2018: Looking back, looking ahead

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Sunday morning walk in Kensington Gardens, near my accommodations in London.

A wedding, a cross-country move, a teaching stint in the U.K. Those were just a few of the highlights of this past year, when a combination of factors resulted in far fewer blog posts than normal.

Let’s get after it, shall we?

The month of May brought the biggest, most welcome news. That’s when our oldest child, Nathan, married his girlfriend, Sara Bird, in a casual ceremony on a Sunday night.

The couple had been together for eight years and it was nice to see them take the next step, surrounded by friends and family at Victoria, a popular bar and restaurant in North Portland. The bride and groom said “I do” under dim lighting in the bar as a longtime friend of both, Jared White, officiated. At least six of Nathan’s DJ friends, including Reverend Jared, took turns pumping out dance music.

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Nathan and Sara clasp hands as their wedding ceremony gets underway.

It’s funny that our oldest of three children would be the last to wed, and the youngest the first to wed. The newlyweds postponed their honeymoon until the fall, but then went big — to Spain and Barcelona. Back at work, Nathan is a line cook at Besaw’s and continues to DJ while Sara works in human resources for the Bishops haircutting chain.

Best thing of all: Now we have three daughters-in-law, as different as can be in personality, stature and interests. We love them all.

Among the guests that day was my stepmother, Ora. She flew in from New Mexico to spend a few days with us and we thoroughly enjoyed her visit. She sang a traditional Mexican song to Nathan at the wedding rehearsal lunch, and saw a lot of the sights in the South Waterfront district with me when I took a day off to ride the trolley and tram with her up to Oregon Health & Science University.

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Three generations: Lori, Grandma Ora and Simone.

The other big family news came in August, when our youngest child, Jordan, completed another cross-country move on his path to a Ph.D. He and his wife Jamie and their daughter, Emalyn, moved from Missouri to upstate New York so he could begin a five-year Ph.D program in microbiology at Cornell University.

They’re living in a rented farmhouse just outside the village of Spencer, about 20 miles south of the Cornell campus in Ithaca. They are 200-plus miles northwest of New York City, nestled in the Finger Lakes area, so named for five lakes that resemble fingers on a downward-facing hand.

They are in a beautiful part of the country,  marked by two-lane roads, rolling green hills and colonial style homes. Lori and I visited Jordan and family to help unload three big Pods and get them settled into their new place. Lori returned on her own in November for a pre-holiday visit and loved spending time with little Emmy, who at 2 1/2 years old grows smarter and more adorable each day. We’re making plans for a return visit in March.

Our time with Jordan and Jamie came on the heels of my teaching a summer course in media literacy in London, England.

It was a pinch-me, is-this-really-happening moment that lasted two weeks. I had six students come with me from Portland and Vancouver for an intense but thoroughly enjoyable time in one of the world’s leading cities. We visited the Houses of Parliament and leading media organizations, hosted guest speakers, crisscrossed the city on the tube, and saw a variety of historical landmarks and tourist attractions from a bus, a boat and on foot. On the final weekend, I took a day trip to Oxford by train and the next day saw an Agatha Christie play in a magnificent building set next to the Thames River.

Assuming I can recruit another group of students, I’m going back again in July 2019 to teach the same class. Only this time, we’re planning to have Lori join me toward the end for a shared British vacation.

(Because of my travels to London and Ithaca, I put my annual Voices of August guest writers project on hold. I’m anticipating more free time next year and looking forward to version 8.0 with contributions from near and far.)

***

What else happened in 2018? Here’s a quick rundown:

Sports: While Portland is considered a backwater for major league sports, I still got my fill of professional and amateur events. I attended a handful of Trail Blazers games, saw my first Portland Timbers match, showed up for two Portland State basketball games at the new Viking Pavilion, and took Lori to see a Portland Thorns soccer game

Most enjoyable, however, was taking in Day One of the NCAA Track and Field Championships at the University of Oregon in Eugene. The four-day meet in June was one of the last major competitions at Historic Hayward Field, which is undergoing a huge redesign and rebuilt that will culminate in a larger, world-class facility in time for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials.

