often realize.”

Take one minute (really, that’s all it takes) and read her piece: “I am Muslim.”

Then imagine you are me, standing at the front of the class and looking out at Sofi, chatting with her study partner, Phuong, an international student from Vietnam. Of course she is. A Spanish-speaking Muslim woman befriending someone who’s also perceived as an outsider in mainstream America.

Sofi is majoring in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and minoring in Communications. She’s barely 5 feet tall, give or take an inch, but she stands tall in my eyes.

Such a fine piece of writing, with a simple lesson: Get to know people beyond the stereotypes.

Photograph: Saloni Health & Beauty Supply

 

Media literacy in London

london flyer front

A flier for the international program I hope to teach next summer

I keep pinching myself, but it’s looking increasingly likely that I’ll be teaching my favorite subject in historic London next summer.

London, England? That’s right.

Long story short: Portland State has an Education Abroad office that encourages professors to propose an international program of their choice, and then provides all the staff support needed to make it happen.

Adjunct instructors like myself are equally encouraged to submit a so-called faculty-led proposal, including course title, location and duration. With the encouragement of a key contact in the Ed Abroad office, I quickly came up with a syllabus and tentative daily schedule for a two-week course in a leading global media center.

The department chair approved the proposal and in late November, Ed Abroad officially gave Media Literacy in London the green light. The course is set to run from July 16 through July 30, 2018.

jen hamlow - george

I met Jen Hamlow in January 2014 when a mutual friend recruited us to play on a coed cornhole team. She’s the director of PSU’s Education Abroad office and the one who asked me this year if I’d be interested in teaching internationally.

 

***

Students have until March 15 to apply. The goal is to select 12 to 15 students to spend two weeks with me using London as our classroom for exploring similarities and differences between the U.S. and U.K. media — not just in journalism, but in advertising and entertainment media as well.  We’ll get fresh perspectives on immigration, terrorism, social media, media economics, privacy rights, Brexit and the royal family.

If all goes as planned, we’ll visit public relations and advertising agencies, a newspaper and a local TV station. We’ll meet with U.K. journalism students and their professors; tour historic Fleet Street, where British journalism was born; and visit the Houses of Parliament.

 

We’ll have a handful of guest speakers, share several meals together, and get out into the city to create individual photo albums linking the images to the key concepts in our discussions. We’ll also make time to see world-famous tourist attractions like Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye.

All this in one of the world’s most popular, important cities — a sprawling, incredibly diverse metropolis that serves as the cultural, media, fashion, entertainment and political capital of the United Kingdom. Imagine New York, Hollywood and Washington, D.C., all rolled into a single city of 10 million people and you have London.

I’ve never been to London; my one and only trip to Europe was five years ago when Lori and I visited Italy and Slovenia.

Now all I need are the students.

***

According to the Ed Abroad staffers I’ve been working with, I have reason to be encouraged this course will fly.

Even before it went “live,” students were inquiring about the dates and cost of the course. Last week, I teamed with the Ed Abroad office to hold the first of at least three information sessions planned between now and the end of February. Yesterday, I participated in a conference call with a Boston-based company that specializes in working with universities on the logistics of their international programs.

By enlisting their support — as well as that of the Ed Abroad office — I can focus on the academic aspects of the course while our partners make all the arrangements for housing, ground transportation, field trips, museum admissions, orientation sessions and other logistics. I’ll have a furnished apartment while my students will be housed two to a room. I have no idea yet where we will be located, but all that will be worked out in the coming months.

londontownFor now, at least six students have taken the first step of opening an application file. At least four dozen other students have expressed interest through sign-up sheets following classroom presentations I’ve made and an Ed Abroad fair I attended during the recently completed fall quarter. I’ll continue to market the course when the winter term begins in January.  I’ll have to renew my passport, too.

I’ve tried not to get overly excited, but it’s hard not to think ahead. I imagine myself immersed in central London, accompanied by a dozen intellectually curious students, and it seems unreal. Maybe the Londontown wall calendar I purchased yesterday will bring good fortune.

London photographs: Wikimedia Commons

My other job

pwa door

Behind this door in a modest school building office, five staff members, including myself, work for the nonprofit Portland Workforce Alliance.

A year ago at this time, I felt like a first-grader walking into a new job at the Portland Workforce Alliance, an education nonprofit in east Portland.

This week, I felt like a second-grader returning to that job. (Well, maybe a better comparison might be a high school freshman becoming a sophomore.)

What’s the difference?

