The mother of all thank-yous

Ever since I started teaching college classes four years ago, I’ve made it a point to recap the just-completed quarter or semester with an eye toward cementing what I learned from my students, as well as looking ahead to the next term.

Typically, I’ve used these blog posts to also say thanks to my guest speakers and others who lent a helping hand.

Today I offer The Mother of All Thank-Yous.

It’s my way of expressing gratitude to a slew of about 80 people who contributed to whatever success I had teaching mass communication courses after spending four decades as a working journalist.

My list begins with two pairs of people who helped swing open the door of opportunity at both places I taught until this year.

At Portland State University, it was Cynthia-Lou Coleman and Jeff Robinson, both professors in the Department of Communication.

It was Cindy, a former department chair, who served as a first contact when I inquired about adjunct teaching possibilities after I left The Oregonian at the end of 2015. Years earlier, when she was the chair, she hired me to teach two weekend mini-courses that went quite well. Cindy put me in touch with Jeff, who succeeded her as chair and subsequently brought me on to teach Media Ethics in the 2016 fall quarter.

As I gained experience and the budget allowed, Jeff hired me to concurrently run the Comm Department’s internship program. Last year, he was able to bring me on full-time, which meant teaching two classes and managing the internship program all three terms of the academic year.

At Washington State University Vancouver, it was a former neighbor, Lori Callister, who provided an initial tip that led me to Dr. Nanu Iyer, director of the Integrated Strategic Communication program.

Lori knew someone who was serving on a professional advisory board at WSUV and looking to spread the word about an assistant professor position in the Integrated Strategic Communication program. With no advanced degree and no background in advertising or public relations, I knew I had no shot at the job.

Nanu gave me an interview anyway, asked me to do a guest lecture, and then hired me to teach two classes in the 2017 spring semester: Reporting Across Platforms and Sports and the Media. I wound up teaching there for two fulfilling years, giving up the job in May 2019 in order to accept the fulltime gig at Portland State that just ended.

I am grateful to those four folks and to dozens more who directly and indirectly influenced or supported what or how I taught. So here is a big thank-you to:

My Comm Department colleagues at PSU — Cindy and Jeff; professors Lee Shaker, Brianne Suldovsky, Erin Spottswood, Lauren Frank, David Ritchie, Kenny Bagley, Giselle Tierney, Tanner Cooke; and retired professor David Kennamer.

Tanya Romaniuk, another Comm professor who transitioned from teaching to a critical role as Academic & Career Advisor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She, more than anyone, helped me understand the Comm Department’s recent history; keep track of who was who and what was what in related programs; and make sense of a long list of acronyms for university buildings and programs.

Marisa Miller, a graduate student who later became Internship Coordinator in the University Career Center. She managed the Comm Department’s internship program each of the past two summers while I was teaching abroad and became a trusted ally in steering students to career opportunities.

Bailey Acord-Becker and Aurora Leichty, who coordinated all the administrative and front office work for the Comm Department, including scheduling and payroll and supervising work-study students who staffed the reception desk.

My guest speakers at WSUV — PR practitioners Mark Mohammadpour, Dianne Danowski-Smith, and Chris Metz; advertising executive Will Ulbricht; digital strategist Kate Lesniak; sports announcer Rich Burk; former Oregon State University athletes Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten; and the remarkable Brenda Tracy, a gang-rape survivor who’s become a prominent speaker in the fight against sexual and relationship violence in college football.

Current and former journalists who also spoke to my WSUV students — Lindsay Schnell, Gina Mizell, Tom Goldman, Casey Holdahl, Anna Griffin, Beth Nakamura, Lillian Mongeau, Kyle Iboshi, Stephanie Yao Long, Steve Woodward, David Lippoff, Katy Sword, Jamie Goldberg, Tyson Alger and Chris Broderick.

My guest speakers at PSU — From the worlds of PR, advertising, integrated brand promotion and digital strategy: Alberto Ponte, Emma Barnett, Brittni Busch, Kate Lesniak, Jean Kempe-Ware, Mark Mohammadpour, Kelly Bantle and Maureen O’Connor; fellow professors: Antonia Alvarez, Mike Caulfield and Will Ulbricht; and nonprofit leaders: Susan Nielsen and Sankar Raman.