My friend Eric Wilcox works for a Portland architectural firm that is part of the stadium redesign project, so he was able to get us the NCAA tickets. We had great seats in the West Grandstand with a good view of the finish line for all the running events.

Music: I saw a handful of favorite artists in concert, all of them packed into the second half of the year: James Taylor, Hall and Oates, LeAnn Rimes and Liz Longley. The superstars need no introduction, but you may not be familiar with Liz Longley. She’s a Nashville-based singer-songwriter whose music was introduced to me by a longtime friend who’s also a professional music critic. I’ve seen Liz four times now in four venues in Portland. Wonderful voice and very happy to pose for selfies after her shows.

Books:  I did relatively little reading this year, so I have no trouble recalling “Behold the Dreamers” as my favorite. It’s the debut novel by Imbolo Mbue, a Cameroonian immigrant, and her story about a wealthy New York couple and a young immigrant couple from Cameroon takes place just as the Great Recession takes hold in 2018.

I re-read two books — something I never do — but these were extraordinary novels and deserving of another read: “Devil in a Blue Dress” by Walter Mosley and “Winter’s Bone” by Daniel Woodrell. I also enjoyed “Slide!” by my talented neighbor, Carl Wolfson; “Shot Through the Heart” by MIkal Gilmore; and “The Piano Lesson,” a play by August Wilson.

A related highlight: In October, I attended a Think & Drink event with the author Eli Saslow at the Alberta Rose Theatre. Oregon Humanities is presenting a series of four conversations on journalism and justice during 2018-19, and the Saslow event was the first. He talked about his book, “Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist.” Sounds intriguing. I’ve put it on my reading list for 2019.

Sold: In September, we shared a bittersweet moment when we sold our beloved cabin on Orcas Island. During the 13 years we owned it, we treasured every trip to our little piece of paradise, a modest log cabin tucked into the woods with a view of the ocean water. It was a place to soak up the silence, appreciate nature’s beauty, and let the stress melt away. We take comfort in knowing that the place will be in good hands — those of a young Seattle-based writer who was looking for a quiet place to do his creative work.

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Here in Portland, we continue to enjoy good health, good friends and our furry companions – Charlotte, our feisty Border Terrier-Pug-Chihuahua, and Mabel, our sweet-natured brown tabby cat.

With a new runner’s watch (a birthday gift from Lori) and new resolve to use it, I look forward to a more physically active 2019. Likewise, new opportunities await at work and at play. Can’t wait to get started.

 

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No easy path to a college degree

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Oregon State University athletes Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci co-founded the #DamWorthIt campaign in January 2018 to raise awareness of mental health issues. (Photo: Oregon State University)

Working with young adults as I do, it’s easy to celebrate their accomplishments in the college classroom and feel good about their post-graduation paths. During two-plus years of adjunct teaching at two campuses, I have enjoyed seeing the critical thinking and writing ability of many students come into plain view over the course of an academic quarter or semester.

This past fall, however, a different aspect of higher education has become more readily apparent. I’m talking about the multi-faceted challenges involving mental illness, physical health, finances and work that stand as barriers on the path to a college degree.

Whether it’s a single one of these obstacles or more, these issues can get in the way of a student’s academic achievement and even derail their best-laid plans.

For instance, during my just-completed fall classes at Portland State University and Washington State University Vancouver:

— One student withdrew from school because of depression and wound up being hospitalized for several days. Others, I learned, were dealing with anxiety and neurosis.

— One student withdrew because of a grandparent’s death. The student was already under stress from having to care for her adolescent brother while her mother was preoccupied caring for the ailing grandmother abroad.

— One student’s father was killed in a car crash. The student took off a couple weeks to grieve and attend the funeral, then came back and finished the term.

— Three students missed multiple classes because they had to take their mom, dad or significant other to get emergency medical care.

— Other students were absent or left class abruptly because they were called into work.

— A handful of moms and dads missed classes because they had to stay home with a sick son or daughter. A prolonged teachers strike wreaked additional havoc, forcing one student to bring her first-grader to campus when she couldn’t find child care.