Last fall, everything was new. With a year of experience under my belt, everything is a lot more familiar — the work, the people, the acronyms, and the physical surroundings. I’ll get to each of those in more detail, but first a few words about the organization.

Portland Workforce Alliance is a small but muscular nonprofit, leveraging modest financial resources and a ton of volunteer energy to make a big impact in the lives of countless teenagers in the Portland metro area. Founded in 2005, PWA has a well-defined mission of connecting young people to great jobs.

With literally a handful of employees, it builds relationships with local employers and educators to serve up a steady diet of career-related learning experiences that introduce area high school students to jobs and careers that might have eluded them otherwise. The school year calendar is loaded with career days, field trips, job shadows, internships, mock interviews, classroom visits — and the NW Youth Careers Expo, a signature event that brings 150-plus employers and 6,000 students together for a day of career exploration at the Oregon Convention Center.

CHECK OUT A ONE-MINUTE VIDEO OF THE 2017 EXPO

PWA does all of this Career Technical Education work as a complement to our public schools. The organization has contracts with three metro-area school districts — Portland Public Schools, Parkrose and North Clackamas — that provide most of its revenue, and relies on grants and donations for the rest.

It’s an organization I’m proud to work for. As a first-generation college student coming from a blue-collar household, education is at the top of my list of professional and personal interests. With the encouragement of my parents and the help of a high school journalism adviser who recognized my potential, I was able to recognize my passion early on and get on the path that would lead to a satisfying career that spanned 40 years in various newsrooms.

Now, I’m a former journalist teaching at the college level and helping young adults acquire internships. That work fills up my weekday mornings. Fortunately, I’m able to devote three to four afternoons to part-time work at PWA. This other job does my heart good knowing I’m part of a team working to help students get started on pathways to rewarding careers in technology, architecture, health care, skilled trades and construction, and other well-paying occupations.

That feel-good energy is reinforced knowing that PWA puts extra effort into outreach at highly-diverse, high-poverty high schools where students often come from homes where no one has attended college. I know what it’s like to navigate the college application process on your own. I also know it doesn’t have to be that way. So anything my peers and I can do to demystify the process and help students explore where their interests might take them is something we embrace. Their success is our success.

***

Much of the appeal of my job lies in whom I work with.

Kevin Jeans Gail, a former neighbor, is the founding executive director of PWA. It’s his vision, energy, networking and optimism that drives the agenda and tone of what we do and how we do it. Kevin is an amazing bridge builder who brings schools and businesses together for the sake of a stronger future workforce.

pwa-breakfast-2017-kevin-gail-speaking-with-students

Executive Director Kevin Jeans Gail introduces student panelists at the 2017 PWA Breakfast held in advance of the Expo.

Susan Nielsen, my former co-worker at The Oregonian, is the program and communications director. She works tirelessly with principals, teachers and career coordinators to determine student interests and then works tirelessly with Portland-area employers to schedule an array of career days, classroom visits and other activities to meet those interests. She also oversees our communications, ranging from the web site to social media to newsletters. Susan does it all with good humor and a second-to-none work ethic.

Kristen Kohashi, our lone millennial, is the program manager. She is a graphic designer whose multiple talents in photography, typography and layout result in attractive and easy-to-digest fliers, brochures, posters and pamphlets. She’s our one-person IT department. In addition, she works with Kevin in managing every aspect of our related nonprofit ACE Mentor Program of Oregon, which offers intensive after-school training to students interested in Architecture, Construction Management and Engineering. Last spring, ACE awarded $75,000 in college scholarships to 16 Portland-area seniors.

Sherri Nee, also a former journalist, is the program development manager. Hired just this fall, she is the “new kid” this year. She works with Susan on the front lines with students and teachers in developing career-learning experiences that range from the construction trades to nursing to advertising and much, much more. Sherri brings previous experience with two student-focused nonprofits she helped start.

I’m the communications coordinator, primarily working with Susan on grant writing, web content and miscellaneous projects involving data collection and analysis.

READ THE STAFF BIOS

Though we have clearly defined roles, some tasks call for all hands on deck. This is most evident in the months of work leading up to the Expo, but pitching in also can take the form of assembling file folder materials or setting up a room for a meeting of the board of directors.

Speaking of which, we’re fortunate to work with a diverse group of about 30 business and education leaders who volunteer their time to support the work we do and help us recruit new companies and individuals to the cause.

READ ABOUT THE PWA BOARD 

I pinched myself last year when things fell into place at work. After I left The Oregonian at the end of 2015, I had nine months to relax and recharge. When I went back to work, I found myself starting fresh with adjunct teaching gigs at two local universities and this, the perfect part-time job — all of it revolving around the education of college and high school students.