Current and former journalists who also spoke to my PSU students — Therese Bottomly, Mark Katches, Samantha Swindler, John Schrag, Beth Nakamura, Kyle Iboshi, Andi Zeisler, Nigel Jaquiss, Jeff Mapes, Chris Broderick, Lillian Mongeau, Stephanie Yao Long and Steve Woodward.

My wonderfully talented and indispensible teaching assistants — Evelyn Smith at WSUV; Becky Kearny, Tullia Fusco, Andrew Swanson, Cole Eakin, Tristina Bumgarner and Margarita Maligaya at PSU.

The outstanding staff at PSU’s Education Abroad office, who made it possible for me to teach a summer course in London in 2018 and 2019 (and plans for another one in Berlin in 2021) — Jen Hamlow and Hannah Fischer; and graduate assistants Adrienne Bocci, Adriane Bolliger and Hannah Marrs.

The outstanding staff at CAPA Global Education Network, who provided additional support for my study-abroad course — Darin Smith-Gaddis in Los Angeles, Zion Griffin in Boston and Sheriden Kuech in London.

And three others — Sandy Rowe, my former editor at The Oregonian, who graciously loaned me a boxful of files and notes from her own college teaching and thereby enriched the content in my Media Ethics course this year; Elizabeth Hovde and Len Reed, former colleagues at The Oregonian who both went on to teach as adjuncts at WSUV. Meeting one-on-one with Elizabeth or Len for coffee or breakfast provided an opportunity to talk about the transition from the newsroom to the classroom and to lay bare our shared experiences, whether it was about lesson plans and teaching styles, or about our frustrations, breakthroughs and small victories.

It’s often said it takes a village to raise a child. In my case, it took several villages to prop up a single adjunct instructor. The hours were long but the rewards — reflected in the quality of work and insights gained from my students — were always worth it.

Back in school: Media studies

Teachable moment following the second day of class.

Waiting for the streetcar after class last week at Portland State, I came across the above scene in the middle of campus and realized it could be a teachable moment for students in my Media Literacy class. Here is the prompt I gave them:

“Check out the attached photo and think back to our conversation about what elements in a media message tend to attract our attention. With that in mind, what would you say stands out in the photo? Without caption information from me, do you know what’s going on?”

What stands out? The color pink. The heart-shaped cutout for selfies. The gathering of nearly all females, nearly all of them young. The hashtag #pinkoncampus.

What’s going on? It’s a promotional event for Pink, a lingerie and clothing line by Victoria’s Secret targeting young adults and teenagers. Through students who serve as campus reps, the company can give away swag and reap free publicity through social media. Sharing the hashtag on Instagram means you can spread photos of the event with friends who may have missed it and also make them visible to anyone who comes upon the online site. (In the case of Pink, how beneficial is it for the company to have young women publicizing your products from Boise State to Ohio State to Florida, as well as Portland State?)

How does that reach compare to the bulletin board on the first floor of the campus library? It’s overflowing with flyers competing for space and attention, with design elements featuring different colors, typography, symbols and language. In essence, it’s a physical representation of the mass media messages (from news, advertising and entertainment) that assault us every minute of every day. But if you’ve produced one of those flyers, you’ve got to understand its reach is limited to the number of people who just so happen to be in that one building among dozens on a campus serving 30,000 students — and who just so happen to pick your flyer out of all those others above, below and next to it.

Competing for views on one wall of the PSU Millar Library.

Is it any wonder advertisers, marketers, PR firms, news organizations and nonprofits have turned away from static, two-dimensional platforms and turned toward digital images and information, which are timeless, less expensive to produce, and can be shared without limit?

That’s the kind of approach I try to take in teaching Media Literacy, as well as in Media Ethics. Textbooks are great for presenting and explaining basic concepts and principles, but the real world outside the classroom can be a great complement to helping us understand what we come across on our screens. Why do we scroll past some things but pay attention to others? Do we quickly understand what we are reading or viewing? How do we assign meaning? Is it the tone or specific content of a headline or photo? Do we have prior knowledge or experience with the subject or producer of the message? If the topic or source are new to us, how do we know to trust what is in front of us?

I could go on, but that’s the gist of what I am trying to get students to think about.

***

The fall quarter began on Sept. 30 at PSU and today marks the end of the second week of classes. It’s a good time to look back (just briefly) and look forward to what lies ahead.