Even when health wasn’t an issue, other issues popped up. Ever heard of the digital divide? It’s the gap between the “haves” — those with easy access to technology, including mobile devices and broadband internet service — and the “have-nots” — the ones who, lacking these amenities, must go to libraries and other places on campuses to do internet research and print hard copies of their work. I had several “have-nots” in my classes.

The digital divide leads to the homework gap, as seen in this video.

One student, a young mother with two sons, said this fall was the first time she’d been able to buy a laptop computer of her own, thanks to a generous scholarship.

Another student who received an “F” in my class pleaded with me to change the grade to an incomplete, explaining that she and her mother had been struggling financially and that she only had sporadic internet access thanks to a neighbor sharing their Wi-Fi during times of slow usage. (I had no idea this was happening so, of course, I changed the grade to an “I”.)

In many of these cases, the students involved are the sons and daughters of recent immigrants and the first in their family to attend college. As a first-generation student myself and coming from a working-class background, I too worked part-time and relied on scholarships to put myself through school.

But those were simpler and more affordable times, before the invention of these costly technological devices and the development of anxiety-producing social media. And, unlike some of my students, I never would have imagined working full-time and going to school, too.  No wonder some of them struggle to stay awake in class.

Heck, even food is an issue. On both campuses, I’ve seen fliers publicizing campaigns to restock food pantries. Naively, I thought it was cool that these students were collecting food for others in the community. Only later did I realize these efforts were for other students.

At Portland State, the average age of students is 27 and roughly 40 percent of freshmen are students of color. I love the diversity and the energy derived from working at an urban campus of nearly 28,000 students, set right in the heart of downtown.

At WSU Vancouver, a commuter campus that draws heavily from small cities and towns in Southwest Washington, just under 25 percent of students are ethnic or racial minorities. As at PSU, many are returning students, including veterans and community college transfers, and there is a growing cohort of LGBTQ individuals.

At neither place is there a sense of entitlement, as one find at the Ivies or other top-rated private institutions. And that’s exactly how I like it.

Steffi_MentalHealthInCollege-336x446From Day One, I’ve known my students are typically not the ones who were high school stars with a long list of extracurricular activities — and that’s fine. More often these are the ones who tap into their potential only after zigging and zagging in their early years of their life. Some of this is a result of not yet knowing what they want to do or what they are capable of. And some of this is a result of external factors such as those described above.

I now see with greater clarity just how much of a challenge it can be for these young men and women. As I ease into my time off between semesters, I can resolve right now to do a better job of keeping my eyes and ears open and reaching out sooner to those I suspect may be struggling.

Done with finals!

There’s nothing quite like back-to-back Finals Week at two campuses to make you appreciate the moment when you’re done.

Yes, it’s a lot of work. No, it wasn’t something that could have been avoided. But heck yeah, it feels good to have it all wrapped up. Now I can look forward to three weeks off at the holidays, enough time to reflect and recharge.

In this, my third year of teaching as a college adjunct, I’ve gained some new insights and plan to share those in my next blog post.

Today, though, is all about celebrating the end of the semester at Washington State University Vancouver and the end of the quarter at Portland State University. It’s also about celebrating my good fortune to have two outstanding students who worked with me as teaching assistants. More on them in a minute.

First, some context:

I began teaching at WSUV in late August. It was a 17-week semester that ended on Friday, Dec. 14, with the posting of grades and a faculty lunch at a Portland barbecue joint. In between, the 11-week quarter at Portland State started in early September and finished a week earlier in early December.

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A holiday wreath adorns the Multimedia Classroom Building at WSU Vancouver.

It was inevitable that the end of the PSU quarter and the end of the WSUV semester would come right on the heels of each other.

At Portland State, I taught Media Literacy, a topic that examines the news, advertising and entertainment media, and gives students the tools to better understand the origin, design and purpose of the bazillion media messages that bombard us.

At WSUV, I taught Media and Society, a class that explores the social role of the media. It’s a wide-ranging topic that looks at the economics and government regulation of the media industries; the evolution of print, radio, television and the internet; media content and representation; and how the development of technology affects our social world and vice versa. (Think of the ripple effects of social media and online shopping, just to name two examples.)

