My other job

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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.

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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.

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Thinking about labor and Labor Day

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

A rookie no more

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A few of the notebooks and other items, including a pica pole, that I used to keep at my desk in The Oregonian newsroom.

As the month of June comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect on the good fortune that has come my way since I began teaching as an adjunct college instructor last fall.

In the nine-plus months that have passed since I walked into a classroom on the Portland State University campus and faced my first group of students, one opportunity after another has presented itself. I’ve said yes to one thing, only to have another thing come my way, and then another and another.

Never could I have imagined I’d be in this place so soon after making the transition from veteran journalist to rookie college instructor. But I’m grateful, even if I have to pinch myself from time to time.

***

I taught a single class at PSU during the fall, winter and spring quarters, each one lasting 12 weeks. This summer I’m teaching two four-week sessions back-to-back. The first class began this week. The second one starts in late July.

Meanwhile, I taught two communications courses across the river at Washington State University Vancouver during the spring semester from January to mid-May. Combined with the single PSU class, that meant I was managing three courses at once for most of the 16-week term. It was a stretch, requiring two days a week on each campus, but I managed.

This summer I’m teaching a single class in Vancouver.  Yesterday marked the halfway point of the eight-week course. I gave the midterm exam, welcomed a guest speaker, and met with each student individually after class in the fresh air outside the classroom.

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You can’t teach at Portland State without a branded T-shirt, right?

Looking ahead to the 2017-18 academic year, both campuses want me back. WSUV has me lined up to teach one class in the fall and one in the spring.

PSU wants me to teach a single class during the fall and winter quarters (nothing in the spring) and become the internship coordinator for the Department of Communication.

On top of that, a key contact in PSU’s Education Abroad program is encouraging me to pitch a course that would enable me to teach overseas sometime next year.

Can you believe it?

Those of you familiar with my journalism career know that I spent a decade at The Oregonian as the newsroom recruitment director and internship coordinator. So here I am, 18 months removed from leaving the newsroom, and I’m being given the opportunity to essentially build another internship program for a different employer and a different set of students.

What a perfect fit of my skills and background with the department’s need and desire to do a better job of helping students secure internships in public relations, advertising and communications. A primary goal is to ensure that they and their employers both benefit from the experience.

Starting in the fall, I will likely have no more than a handful of students to supervise, as the onus is on them to find and arrange an internship. Once I’m in the new role, the expectation is that I’ll be able to help place students with a variety of employers and provide ongoing support to ensure they are successful and doing meaningful work that relates to their academic major and career aspirations.

This vision no doubt will require lots of networking with internship coordinators already doing similar work for other campus departments, as well as with area employers who’ve had interns or are interested in having them. By adapting best practices to the Communication Department program and tapping the experiences of recent interns, I hope we’ll be able to develop a robust program that serves everyone’s needs — student, employer, university — and lays a foundation for a sustainable program.

I look forward to the challenge, confident that much of the work I did 20 years ago — advocating for students, building partnerships and strategic networking — will still be relevant and useful in a 21st century media environment.

***

None of what has transpired — and, certainly, none of what lies ahead — would have been possible without the help of key individuals on both campuses. So here let me express my gratitude to a handful of folks:

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PSU Professor Cynthia-Lou (Cindy) Coleman.

Cynthia-Lou Coleman. Cindy is a tenured professor and former chair of the Communication Department and she was the one who encouraged me to apply as an adjunct. She’s provided valuable counsel at every step of the way as I’ve gotten my foot in the door and become more established at PSU.

Jeffrey Robinson.  Jeff succeeded Cindy as the department chair. He’s the one who brought me aboard last fall and asked me to teach again during the winter, spring and summer. He approved a teaching assistant for me for an unexpectedly large class during one term. Most recently, he surprised with me with the proposal for 2017-18 that includes the internship piece.

Ky Tran. Ky is the all-purpose finance and administrative specialist who welcomed me to the department. She has been indispensable as an all-purpose resource, helping me figure out which campus buildings were located where; providing support for guest speakers; answering questions about payroll, student evaluations and other mundane matters. She’s moving on to a new job next month in the private sector and I know everyone in the department will miss her.

Ky Tran

Ky Tran greeted me warmly and was an invaluable resource during the past year at PSU.