This year marks the beginning of my fourth year as an adjunct college insttructor and my first as a full-time faculty member. I’d been splitting my time between PSU and Washington State University Vancouver, but Portland State offered me a one-year contract that allows me to focus my efforts on a single campus. I will teach three classes during the fall, winter and spring terms, including an online class for students who are doing Comm-related internships for academic credit.

I have about 100 students total in my three classes, and one teaching assistant to help me in the largest one, Media Literacy, a 300-level class that can be taken as an elective. In that class of 56 students, about one-third are people of color and one-fourth are foreign-born. They come from Canada, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Pakistan, Mexico, Malyasia, the Philippines and the Czech Republic.

Among the students are speakers of Arabic, Hebrew, German, Spanish, Japanese, Czech and American Sign Language. One student, born in Pakistan but raised in Afghanistan, speaks Dari, Urdu, Hindi, and a little bit of Pashto — oh, and English, too.

Many are the first in their family to attend college and most of them work at least part-time. Some are parents. Some grew up in Portland and its suburbs, others in rural communities scattered across Eastern, Southern or Coastal Oregon. Others are from throughout the West — Washington, Idaho, Alaska, California, Nevada, Arizona.

13 students are Communications majors, 12 are studying business and the rest are scattered across the spectrum — political science, psychology, philosophy, English, economics, graphic design, art history, computer science, sociology, women’s studies and more.

All of these things make for a wonderfully diverse set of perspectives and experiences that enrich our class discussions and enable students to learn from their peers, as well as from me, guest speakers, readings and videos.

I have 35 students in the Media Ethics class — a 400-level class populated entirely by Comm majors who are juniors and seniors. There’s quite a bit of diversity there, too, with racial or ethnic minorities accounting for about one-third of the class.

During my three decades at The Oregonian, I often thought I was privileged to hold two of the best jobs in the newsroom. As recruitment director, I got to travel widely, meet talented prospects and established pros from all over the country, and help recruit many of them to Portland. As Sunday Opinion Editor, I got to work directly with a tremendously talented group of editorial writers, columnists and a cartoonist (hello, Jack Ohman!) and solicit commentary pieces from politicans, professors, business people, community advocates and ordinary citizens on issues of public policy affecting our city, state and region.

But you know what? I’m enjoying this second career every bit, if not more, than my first as a journalist. Adjunct pay is notoriously horrible and the hours required to prepare a syllabus and weekly schedule for each class; assign and grade papers, quizzes and exams; and prepare for and follow up each class meeting are too many to count. But the rewards are so worth it.

I get to share what I know and what I keep learning — often from my students. And I get to feel a measure of pride in seeing them grow before my eyes as they engage with the course content, connect the dots, and express themselves orally and online. Afterwards, it’s gratifying to have so many ask me to be a job reference.

When the academic year ends next June, I will retire. Well, sort of.

I’ve taught a course in London each of the past two summers through PSU’s Education Abroad office, and I have plans to do so again in 2020. Next year, though, it will be a different program in a different city. Details to come.

3 down, 1 to go

In early July, I’ll be back in London with a new group of students to explore the British capital inside and outside the classroom.

Final grades have been turned in and I’m officially done for the spring quarter at Portland State University. That means I’ve racked up three full years of part-time college teaching, and I can now set my sights on one more year.

Next fall, I’m moving into a full-time position at Portland State, an opportunity that fell into my lap when it became apparent the Department of Communication was in need of some short-term help.

With one professor leaving for a job at another university, a second one going on sabbatical, and a third one recently retired, yours truly happened to be in the right place to take on an expanded role during the 2019-20 academic year. It’s for one year only, and that suits me just fine.

Starting in September, I will move to a 3-3-3 course load from my previous 2-1-2. That means I’ll teach three classes each during the fall, winter and spring quarters. As an adjunct instructor during the just-completed school year, I taught two classes in the fall and spring, and one during the winter.

The new teaching load isn’t as onerous as it seems. One of the three courses is the online internship class I oversee during each quarter, typically with anywhere from 12 to 15 students per term. The other two courses will be of the traditional butts-in-the-seats variety, totaling about 90 students per term.

I will teach Media Literacy (all three terms), Media Ethics (two terms) and Mass Communication and Society (one term). When June 2020 arrives, I will be done.