Together, the last couple weeks meant 51 in-depth essays to read and a final exam to prepare and grade at one campus, and 41 essays and a final exam to prepare and grade at the other.

Oh, and there was the online internship class that I supervise, too, at Portland State. That meant rounding up employer/supervisor evaluations plus reading final papers and updated resumes from the 10 students who registered to receive credit for their on-the-job experiences this fall.

But I’m not complaining. On the contrary, end of term is when you realize you’ve made a positive impact on the lives of many students, especially those who came in with only a vague idea of what it means to be media-literate in today’s society — and why it matters.

Here’s a thank-you card from a single mom who was chosen as a Ford Opportunity Scholar this school year. The scholarship covers up to 90 percent of unmet financial need for students who are single heads-of-household. (She was one of two Ford Scholars in my class. Both earned an A-minus.)

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Note from a student at Portland State.

***

Nothing I accomplished this past fall would have been possible without the help of two exceptional young women who served as my TAs: Evelyn Waka Smith at WSUV and Tullia Fusco at PSU.

Aside from senior standing, each had to have taken a class from me previously and received a straight A to be eligible for the role. Each had to be someone I could rely on as accurate and impartial.  Each had to be someone I could trust. Both easily met that bar.

Evelyn was indispensable to my efforts at WSUV.  She came up with two to three questions for each chapter quiz that I gave during the term, plus the midterm and final exams, and did most of the grading. Once, when I had a photocopying job to finish in another building, she stepped in with no notice to lead a class discussion in my absence.

Tullia was essential, as well. She graded her peers’ work involving twice-a-week writing assignments and tracked their scores. Like Evelyn, she provided excellent feedback on my lesson plans, before and after, and some end-of-term suggestions of what to tweak for future classes.

Evelyn is graduating this winter. At 26, she is well positioned to launch her career as a Digital Technology & Culture major with minors in Business, English and Communication. She took a gap year off following high school, then obtained an associate degree and worked for a time as a nurse.

She switched gears, went back to school at a four-year university, and wound up in my Sports and the Media class. This past summer, while I was teaching in London, she was in Valencia, Spain, studying business under through a WSU Study Abroad program.

Tullia is on track to graduate in the spring or possibly the summer. She, too, took a gap year off after graduating from Grant High School, the same Northeast Portland school that two of our kids attended. Tullia spent a year in Italy studying the language, then enrolled at PSU, where she is majoring in Communication.

She took my Media Literacy class nearly two years ago, and was so impressive that I reached out then to her as a potential TA, not realizing she was just a sophomore. Now 21, she returned to Italy for her junior year for more in-depth study of the language as well as several required courses in English.

When the new year begins, I’ll be on my own with just a single class at WSUV (Sports and the Media this time) and the online internship class at PSU. During the spring quarter at Portland State, I’ll be teaching Media Literacy once again. If enrollment surpasses a certain number, I may qualify to have another TA. Whomever it is will have a tough act to follow.

 

Media Literacy in London: A round of thanks

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After a farewell dinner in London’s Chinatown, my students and I strike a pose. From left: George, Samantha, R.H. (in the white hat), Rachel and Anna. Not pictured: Ella and Yohana.

It’s been just three short weeks since I flew home from London and the most fun, most densely packed two weeks I’ve ever spent as a college instructor.

It was a wonderful experience in every respect — academically, culturally, socially and personally.  From July 15 to July 30, my students and I packed in eight field trips, four guest speakers, one bus tour, one guided walk, one river cruise, one panel discussion and four group dinners.

In my free time, I visited four museums, visited two parks and two outdoor markets, caught some live music, saw an Agatha Christie play and took a weekend train trip to Oxford.

I still intend to share selected stories and photos in the coming weeks. But for now, I guess it’s time to put a bow on this package and move on to other things.

After all, I just started teaching a new class at Washington State University Vancouver this week. And next month I’ll resume teaching at Portland State University and continue with my internship coordinator duties in the Department of Communication.

ICYMI. Here is a link to my Instagram photos from the trip: https://www.instagram.com/georgerede/

But before moving forward, I want to look back and offer some fist bumps and high-fives to several people who made my London experience possible.