Becky Kearny. Becky was a lifesaver during the winter term. As my teaching assistant, she helped grade certain assignments, kept track of student scores, did a lot of photocopying and provided useful feedback on my teaching methods and lesson plans. Becky was a straight-A student herself who excelled while managing a blended household of five girls, including three who were in college at the same time as her.

Narayanan Iyer. Nanu is program director of the Integrated Strategic Communication program at WSUV. He’s the one who brought me aboard in January and since Day One has provided encouragement, positive feedback and continuous opportunities to teach. He also has filled in for me as a guest lecturer when I’ve had to miss a couple of classes.

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Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer heads the Strategic Communication program at WSU Vancouver. 

Last but not least, my wife, Lori. She encouraged me initially as I set out on this new path but undoubtedly had second thoughts as our evenings and weekends were gobbled up by the workload associated with my classes. For each one, I had to create a syllabus and a weekly schedule, then develop lesson plans and lectures. I also had to assign, read and grade assorted papers;  put together midterm and final exams; and keep in touch with students, faculty and guest speakers.

No one sacrificed more than Lori during these first few months of 2017 and I am deeply appreciative. The workload has slackened a bit during summer and I’m confident I can manage it effectively when the new school year begins this fall.

Next: The joy of teaching

 

 

Vancouver, U.S.A.

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A quiet morning on the campus of Washington State University Vancouver.

Until this year began, I’d spent amazingly little time in The Couv, the nickname for the city directly across the river from Portland. You’d think that after 30-plus years of living just a few miles away, I would have found reason to eat a meal or take in a cultural event there, but no.

Things are changing, though, thanks to my getting hired to teach two undergraduate courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

Since January, I’ve become a regular commuter, making the 25-minute trip two mornings a week. I’m lucky to be going north because drivers headed in the opposite direction toward Portland endure horrendous traffic that stretches for miles on Interstate 5.

I’ll be doing more of this, starting next week when the summer session begins, and again in the fall.

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Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer heads the Strategic Communication program at WSU Vancouver. He’s the one who hired me to teach there.

Some might complain about the road warrior aspect, but I honestly don’t mind the commute. It gives me time to mentally prepare for the day’s lesson plans, and more than once I’ve tweaked things based on last-minute inspiration.

The drive also makes me feel more like a resident of metro Portland than of the city itself.

Just as I gained perspective on the relationship between Portland and its suburbs during the time I worked in Hillsboro and Forest Grove for The Oregonian/OregonLive, so too am I gaining an appreciation for Vancouver, a sprawling city of nearly 175,000 residents.

Portlanders often make fun of the place, calling it “Vantucky,” as if it were a northern outpost of Kentucky. I haven’t spent enough time there to form any opinions, but I do know the city is more conservative than Portland and probably more diverse than many might think, with about one in four residents belonging to racial or ethnic minority groups.

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Students, at left, moderated a panel discussion that featured six strategic communications professionals from the Portland-Vancouver area on May 5.

A recent panel discussion at WSUV that featured public relations and strategic communications professionals working in the Portland-Vancouver area reinforced that broader perspective. I felt very much like an undergraduate student listening to the perspectives and challenges described by these pros. I know the insights I gained that day will help me in preparing the syllabus for my summer class in Media Ethics.

Likewise, I anticipate another rich experience at a public forum at the Vancouver Community Library on a subject I know well. On Wednesday, June 14, I’ll be part of a panel discussing “News or Noise: Separating Fact from Fiction in Today’s Media.”

Here’s more on the program.

I look forward to questions and comments from members of the Vancouver community. I think it’s a given that this will be a boomer-heavy crowd, as opposed to the millennials who dominate my college classes.

Cougartown

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The instructor’s view in the classroom where I taught two courses at WSU Vancouver.

Last Thursday, I gave final exams in my two classes at Washington State University Vancouver.  On Monday, I entered final grades for a combined 45 students in those classes.

And then I exhaled.

Since January, I’ve been teaching three Communications classes — two at WSUV and one at Portland State.

Splitting my time between two campuses — two mornings a week at each one — has been the easy part. Preparing weekly lesson plans that include a mix of lectures, readings, videos, writing assignments, and guest speakers has been more challenging.  Even more so, the time and mental energy involved in grading dozens upon dozens of essays, media diaries, and other assignments.

But all that’s done. (Well, most of it anyway. I’ve still got the one class at Portland State, where my 50 students and I just passed the halfway point of the spring quarter.)