One week into my second year on the job at PWA, things are looking mighty fine.

Thinking about labor and Labor Day

03lyons-master768

Illustration: Daniel Savage for The New York Times

It’s mid-afternoon on Labor Day 2017 and my mind is filled with mostly disconnected thoughts about this federal holiday.

Government offices, schools and banks are closed, and so are many businesses. But many retailers, restaurants and service-oriented businesses — I’m thinking gas stations and mini-marts — are open on this first Monday in September as if it were any other day.

Is it really a holiday if so many Americans are working? Am I helping or hurting those who have to work today by patronizing their businesses?

True confession: One of the first things I did this morning was to call a credit card company about a billing question. I did so, half hoping that I’d get a recording that told me they were closed and I’d need to contact them the next day.

Didn’t happen. The customer service rep I spoke to handled my issue promptly and efficiently. When I told him I was sorry he had to work today, he thanked me but brushed it off as no big deal and assured me he was receiving holiday pay.

luisa-anderson

When I met Luisa Anderson, a University of Oregon journalism graduate and television news producer, for coffee, we were lucky to grab a table on this holiday morning.

Later in the morning, I visited a neighborhood coffee shop to meet with a young journalist and found the place at near capacity. Afterward, I dropped in at a grocery store to pick up a couple of non-essential items. If today was a holiday, you couldn’t tell at either place.

And, of course, that leads into how we got here.

***

According to Newsweek: Workers in New York City celebrated the first Labor Day on September 5, 1882, with a parade organized by trade unions. But while the first rally was held in New York, Oregon was the first state to institute Labor Day as a holiday, passing legislation to that effect in 1887. [I didn’t know that.]

Over the following seven years, some 30 states made it a holiday. In 1894, the U.S. Congress voted unanimously to approve Labor Day as a national holiday, and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law.

Bloody clashes continued, however. During the last two decades of the 1800s, workers carried out some 37,000 strikes in the United States; and between 1870 and 1914, up to 800 American workers were killed during strikes, according to The Washington Post.

In time, the violence subsided and we became accustomed to employers giving this day off to workers to be with their families. But union membership has plummeted in recent decades and workers seemingly have it harder than ever in today’s gig economy.

Except in the public sector, pensions seem to be a thing of the past. A growing number of states have recently raised the minimum wage but the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 — the rate set in 2009. Older workers continue to work beyond normal retirement age while younger workers try to create decent income from multiple part-time jobs with no benefits.

***

So where are we headed?

Judging by a handful of perspectives, I think things are only going to get worse for the American worker — in terms of pay, taxes, workplace expectations and the effects of disruptive technology.

— For all his campaign bluster about helping bring back blue-collar jobs, President Trump has shown no interest in raising the minimum wage and has appointed numerous anti-union officials to administration posts, says Steven Greenhouse, a former labor and workplace reporter for The New York Times.

03greenhouse-master768

Illustration: Heads of State

— Trump’s tax-cut plan aims to steeply cut tax rates for businesses and wealthy individuals at the expense of working men and women, The New York Times said in an editorial. An analysis of Trump’s proposals by a nonpartisan tax policy center shows that the proposed tax cuts would raise after-tax income for the top 1 percent of taxpayers by more than 11 percent and by just 1.3 percent for taxpayers in the middle, the Times said.

— In Silicon Valley, rank-and-file workers — not just start-up founders — are buying into the “madness” of extreme workaholism as a lifestyle choice, according to an op-ed by Dan Lyons, an author and Fortune columnist on technology issues.

A century ago, factory workers were forming unions and going on strike to demand better conditions and a limit on hours. Today, Silicon Valley employees celebrate their own exploitation. “9 to 5 is for the weak” says a popular T-shirt.

— Lastly, an essay in Medium with the provocative headline “The Last Auto Mechanic” makes the case that within 15 years virtually all vehicular traffic in the U.S. will be by self-driving electric vehicles and examines what that means for industries and workers now dependent on the traditional internal combustible engine.

The short answer: millions of jobs lost.

If this Price is right — Tom Price, renewable energy entrepreneur, is the Medium author — we could see car dealers, gas station owners, auto parts suppliers become obsolete and other motorist-dependent sectors such as motels and restaurants hemorrhage jobs.

America’s transportation economy and landscape is about to be utterly transformed into a world beyond driving. Or drivers. Or even car mechanics. 

Kind of a scary future, isn’t it?