Jen Hamlow, Director of Portland State’s Education Abroad program. Jen is the one who approached me last fall and encouraged me to submit a proposal to teach internationally — something that had never entered my mind.

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Hannah Fischer, left, and Jen Hamlow were instrumental in getting me to London.

Hannah Fischer, Faculty-Led Program Coordinator in the Ed Abroad office. Hannah worked with me closely to give shape to my proposal, giving stellar advice on program content, budgeting issues and marketing the program to prospective students. Because she was in London on other program business, we were able to meet in London for a program debrief over a pint.

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Jeffrey Robinson

Jeffrey Robinson, Chair of the Communication Department, approved the syllabus and tentative weekly schedule I developed to make the summer class a distinctly different course from the one I normally teach at PSU. Essentially, the challenge was to devise a course using London as the classroom.

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Darin Smith-Gaddis

Darin Smith-Gaddis, Institutional Relations Manager at CAPA The Global Education Network. That’s a mouthful, for sure. What it boils down to is that Darin was a source of encouragement and an advocate for me with his employer, CAPA, a Boston-based organization that partners with higher education institutions on international study programs.

I met Darin when he came up from his office in Los Angeles to attend a symposium on Faculty-Led Programs in April. He put me at ease about my concerns regarding student recruitment and also did a presentation for my students on preparing for London.

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Zion Griffin

Zion Griffin, Program Manager in CAPA’s Boston office. Zion was my primary contact in the home office, serving as a liaison between CAPA staff and those of us on the PSU end — Hannah, myself and my students. He emailed critical, timely information and stayed in touch during and after the program.

Sheriden Kuech, Program and Student Services Manager at CAPA’s London office. Sheriden was indispensable as my chief support in the U.K. She not only answered my newbie questions and tended to my program needs, she also handled the logistics involving guest speakers, field trips, ground transportation, group meals and excursions. In addition, she joined us at a traditional afternoon tea to welcome us and hosted a farewell dinner in London’s Chinatown on the last day of the program. It was a pleasure to work with her and hear her Australian accent.

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Sheriden Kuech and me in Chinatown.

My students. Initially, I’d planned to enroll 8 to 10 students and was feeling pretty good about those numbers, based on the time and effort that went into marketing the course on two campuses. In the end, there were 6 — five from PSU and one from WSU — and it turned out to be an ideal number.

They were a curious and adaptable group, and I was delighted to see the bonds of friendship form over the course of the program. None of them nor I had been to London before, so it was nice to experience the newness together. They marveled at seeing the historical landmarks and tourist attractions. They learned how to ride the Tube efficiently and explored the city apart from me, which was just fine.

In class, they were attentive, curious and full of questions for our guest speakers. At site visits, they were well-mannered and inquisitive. During group debriefings after every activity, they offered their individual takes and listened to each other with respect. In their post-trip papers, they reflected on much they had grown intellectually and personally by expanding their knowledge of British and US media; adjusting to a foreign culture; and appreciating the cultural diversity and social inclusivity they saw on a daily basis.

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Ella and Yohana on a cruise of the Thames River. Destination: Greenwich.

I could not have asked for a better group than these four women and two men: Anna, Rachel, Ella, Samantha, Yohana and R.H.

Read Anna Nelson’s essay in the WSU VanCougar: “A Cougar Letter From Abroad”

My wife. What can I say? I’m married to a woman whose support and willingness to make accommodations for my absence have been critical to much of what I’ve been able to do as a journalist and now as a college instructor. I know it wasn’t easy for Lori to take care of Charlotte, our little terrier mix, on her own while maintaining her early-morning schedule as a personal trainer.

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Been married to this amazing woman for 43 years next month.

I’m glad she was able to attend the wedding of our youngest son’s sister-in-law, along with the second birthday of our granddaughter Emalyn, while I was gone, though it would have been nice to be with her for both of those occasions.

Circumstances didn’t allow us to consider having Lori join me on this trip. But if this program runs again next summer, I sure hope we can share some of this amazing experience together.

Below: A handful of images from the UK. 

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Teach in London this summer? Yes!

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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 neighborhooda 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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

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.
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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”

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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