It’s time for a few fist-bumps and reflections on my first semester at WSUV.  And if you’re wondering about the headline, it’s a reference to the school mascot, the Cougars.

***

The list of thank-yous starts with Narayanan Iyer, the man who hired me to teach the just-completed classes.

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Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer, my No. 1 cheerleader and all-around support at WSU Vancouver.

Nanu is director of the Integrated Strategic Communications program within the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, named for the legendary CBS News broadcaster. The college is headquartered in Pullman, home of the flagship campus, but WSU also has branch campuses in Vancouver, Everett, Spokane and the Tri-Cities.

Nanu invited me to give a guest lecture to a Sports and the Media class last fall. He liked what he saw and hired me to teach the course this semester, a 16-week haul from January to early May. He offered a second course, Reporting Across Platforms, a hybrid course in communications and journalism. The emphasis was on writing for digital, broadcast and print — mostly news but with a nod to public relations.

The sports course went beautifully, as more than a few eyes were opened to how sports mirrors every aspect of society on issues of race and gender, technology, economics, branding and marketing, political activism and sexual assault, just to name a few.

The second course went pretty well, too, although it required more adjustments on the fly. WSUV doesn’t yet have a journalism minor, let alone a major. Students have to go to Pullman for that. So, without an actual newsroom set-up and only a handful of class members seriously interested in journalism, it required some finesse.

wsu.banner

WSU Vancouver, located just across the Columbia River from Portland, has an enrollment of about 4,300 students.

In both classes, I called on an array of guest speakers, talented people that I’ve been privileged to work with or get to know over the years. (More on them below.)

Nanu was indispensible. He provided encouragement and support, guiding me through WSUV’s online learning management system (how to post and receive class assignments, send email, etc.) and even filling in for me as a guest lecturer when I had to miss two classes. Most of all, he made me comfortable and valued as an adjunct instructor — something you can’t put a price on.

The other big thank-you goes to Lori, whose patience (understandably) resembled a roller-coaster depending on whether I was partially or totally consumed with prepping for classes or plowing through a stack of papers that needed grading.

During 40-plus years of marriage to a journalist, Lori has put up with too many late dinners to count; evening, weekend and holiday work; out-of-town travel; interrupted vacations; and, in recent years, the nearly 24/7 demands of news and reader engagement in the digital age.

Lori in Tucson

Lori and I met in journalism school in the days when print was king. She’s put up with my shenanigans for more than 40 years.

I’m very aware and very appreciative that I’ve been able to put so much of my time into these three classes only because Lori has enabled me to. Our free time together has taken a big hit and I’ve had to give up regular exercise except for the weekends. But the worst of it is behind us now. From here on out, I’ll be teaching either one or two classes — not three — and I’ll be able to refresh material I’ve used before rather than build a course from scratch.

***

As for other thank-yous, let me start with five guest speakers in the Sports and the Media class.

Lindsay Schnell, a Sports Illustrated staff writer who covers college sports, and Gina Mizell, an Oregonian/OregonLive beat reporter who covers Oregon State football and women’s basketball, talked about having to work twice as hard to be taken seriously as women journalists in a male-dominated industry. It wasn’t that long ago that female journalists and their employers had to go to court to force teams and leagues to provide equal access to locker rooms, where so many coach and player interviews happen, so they could do their jobs on equal footing with men.

wsu.gina mizell

With undergraduate training in broadcast and print journalism, Gina Mizell is a double threat covering Oregon State athletics.

Tom Goldman told students of his career path in radio, starting at Alaska Public Radio in Anchorage and leading to his one-of-a-kind job as a Portland-based national correspondent for National Public Radio. His show-and-tell of assorted microphones and digital recorders captured students’ attention and focused their attention on an underappreciated way of delivering the news.

Chris Metz, vice president for communications with the Portland Timbers and Thorns, pulled back the curtain on the hectic life of a front-office executive. The job entails traveling with the teams; establishing and protecting their brands; helping manage coaches and players, who present a range of egos and personalities; dealing with local and national media; and responding to fans in the nation’s most popular soccer market.

And then there was Brenda Tracy. The victim of a gang rape by Oregon State football players in the late ’90s, Brenda has become a leading spokeswoman on sexual assault and rape culture, meeting with coaches and athletes across the country. Her story of redemption, beginning as a young single mom with no self-esteem, going public with her story, and subsequently becoming a registered nurse, victim advocate and national speaker, visibly moved the young men and women in my class. “Inspiring” doesn’t begin to capture the power of Brenda’s presence.