Though I’m excited by what lies ahead, accepting this full-time gig means having to cut the cord with Washington State University Vancouver, where I had also taught during the past three years.

So long, WSUV. Hello, PSU.

With summer arriving this week and the books officially closed on this school year, you might think I was kicking up my feet and getting some R&R. That’ll happen, but not right away.

In less than three weeks, I’ll be in the United Kingdom again to teach a study-abroad course to a group of 10 students from PSU and WSUV. It’ll be my second time teaching Media Literacy in London, and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in British media, culture and politics for two weeks.

The course runs from July 8 to July 22 and we’ve got a daily schedule packed with visits to the BBC and other media organizations; several guest speakers; guided tours of the city — on the bus, on foot and on a boat; and a handful of group meals, including a traditional British afternoon tea to welcome the students.

We also plan to sit in on a session of the Houses of Parliament at a momentous time in the UK’s history, with politicians still struggling to find an answer to the leave-or-remain Brexit question that led to the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May.

This year, Lori will join me toward the tail end of the program so we can tack on a few extra days and enjoy as much as we can of the British capital. I know she will love the city as much as I do, and having her there is one small way of repaying her for all the support and encouragement she offered me last summer — and, frankly, all that she has tolerated during my three years of adjunct teaching.

Lest I get caught up in what lies ahead, I also need to look back and say thanks.

Andrew Swanson was my teaching assistant during the just-completed spring quarter at PSU.

First, to Andrew Swanson, who served as my teaching assistant in Media Literacy during the spring term. Andrew is a super-smart dude with an interesting past and an even brighter future. He was a professional motorcycle and race car for many years in Europe and the U.S. and later worked in the music industry.

In addition to his pursuit of a bachelor’s in social science, Andrew is program manager at Oregon Recovers, a Portland-based nonprofit that lobbies for improved treatment and support for Oregonians suffering from addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Hannah Fischer, of Portland State, and Darin Smith-Gaddis, of CAPA, have been staunch allies in my endeavors to teach abroad.

Another tip of the hat is due to Hannah Fischer and Darin Smith-Gaddis. Both have been instrumental in paving the way for me to teach in London.

Hannah works in Portland State’s Education Abroad office, where she coordinates faculty-led programs like mine. She helped me fine-tune my syllabus, developed the program budget, publicized my course and helped recruit students, and served as a liaison between us and CAPA, a Boston-based organization that offers global education programs in London and other leading cities.

Darin works for CAPA as a regional institutional relations manager. Based in Los Angeles, he works with colleges and universities in eight Western states, including Oregon, to develop study abroad programming. Darin provided expertise and enthusiasm as a program partner that I greatly appreciated when we launched the inaugural UK program.

Last week, he flew up to Portland to join me in a pre-departure orientation session for my London-bound students, offering tips on culture shock, British vocabulary and packing light, among other things. Afterwards, he and I and Hannah grabbed lunch and we kicked around some possible destinations and course topics should the stars align and I do this again in the summer of 2020.

It’s fun to fantasize about taking this summer gig beyond London, but my lips are sealed for the time being. In the meantime, enjoy this short video:

London Stories: An Agatha Christie masterpiece

“You have been summoned for jury service.”

Date/Time: Sun 29 July 2018 15:00 (3 pm)

Location: London County Hall, Central Gallery, Row B, Seat 24

Jury service? Yes — and I went willingly. The occasion? I had bought myself a ticket to see Agatha Christie’s “Witness for the Prosecution” while in London last summer. The play, then 10 months into its run, was being staged in the magnificent London County Hall on the south bank of the River Thames.

July 29 was to be my last full day in London before flying home after teaching a two-week course in the city. I wanted to end on a high note, with a dose of arts and culture. I could not have asked for a better experience.

The setting was grand. The production was fabulous. It was one of those moments when I had to pinch myself and appreciate the circumstances that had brought me here: I was teaching a study-abroad class for the first time and exploring the British capital with six students from the Portland area. And now I was watching live theater in a nearly century-old building.

London County Hall, opened in 1922, sits on the south bank of the River Thames, flanked on one side by the London Eye.