 

 

8 for the 8th

During the past month, I pushed everything to the side — gladly — to make room for Voices of August, the annual wordfest that features one guest blog post each day for 31 days.

With a new month already begun, I’m giving myself permission to look back at a few things of note. More precisely, eight things during the eighth month of the year. No surprise that they would touch on a few favorites: baseball, beer and the beach, live music, movies, education and exercise. In chronological order…

(Click on images to view captions.)

1. Liz Longley at DougFir Lounge.

Third time seeing this indie artist in Portland — and she gets better every time.

2. Escape to the Oregon Coast.

While Portland and the Willamette Valley endured triple-digit heat, Lori and I and Charlotte visited our friends Steve and Kelly Kern at their home in Manzanita.

3. School’s out. Taught two summer session classes, back-to-back, at Portland State.

4. Brewskis. Found my way to The Wayfinder, an awesome brewpub in inner Southeast Portland, with the help of a friend who works in the area.

george-david

Sampling one of more than a dozen beers on tap with David Quisenberry.

5. The Bodacious Bakers. More live music, featuring siblings we’ve known since their pre-K days.

clara-marshall baker

Clara Baker performs an original composition with brother Marshall during a show at the Alberta Street Pub on Aug. 10.

6. At the movies. Went to the Living Room Theater in downtown Portland to see “Detroit,” a film based on a police raid at a motel that occurred during the 1967 riots. Very well done and very hard to watch, given the white cops-on-black civilians violence that was fueled by blatant racism. Watch the trailer here.

7. At the ballpark. Caught a Thursday night ballgame between the Hillsboro Hops and the Boise Hawks. Well played game that included a late home run to seal a 7-1 win for the home team in this Northwest League contest.

8. Exercise! My morning routine pretty much fell apart at the beginning of the year, when I was scrambling to keep up with three college classes and a part-time job at a nonprofit. Things got so bad I logged fewer than 10 exercise days a month for five consecutive months. July brought 18. August 21!

 

george-knee

So then I ruined my momentum by falling off my bike on a neighborhood ride. Lesson learned? Never use your front brake only when riding with one hand.

The joy of teaching

wsu-classroom

The classroom where I taught my  first courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

I know, I know. My last blog post was self-centered. Hard to avoid when talking about the many great opportunities that have come my way since leaving the newsroom and embracing the college classroom as my new workplace.

Today it’s all about the students. Those young (and not-so-young) men and women who enroll in your course expecting that you’ll have something of value to teach them. You’ve got a tremendous responsibility as an educator and you don’t want to let them down. So you put in the long weeknight and weekend hours, trying this and tweaking that and hoping you’ll see signs of making an impact. And when it happens, nothing could be sweeter.

***

During a 40-year career that spanned eight newsrooms in three states, I had the privilege of working with some great colleagues; of meeting and interviewing some fascinating people; of helping hundreds of people jump-start their careers; of adapting to rapidly changing technology that transformed every aspect of the way news is gathered, produced and distributed.

As a college instructor for the past nine-plus months, I’ve had the opportunity to take all that experience and find ways to share it with my students so they can become smarter consumers of modern media, and more aware of the economic and ethical challenges facing journalists and the companies that employ them.  All of this work is aimed at increasing the media literacy of a new generation of college students, a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

During the past academic year, I’ve taught three classes at Portland State with a total enrollment of 150 and two classes at Washington State University Vancouver with about 40 more. With class sizes ranging from 18 to 70 and class starting-times ranging from 8 a.m. to noon, one goal was just keeping students awake. Seriously.

psu-welcome

Nice way to welcome the new adjunct instructor at PSU.

Those early-bird morning classes were a challenge for many students — especially those who work and/or have families — because it meant getting up early to catch public transportation or commute by car from the ‘burbs or beyond. Wintry weather at the start of the year didn’t help. Likewise, a midday class that led into the early afternoon hours could be a challenge for the sleep-deprived whose caffeine had worn off.

But that was a minor issue. More often, I found the vast majority of students engaged, eager to learn and genuinely curious, and many of them not hesitant at all to question or take issue with a point I had just made. I loved that aspect, going back and forth as one adult to another and having others join the conversation.

Though I used a textbook in each class and designed most of my lectures around them, it was during the class discussions that I sensed much of the real learning took place. When ideas are explained and challenged, facts are given meaning, and dots are connected, that’s when greater understanding comes in the form of context and insight.

During the course of each of my communications classes, I tried to demonstrate to the students what I know from experience: that journalism is an honorable profession dedicated to the pursuit of truth. We get criticized by people on both ends of the spectrum for multiple perceived sins — that we are biased, that we are pushing an agenda, that we have little or no regard for facts. There are even some, from the Tweeter-in-Chief on down, who believe we literally make s*** up.