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Brenda Tracy cites her own experience as a victim in calling out rape culture.

***

I had five other guest speakers in the reporting class.

Kyle Iboshi, an investigative reporter at KGW and a Murrow alum himself, walked students through one of his stories, emphasizing that good reporting combines a nose for news, digging through public records, and holding public officials and institutions accountable. Like reporters everywhere, he’s producing video, writing for digital as well as broadcast, and engaging with readers on Twitter and Facebook.

Steve Woodward, a former colleague at The Oregonian, introduced students to “The new ‘New Journalism'”.  With an entertaining slide show full of hyperlinks, Steve moves across the spectrum of new and mostly innovative web sites that have sprung up as alternatives to the traditional mainstream media. While most students were familiar with HuffPost and BuzzfeedNews, fewer knew about Vice, Vox, Mic, Fusion, and Rare. Same goes for ProPublica, Five Thirty Eight and The Young Turks. An innovator himself, Steve has taught journalism at three colleges and universities and is newsroom director of a Portland-based startup that’s producing one-minute videos for an increasingly international viewership.

psu.steve woodward

Steve Woodward, speaking during the winter term to students at Portland State University.

Another former colleague at The O and OregonLive, Anna Griffin, introduced the class to multi-platform journalism as practiced by her employer, Oregon Public Broadcasting. Known for its sober, solid reporting on public affairs and other topics such as education, environment and diversity, OPB delivers content online, on the radio and TV. That means reporters today, regardless of age, must know how to write for different mediums, as well as shoot video, capture audio, and live tweet.

opb.anna griffin

Anna Griffin has made a smooth transition from print to multimedia journalism at Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Beth Nakamura, a staffer at The Oregonian/OregonLive, shared her perspective as a photojournalist who broke into the business in an era of still photography, darkroom chemicals and once-a-day print deadlines and has had to adapt to a completely flipped reality. Weighed down with cameras and lenses of all sizes, Beth now shoots live video, writes her own stories, downloads photo galleries in minutes, and transmits from anywhere she can get an internet connection. Beth’s images depict ordinary people experiencing both tough and tender moments, reflecting not just their hopes, interests and challenges but her own dedication: “to enable people to be heard.”

wsu.beth nakamura

Beth Nakamura: photographer, videographer, storyteller.

Dianne Danowski-Smith, a vice president with Publix NW,  wrapped things up with an energetic presentation that covered “the other side” of the media. As a longtime public relations pro, she explained the differences in producing in-house and external communications, in working for corporate and government employers, and in preparing for crisis situations, where some kind of response is always needed to limit damage to the client.

Each and every one of the professional journalists brought something intangible but yet very important to the class — a passion for their work that has guided their career development while also delivering compelling stories that inform, entertain and occasionally enrage readers.

I am grateful to all of them for sharing their time and expertise, indebted to Nanu for hiring me, and ever so appreciative of my wife for going through this extra-busy stretch with me.

Up next: Summer session starts June 6 with a class on Media Ethics.

 

Lab Girl

hope jahren in lab

Hope Jahren in her research lab.

Science has never been my forte. High school chemistry and biology were challenging enough, so I never went near physics. In college, I took a single general science course and was thankful I wasn’t required to do more.

So why would I put “Lab Girl” on my list of hoped-for Christmas or birthday gifts?

Two reasons: 1) I spotted the title late last year on a New York Times list of notable books and the thumbnail review sounded interesting; 2) I thought it might give me better understanding of the kind of work our youngest son wants to do.

I recently finished the book and I’m happy to say it’s a gem. It’s beautifully written and it’s illuminated the path that lies ahead for Jordan, who’s graduating next month with a bachelors degree in biology and hopes to become a research scientist.

One critic says of the author: “Hope Jahren is the voice that science has been waiting for.”

Indeed.

Jahren is one of those people who is multiply talented, almost astonishingly so.

lab girl coverHer academic credentials? She’s received three Fulbright Awards in geobiology, has a Ph.D in soil science from UC Berkeley, has taught at Johns Hopkins and Georgia Tech, and has been named by Time magazine as one of the world’s “100 Most Influential People.” Still in her 40s, she is a tenured professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and currently is a fellow at the University of Oslo, where she studies fossil forests. She’s fluent in Norwegian, by the way.