After a farewell dinner on Friday night, my students and I went our separate ways on the final weekend of the program. I wound up here. Not in the West End theater district, but several miles away at the elegant London County Hall, which began construction before the First World War and opened in 1922, The building originally housed the London County Council government offices, but today it is home to two hotels, several restaurants, apartments and tourist attractions.

County Hall is next to the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel, and across the Thames from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Little wonder that this photogenic building in a tourist hot spot attracts so much attention.

Approaching the building from the south side, you enter a spacious foyer and climb a marble staircase which takes you into the theater. My seat was in the second level, perfectly centered and looking down at the stage. I was at the end of a row seated next to a friendly woman my age. Her name was Laura, as I recall, and she had come with her husband and grandchildren. She said they were retired and came in from the suburbs regularly for performances just like this.

The production itself was superb. Agatha Christie was a master storyteller, and this play was adapted from one of her short stories published way back in 1925. When she died in 1979 at age 85, she had written 66 crime novels, 6 non-crime novels, more than 20 plays and upwards of 150 short stories. With more than 2 billion books published, she was outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.

In “Witness for the Prosecution,” the story centers on themes of justice, passion and betrayal in a courtroom setting. A young man, Leonard Vole, is accused of murdering a widow to inherit her wealth. Leonard is brought to trial and we, the audience, quickly lose ourselves in the gripping drama as he and other witnesses, including his callous wife, are called to testify. At stake is a possible death sentence if he is found guilty.

Even some 10 months after I saw the play, I have fond memories of losing myself in a world-class production featuring British stage actors at the top of their craft. Along with sharp dialogue and crystalline acoustics, there are white-wigged jurists and swift set changes that keep the story moving to its climax — and then to a surprising, alternate ending.

When I came home, I was excited to share the experience with my wife. I rented a DVD of the 1957 film adaptation starring Charles Laughton and Marlene Dietrich and directed by Billy Wilder.

The movie received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, but watching it six decades later, I had to wonder why. Viewing it on the small screen in black and white, I was put off by the appalling sexism embodied by Laughton’s character. Did I miss all that in London? Or was the dialogue toned down for a modern audience?

In any event, catching this matinee performance was a highlight among highlights during my short stay in London. In just five more weeks, I’ll return to teach the same class, this time with 10 students in tow from Portland State University and Washington State University Vancouver.

Lori will join me toward the tail end of the program, so we can have a few days together to explore the city.

We definitely want to see a play or two. I just may try to talk her into seeing this one. It’s scheduled to continue its run through March 2020. #SeeYouinCourt

So long, WSUV. Hello, PSU.


Lights are off. Semester is done. Time for a new chapter as a college instructor.

After class last week, I went through the usual routine. Turned off the A/V projector. Grabbed my dry-erase markers, textbook and file folders and zipped ’em into my shoulder bag. Turned off the lights and shut the door.

Wistfully, I headed off to the parking lot. I had just given the final exam in my Sports and the Media class, and it would be the last time I would go through this routine.

After three years of teaching at Washington State University Vancouver, it was time to close the book (literally) and look forward to what comes next.

I’ve been offered a one-year, full-time faculty position at Portland State University for the 2019-20 academic year. In order to accept the job, I had to say no to further employment at WSUV.

While I’m excited to step into an expanded role at Portland State, I regret that it comes at the price of giving up the good thing I had going at WSUV. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the mix of students and small-college feel of this public university in southwest Washington, where many, like myself, are first-generation college students.

What does all this mean?

First, it means I can take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Dr. Narayanan Iyer, director of the Integrated Strategic Communication program at WSUV, for hiring me as an adjunct instructor in January 2017. Known affectionately to students and staff as Nanu, he gave me the chance to teach three different courses over my time there, stretching across the spring, summer and fall semesters.

Read “Cougartown” for a look back at my first semester at WSUV

I had no idea what Integrated Strategic Communications meant when I began. But I now know it includes a broad-based curriculum that touches on public relations, advertising, multimedia content creation, social media and digital content management, and a whiff of journalism.

I wasn’t there to teach journalism, per se. But through my Sports and the Media class and others that I taught — Media Ethics and Reporting Across Platforms — I sought to introduce students to the multimedia reporting skills and industry challenges facing digital-era journalists.