Before you accuse a news organization or an individual journalist of bias, consider your own, I urge my students. All too often, what a reader dislikes or disputes reflects his or her own opinions and life experiences, or lack thereof.

Journalists do make errors. Teachers make errors, too — as do doctors, lawyers, mechanics, engineers and retail clerks. And each of those professions, like journalism, has its bad apples. But that’s no reason to dismiss the good intentions and good work of the vast majority in any of those fields.

***

One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of teaching is trying to connect with a diverse cross-section of students. I’m happy to say that task is made easier by knowing that, by and large, students at both campuses come to class without a sense of entitlement, unlike many young people of privilege who enroll at private, liberal arts schools.

PSU is a commuter school nestled in the heart of downtown Portland. WSU Vancouver has no dorms. Both schools attract a lot of folks from the working class, many of whom are transfer students from community colleges.

In their brown, black, yellow, red and white faces, I see myself: a first-generation college student at a state college, the son of parents who had no opportunity to attend high school. I commuted for two years before moving into an off-campus apartment with roommates, paid my way through school with scholarships and a part-time job, and did better academically in college than I did in high school.

wsu.beth nakamura

Students on both campuses love having guest speakers like Beth Nakamura, an exceptional photographer at OregonLive.com who brings working class values to her work.

Older students. The student bodies at both PSU and WSUV have a much greater proportion of non-traditional students than do most four-year schools. Looking out at my class, I see plenty of folks in their mid- to late 20s and early 30s. Two of my students were in their 60s. Others were as young as 19.

Many of my students are parents themselves, some with toddlers, others with teenagers. Those experiences often add humor or wisdom to our discussions. Some have learning disabilities requiring special accommodations. During one class last fall, a student (a young mom) had a full-blown seizure. One student called 9-1-1, while others helped me comfort the student until paramedics arrived.

Working students. A majority of students worked — most part-time, but some full-time, even while taking a full course load. Many students worked in retail at places like Best Buy, Starbucks and Sephora, while others had work-study jobs around campus. A recurring issue for some was having to miss class because an employer would schedule them for a shift with little notice. As a result, I made it a point to be flexible about deadlines for class assignments.

Athletes. I had three football players, two soccer players and two softball players in my classes. I would have liked to see them compete, but purposely didn’t attend any games for fear that doing so might influence me in grading their work. I was happy to be asked to sign off on progress reports that kept the athletic department apprised of how each student-athlete was doing in class.

Demographics. PSU is the most diverse of Oregon’s seven public colleges and universities. I love that aspect, all the more so because of the large number of international students. Roughly 1 in 5 students in my PSU classes was born outside the United States. They’ve come here from Japan, Laos, China, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, Ghana, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Beyond race and ethnicity, there is a good cross-section of students from rural and suburban communities, as well as cities; a handful of home-schooled students and military brats; a number who are openly gay; and several men and women who’ve served in the Armed Forces. It’s an honor to teach the veterans, knowing they are on the same path as my youngest son, who just obtained his bachelors degree with the help of the G.I. Bill.

Role model. Like it or not, I realize I am a role model to many of my students. Several have told me they’ve never taken a course from a Latino professor or high school teacher. In one class alone, I had six Latino/as, including a grandmother from Salinas, California, where my parents met as children of migrant farmworker families, and two who arrived from Mexico as undocumented children. Having that cultural connection is pretty special.

Bottom line: All in all, this gig as an adjunct instructor has been a great experience. The pay is notoriously low, especially when you factor in the countless hours outside the classroom. Grading a stack of essays can take far longer than you ever imagined, given the less-than-stellar writing ability of many students, especially those for whom English is a second language.

But nothing is more rewarding than seeing a student struggle and then blossom. There is a profound joy in knowing I’ve had a role in providing greater understanding of a subject and contributing to a greater sense of personal confidence.

I’ve seen the results of four Instructor Evaluation surveys now — two from PSU, two from WSUV. Happily, the students have given me very positive marks along with suggestions for improvement: Be more organized. Trust yourself more instead of relying too much on the textbooks.

One student wrote: “It help me a lot in the sense of how I now view media. I have learn so much throughout the course from guest speakers and of course the material. The assignment were somewhat difficult in the sense that my writing skills are not as good, but he was very good at providing me with great feedback on all of my assignment.”

Spelling and grammar flaws? Yes.

But the sentiment? Priceless.

Previously: A rookie no more