Her writing chops? Impressive. It’s hard to believe this collection of essays is her first book. Part memoir, part introduction to the science of trees and plants, she has the ability to explain concepts and procedures in lay terms that even I can grasp. And her prose at times is downright dazzling. (You’ll see for yourself in the excerpts the follow.)

She writes with authority born of expertise, with wisdom born of experience, and with self-deprecating humor born of perspective. Binding it all together are the passion that she brings to her work, and the determination and discipline that have fueled her success in a male-dominated profession.

As a female scientist, she has been the only woman in a college class, the only woman at a professional conference, one of few women among a university’s science faculty, and certainly one of few among her colleagues who’s had to take a career break to give birth.

“My desire to become a scientist was founded upon a deep instinct and nothing more; I never heard of a single story about a living female scientist, never met one or even saw one on television.

“As a female scientist I am still unusual, but in my heart I was never anything else. Over the years I have built three laboratories from scratch, given warmth and life to three empty rooms, each one bigger and better than the last. My current laboratory is almost perfect — located in balmy Honolulu and housed within a magnificent building that is frequently crowned by rainbows and surrounded by hibiscus flowers in constant bloom — but somehow I know that I will never stop building and wanting more. My laboratory is not “room T309” as stated on my university’s blueprints; it is “the Jahren Laboratory,” and it always will be, no matter where it is located. It bears my name because it is my home.”

How did she become a scientist? Raised in a small Midwest town with three older brothers, she essentially grew up in the lab where her father taught at the local community college. As a young girl, she became acquainted with the workbenches, the equipment, and the drawers full of magnets, wire, glass, metal and other stuff that all proved useful for something.

Culturally, she was born into a Scandinavian home where silence and emotional distance between family members were the norm, something that, for better or worse, contributed to her self-reliance.

That’s a trait that she had to rely on early in her career as she sought to establish her credentials and find stable employment in her chosen career. She describes several instances of sexism (no surprise) and early on introduces us to a quirky fellow named Bill, who she met as a grad student at Berkeley. The two formed an exceptional bond as fellow scientists and later as friends, and he continues to serve as Jahren’s senior research lab manager in Oslo. He’s instrumental to her telling of the larger story of “Lab Girl.”

Jahren describes the life of the research scientist as one that is both esoteric and often lonely. People don’t know what you do or why, and they don’t have the foggiest idea of how precarious the funding is for such work.

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Hope Jahren, scientist and author.

***

As I write this on Earth Day, thousands of scientists are marching in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of other cities on six continents to draw attention to the value of science and to their worries that “evidence has been crowded out by ideology and opinion in public debate and policymaking.”

Read The Washington Post’s story: “Why scientists are marching on Washington and more than 600 cities”

In one essay, Jahren explains that there is just one significant source of support for the kind of research she does — the National Science Foundation, which is funded by our federal tax dollars.

In 2013, the NSF’s budget was $7.3 billion, a sum that sounds large until you learn that the Department of Agriculture’s budget is about three times that amount, the Department of Homeland Security’s budget is five times as large, and the Department of Defense’s “discretionary” budget alone is more than 60 times that sum.

Jahren points out that the U.S. government spends twice as much on its space program as it does on all of its other scientists put together. Little wonder that those specializing in other fields are left scrambling to apply for three-year grants and additional university funding to pay for salaries and benefits, student help, chemicals, equipment, travel and administrative overhead charges.

“Ask a science professor what she worries about,” Jahren writes. “It won’t take long. She’ll look you in the eye and say one word: ‘Money.’ ”

***

As informative as the book is, the writing itself is superb. The author has a website called hopejahrensurecanwrite.com, where she maintains a lively blog. She also credits her mother with instilling in her an appreciation for reading and writing.

As a high school senior in the 1950s, Hope’s mom was awarded an honorable mention in a prestigious national science competition and hoped to study chemistry at the state university. But lack of money forced her to drop out and she moved back to her hometown, where she married, became a mother and homemaker, and some 20 years later took correspondence courses in English literature to get her college degree.

The daughter learned her lessons well. Consider this excerpt, where Jahren recalls her days as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota (the same place her mom, dad and brothers attended) working in the university hospital during the 3-to-11 p.m. shift as a “runner” hand-delivering IV pain medications to the nursing stations where they were needed.