Second, I can say “thank you” to a host of professionals who gave generously of their time and expertise. Students heard directly from these guest speakers about the skills and attributes it takes to be a front-line journalist; about the professional relationships one must build with sources, including athletes and coaches; and about the ethical quandaries they encounter almost daily in the course of doing their jobs.

These talented men and women opened students’ eyes to the nasty trolling one puts up with on social media, most frequently aimed at women journalists. And in a couple of cases, speakers talked about the mental health issues that confront athletes, as well as what it feels like to be the subject of media coverage.

Here’s a heartfelt “thank you” to all who spoke to my students over these past three years: Lindsay Schnell, Jamie Goldberg. Tom Goldman, Casey Holdahl, Rich Burk, Chris Metz, Tyson Alger, Gina Mizell, Taylor Ricci, Nathan Braaten, Brenda Tracy, Mark Mohammadpour, Dianne Danowski-Smith, Chris Broderick, Beth Nakamura, Stephanie Yao-Long, Lillian Mongeau, Steve Woodward, Katy Sword, David Lippoff, Will Ulbricht, Kate Lesniak, Anna Griffin and Kyle Iboshi.

Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten came up from Corvallis this year to talk about mental health issues facing student-athletes, citing their own experiences at Oregon State University.

A special thanks goes out to Evelyn Smith, who was the only and one teaching assistant I had. She was a rock star during the Media and Society class I taught last fall, and graduated in December.

So what’s next?

Next school year, I’ll be teaching two courses each during the fall, winter and spring quarters at Portland State, while continuing to coordinate the academic internship program in the Department of Communication.

I’ll begin in September with Media Literacy, my bread-and-butter course, and Media Ethics — two very timely and essential topics.

Before then, I’ll head off to the U.K. this summer to teach Media Literacy in London. It will be my second time leading this study-abroad course through Portland State, and I’m looking forward to having 10 students this time, up from 6 last year.

It’s a two-week course that runs July 8-22. This time, Lori will join me at the tail end of the program and we’ll enjoy being tourists for a few days.

It’s been a great ride, Vancouver. I look forward to more of the same, Portland.


Though I’m excited about what comes next, I’ll miss the small-college feel of WSU Vancouver.

Life after graduation from WSUV

Spring semester is winding down after 16 weeks at Washington State University Vancouver, and I’ve got to say it’s a very satisfying feeling.

I gave my last lecture on Thursday, a day after attending an event that recognized the 17 graduating seniors in the Integrated Strategic Communications program at WSUV, and I’ll spend part of this weekend preparing next week’s final exam.

I’m sure students are relishing the end of the term. So many of them are working in addition to their coursework, and I know they’ve dealt with various stresses along the way.

Me? I won’t mind at all having a lighter teaching load along with more leisure time, but I will miss the regular interactions with students and seeing their intellectual growth.

Fortunately, there are events like Wednesday’s end-of-year event to recognize graduating seniors and look ahead with them to what lies beyond.

For starters, the Strat Com program, which prepares students for careers in public relations, advertising, marketing and journalism, honored one of my students, Brendan Nuzum, as Communicator of the Year.

Dr. Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer with Brendan Nuzum, winner of the Communicator of the Year award.

Also, my colleagues, Program Director Nanu Iyer and Assistant Professor Liz Candello, facilitated a panel discussion featuring five recent Strat Com grads who are working as communications professionals or pursuing a masters degree in the field.

They shared some familiar advice: Develop a versatile skill set. Get some internship experience before you graduate. Network like crazy. Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Turn your inexperience into an asset by emphasizing the fresh perspectives you can bring. And don’t underestimate the value of likability. No one wants to work with a difficult person.

Lastly, I was able to congratulate a handful of students in person. The list of 17 Strat Com grads includes 11 students I’ve had in my classes, including three in the Sports and the Media class I taught this spring.

Among those in the Class of 2019 is Billy Gordon, one of the most outgoing and popular students on campus. At age 64, Billy is finally getting his degree. I so admire Billy, who overcame an inferior public school education in the Jim Crow South and contributed mightily to our class discussions in Sports and the Media as a former track athlete himself.

Another is Bailley Simms, who took my Reporting Across Platforms class as a sophomore and rose to become editor of The VanCougar student magazine while securing a PR internship this summer. She’s handing off the editor’s chair to Anna Nelson, another former student who also was among those traveled to the UK last summer to take my Media Literacy in London course.