“That night in the hospital I walked in and out of the hospice ward ten or twenty times, and my eyes and hands moved through the necessary tasks. Well into the night and deeper into my brain, it came to me that as hospital workers, we were being paid to trail along behind Death as he escorted frail, wasted bodies over difficult miles, dragging their loved ones along with him. My job was to meet the traveling party at its designated way station and faithfully provide fresh supplies for the journey. When the weary group disappeared over the horizon, we turned back, knowing that another agonized family would be arriving soon.

“The doctors, nurses, and I didn’t cry because the bewildered husbands and stricken daughters were carrying enough for all of us. Helpless and impotent against the awesome power of Death, we nonetheless bowed out heads in the pharmacy, injected twenty milliliters of salvation int a bag of tears, blessed it again and again, and then carried it like a baby to the hospice and offered it up. The drug would flow into a passive vein, the family wold draw close, and a cup of fluid might be temporarily removed from their ocean of pain.” 

Wow. Gives me chills.

“Lab Girl” is a great book for the young scientist in your life, and even better if that person is a girl. It’s also a great book for yourself, especially if you’re one, like me, who would have benefited from Science  for Dummies. At 282 pages, it’s a fairly fast read and one that will leave you with admiration for the work and life of a remarkable research scientist named Hope Jahren.

(Click on images to view captions.)

Eight years and still laying bricks

Vertie Hodge, 74, weeps during an Inauguration Day party near Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Houston on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 after President Barack Obama delivered his speech after taking the oath of office, becoming the first black president in the United States.

Vertie Hodge, 74, weeps during an Inauguration Day party near Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Houston on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 after President Barack Obama delivered his speech after taking the oath of office, becoming the first black president in the United States.

In January 2009, Barack Obama took office as 44th President of the United States.

A month later, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 27-23, in the 43rd Super Bowl and Bruce Springsteen performed during the halftime show.

Back then, our oldest son, Nathan, was a few months away from getting his bachelors degrees in business and marketing at Portland State. Our daughter, Simone, was working with low-income students at alternative high schools in Portland and applying to graduate schools on the East Coast. Our youngest son, Jordan, was a newlywed and and stationed with the U.S. Army in El Paso, Texas.

Lori and I were empty nesters, still in the Grant Park neighborhood where we raised our kids and living with our dogs, Otto and Max, and our cats, Rudy and Mabel.

And so it was that on March 1, yours truly launched the Rough and Rede blog. I’d been hired to teach a weekend seminar at a local college called “Opinion and the Blogosphere.” (How quaint that word “blogosphere” seems now.)

My first blog post, written in the wee hours of March 1, 2009, was comprised of a single paragraph:

It’s about time…I’m going to teach a weekend seminar on “Opinion and the Blogosphere.” Shouldn’t I have a blog of my own? Even one that has more bones than skin? It’s about time…It’s after 1 in the morning, that transition time between Saturday night and Sunday morning. I find I do some of my clearest thinking and clearest writing in the wee hours. Fewer distractions that way. It’s about time…How will I sustain this? I’m already on Facebook; don’t wanna do MySpace. I’m online every day, much of the day, owing to my job as editor of the Sunday Opinion section at The Oregonian. It’s about time…It’s about getting started, as the title of this post says. Choose an image: dive in, dip your toes in the water, take the first step, just do it. So I’m doing it. I have no illusions about this, by the way. Just one guy on the Left Coast laying the first brick of what I hope will be good for the soul, good for the mind. Welcome, friends and new readers.

Well, here we are, eight years later. President Obama is president no longer and our nation threatens to pull itself apart under the policies of the Cheeto-in-Chief.

The New England Patriots just won the Super Bowl (again).

Nathan is following his passions of music and food, working as a DJ and a cook at a Thai restaurant. Simone is married and working for Metro as a senior auditor. Jordan is a young father, living near Tacoma, Washington, and closing in on a biology degree at nearby St. Martin’s University.

Lori and I are in a condo, sharing our living space with our slinky feline, Mabel, and our rascally little mutt, Charlotte.

And I’m celebrating the eight-year anniversary of the original Rough and Rede blog.

***

How appropriate that this milestone would fall on the same date that I just gave my Media Literacy students their midterm exam in COM 312 at Portland State University.