As a final note, I made sure to include this interview with baseball writer Claire Smith as part of the last class meeting this week. https://youtu.be/TP7_RJHRWAw

Don’t know her? You should.

Mental health: End the stigma

Oregon State student-athletes Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten, co-founders of the #DamWorthIt campaign, on the WSUV campus.

When I sat down earlier this year to review plans for this semester’s Sports and the Media class, I knew I’d be raising issues of race, gender, politics, economics and technology. This year I decided to add a new topic: mental health.

After back-to-back classes this week on the subject, highlighted by two student-athletes who came in as guest speakers to deliver a powerful peer-to-peer presentation, I could see the value of adding it to the syllabus. My only regret was not doing it sooner.

Think about it. If you’re a college athlete, you’re trying to balance your academics with the demands of grueling practices, traveling to games, and the expectations of performing at a high level in your sport, in front of screaming crowds and national television audiences. Throw in concerns about injuries and playing time, and that’s a whole lot of pressure on your young shoulders.

Taylor Ricci, a gymnast, and Nathan Braaten, a soccer player, endured those experiences during their athletic careers at Oregon State University. Further motivated by the deaths of teammates who died by suicide 11 months apart, they co-founded a campaign, using the platform of sports, to spark conversation about mental health issues at universities around the country.

Their campaign is called #DamWorthIt — a play on words involving the school’s Beaver mascot — and the Twitter hashtag #EndTheStigma is at the heart of it. Since launching the initiative a little over a year ago, their campaign has received national recognition and the Pac-12 Conference has awarded them a $60,000 grant to take their message — that “It’s OK to not be OK” — to student-athletes and coaching staffs at all the member schools.

On Thursday, the two of them drove up from Corvallis to speak to my students at Washington State University Vancouver. Taylor and Nathan presented a slideshow and a video, and told their individual stories of facing mental health challenges as scholarship athletes and top-tier students expected to maintain a facade of perfection.

Taylor, originally from North Vancouver, British Columbia, began competing at age 4 and committed to Oregon State’s nationally ranked gymnastics team as a 14-year-old, rising to become team captain at OSU. A Kinesiology Pre-Med major, she graduated last spring and is awaiting word on her applications to begin medical school in the fall.

Nathan, from Littleton, Colorado, was recruited to play midfielder. He is a Business and Finance major who interned for Nike last summer and will return to the company as a full-time employee after graduation this spring. Both he and Taylor were named Academic All-Americans.

Needless to say, they stand out as shining examples of smart and successful young people. But there’s the catch. As they note, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental health illness in a given year — and the proportion is even higher among college students.

Taylor and Nathan spoke with honesty and conviction about their stresses and what drove each of them to see a therapist. The implication was clear for my students. If high achievers like these two can ask for professional help, any of them should feel free to do the same — or, at least, check in with friends who might benefit from similar encouragement.

In three years of teaching at two campuses, I have seen many young adults in my classes struggle with challenges involving family and finances, academics and health, romance and roommates, car troubles and work schedules, as well as incarcerated siblings, and immigrant parents facing deportation. No wonder a good many of them are stressed out or experiencing depression.

The #DamWorthIt campaign launched in January 2018, the same week that Tyler Hilinski, a universally admired WSU quarterback, took his own life on the Pullman campus. Because of that tragic coincidence, our guest speakers said they have felt a special bond with WSU.

On Thursday, it was gratifying to see Taylor and Nathan connect so powerfully with a message designed by students for students.

One student wrote to me later to say: ” (T)his week I made a big step to see a therapist and after my visit I realized that it wasn’t a form of weakness but of strength. The timing of this topic could not have been better.”

Another one said this: “Their presentation made me want to stop and be more present for the people in my life. I know that we all get busy and we carry our own lives, but it is important to be present and in the moment for the people important to you. By being present, we are able to hopefully notice signs of the people in our lives and notice that they might be struggling.”

I am indebted to Taylor Ricci and Nathan Braaten for sharing their stories and bringing light to a subject that’s still shrouded in shame. Had I not noticed a short story on their efforts in a Sports Illustrated article in January, I would not have been aware of their trailblazing efforts to address a hidden epidemic. They responded graciously to my emails inviting them to come up to Vancouver and left having made a lasting impression on my students and me.

#DamWorthIt, all right.

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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