Eight years ago, I was still employed at The Oregonian and just dipping my toes into the waters of higher education.

Now here I am, 14 months removed from taking a buyout at The Oregonian/OregonLive, and teaching not one college course but three.

In addition to my class at Portland State, I’m also teaching two communications courses across the river at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’ve written about the transition from newsroom to classroom before, so I won’t go into yet again, although I fully expect to reflect on my teaching experiences when the quarter (PSU) and semester (WSU) are done at each campus.

***

I’ve got some more thoughts on this personal milestone and I’ll share them before the week is through. In the meantime, thanks to one and all for following the original R&R blog or this newer version, Rough and Rede II.

Photograph: AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Mayra Beltran

 

From the newsroom to the classroom

 

wsu-classroom

The classroom where I teach two courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’m five weeks deep into the 2017 winter quarter at Portland State University, already halfway done with the 10-week term. Across the river, five weeks in means I’m a third of the way though the 16-week spring semester at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’m teaching one course at PSU on Monday-Wednesday and two at WSUV on Tuesday-Thursday and, yes, that’s keeping me plenty busy. (I also work four afternoons a week at a local nonprofit, but let’s not go there right now.)

As I write this on a Saturday morning, I’m struck by how fast the time goes, particularly when snow days force cancellation of classes — two at each campus — during the first two weeks. Throw in the King Day holiday and that’s another day we didn’t hold class at PSU.

But who’s complaining?

Fourteen months after leaving The Oregonian/OregonLive, I’ve got plenty on my plate.

***

Here I am this weekend with nearly 70 essays to grade, three chapters to read in three textbooks, two guest speakers to prepare for next week, and dates and times to confirm with a half-dozen more guests I’ve lined up in next couple of months.

Surely, this is nothing out of the ordinary for anyone who teaches full-time or even as an adjunct. Classroom time is just part of the deal. Planning and prep time take up a lot of intellectual energy, too, but the many administrative tasks involved — grading papers, maintaining a grade book, posting weekly schedules and lecture notes online, emailing students — account for far more time.

But, again, who’s complaining?

When I agreed to teach three classes at once, I knew I was in for a challenge. But the rewards are definitely worth it.

There is no better time to be teaching Media Literacy than now. When you’ve got a new administration declaring war on the press, throwing out phony accusations of fake news, and offering “alternative facts” as a diversion from verifiable facts that show Trump and his minions in an unflattering light, well, it’s the perfect time for a course like this.

My students at PSU have eagerly engaged on the subject, admitting their own shortcomings when it comes to digital literacy but also getting quickly up to speed in understanding who is providing what content (news, opinion, advertising) on the internet and for what purpose.

In Vancouver, I’m having a great time teaching Sports and the Media, holding up organized sports as a mirror of society. Coverage of sports has gone so far beyond just games, scores and hero worship to an era of athlete activism and self-marketing and wart-and-all coverage of coaches, players and programs. I present sports as a mirror of society, touching on racism, sexism, politics, entertainment, marketing and campus sexual abuse, among other topics. (Great timing to have Super Bowl 51 come along to illustrate the intersection of so many of these themes.)

I’m also teaching Reporting Across Platforms, traditionally a writing-intensive course designed to prepare students for producing words and images for print, broadcast and digital. I’m going at it somewhat differently, in light of the fact that many students are non-communications majors (let alone non-journalism majors) and have never done journalism in their life.

Accordingly, I’m trying to provide more context about the challenges facing today’s multimedia journalists in an era of 24/7 news and social media rather than emphasize basic skills of reporting, interviewing, writing and tweeting. The students are taking baby steps, but they’re also getting introduced to media ethics and the realities of a profession under siege.

I’ll check in again when the quarter and semester are done.

george-gosia2

I met for coffee recently with Gosia Wozniacka, a former reporter at The Oregonian and the Associated Press, who is now teaching a journalism class at Clark College in Vancouver. We compared notes on teaching.

For now, I take comfort in knowing I’m making a difference in how these young people are seeing things more clearly now — and even putting actions behind their words.

At least three students have let me know they have begun subscribing to The Oregonian/OregonLive or least committed to buying the newspaper two days a week as a sign of their support for local journalism. Several more made it clear to me, in emails or in class discussions, that they now understand the importance of a free press in a democratic society and are changing their media consumption habits accordingly.

What more could a teacher ask for?