Sunday, May 31, 2009

Day 3 - Arrival at Diné College

After meeting the rest of the WSU group at the Albuquerque airport, our caravan of four vehicles drove four hours to Tsaile, Arizona, home of Diné College - The Tribal College of the Navajo Nation.

We enjoyed a Welcome Dinner including Navajo Tacos, Fry Bread, corn-on-the-cob, salad, watermelon, etc. Miss Diné College, Sharon Richards, gave a prayer for safety and productive, respectful work. WSU President Judith Ramaley described her history of working with Tribal Colleges in general, and specifically Diné College while she was with the National Science Foundation. She also shared some heart-felt comments about her commitment to this collaborative program between the two institutions.

Four of the five Navajo elders who will be oral history subjects were present, and each gave a short introduction of themselves and their lives. (I didn't take photos during the dinner out of respect for the importance of the occasion.) 

Following the dinner, students finished settling into their dorm rooms and began getting comfortable with the surroundings.

Here's a selection of candid photos from today:

Day 2 - Still On The Road

Day 2, Chops and I drove from Salina, Kansas, to Las Vegas, New Mexico. We're about two hours from Albuquerque. We need to be to the ABQ airport by 1:15 p.m. tomorrow to meet the plane containing WSU President Judith Ramaley, our faculty partner Cindy Killion and the 12 WSU student journalists. 

While driving today, we stopped in several small towns along the way to shoot some photos. I like to shoot images of old courthouses and post them to Google Earth. Chops likes old movie theaters and really anything else interesting and out of the ordinary.

Below, you'll see some of the things we found interesting. 

We saw some wild Pronghorn along the highway near Boise City, Oklahoma. I shot these using my Nikon D300 and Chops' 300mm f/2.8 lens. 

We stopped to check out this Drive-In Movie Theater in Dodge City, Kansas, and spent about an hour talking to Dick Ridge and his daughter Judy Smith who run the place. The theater opened in 1947. Dick has worked there since he was a teenager in 1948. He took some time off while he was in college and the Navy, but came home to Dodge City and taught science and math at the local high school and Dodge City Community College. 

Dick and Judy took time out to show us the projection room, the concession stand and just enjoy a great conversation about Drive-Ins, about life, kids, education, entertainment. 

We told Dick we were heading to the Navajo Nation to work on journalism projects. He told us he listens to KTNN Radio, the voice of the Navajo Nation, at night when it beams in well to Dodge City (more than 600 miles from its transmitter in Window Rock, Arizona). We agreed we love the sound of the Navajo language-- even though we can't understand it. 

When we were about to leave, Judy's husband, Lyle showed up in his 1968 GTO, so we hung around a little longer to marvel at the classic muscle car and talk about cars. We heard about the 1965 Mustang coupe Dick has been driving for more than 40 years and how he keeps it running, though it's close to 300,000 miles. 

This stop was the highpoint of our trip so far. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Follow" This Blog

Just a suggestion: Use the "follow" link just below my name and list of previous blog entries on the right and register as a "follower" of this blog. Then, whenever a new post is made you can be notified through your blog dashboard. 

Day 1 - On the Road

Today (Friday, May 29), Chops Hancock and I left Winona, Minnesota, heading for Arizona with a van full of video cameras, lights, batteries, still cameras, audio recorders, and camping gear. 12 hours later, and after only a few wrong turns we stopped for the night in Salina, Kansas.

Three GPS units on the dashboard and we still got lost a little.

We saw these pig snouts poking out for air from a semi-trailer truck. It made us laugh.

We visited famous National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenburg's gallery in Luverne, Minnesota, then stopped at the "Touch The Sky Prairie" which is supported by Jim and Judy Brandenburg and is one of the only places in Minnesota where the tall grass prairie has never been plowed for agriculture.

(Photos by Chops Hancock and Tom Grier)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

WSU Students in Video Workshop

Winona State University students participating in a Documentary Journalism Travel Study program to the Navajo Nation, spent an afternoon in late May, learning how to operate video cameras and practicing with them.

Travel Study Class Prepares for Journey

A group of Winona State University (Winona, Minn.) students met a group of Diné College (Tsaile, Ariz.) students in an Interactive Television classroom during the last week of May to begin preparing for a summer course in Documentary Journalism. The students will work together in teams to write, edit and produce a series of documentaries focused on Oral History of Navajo elders. 

The WSU students will spend three weeks on the Navajo Nation in June.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

An Anglo Reflection on American Indians

Later this week, I leave for the Navajo Nation, leading a group of students from Winona State University on a three-week Travel Study program to create documentary journalism pieces focused on Navajo elders.

Often, I'm asked if I have Native American roots. When I explain I do not, some seem confused about my commitment to this project.

Recently, I came across a reflection paper I wrote in 2002 for a graduate course in American Indian Pedagogy that included classes, readings and field trips to Reservations in Minnesota. I'm posting that paper here. It helps explain my values, and the importance of enhancing relationships between all cultures of the United States.

(2002: American Indian Pedagogy Reflections)

I'm a university administrator in a conference room. I'm listening while working tiny turquoise beads onto a needle and thread decorating sweat socks. I'm continuously poking the needle into my less-than-skilled fingers. This craft project will accompany the haphazard beadwork on my earlier project: a Native American dream-catcher.

The craft projects seemed trivial at first. The instructors explained how focusing on craft projects while hearing stories of people's lived experiences helped focus attention. It was a simulation of a Native American story circle and helped to bring understanding of how the Objibwe culture was passed from generation to generation through oral history sessions much like this conference room exercise.

The stories read aloud were alternately funny and sad, uplifting and depressing, hopeful and disheartening.

The room was filled with a diversity of people: American Indian, Black, Hispanic, Asian and Caucasian; college student, college faculty member, business person, homemaker, health care provider, counselor; male, female, young, old. For a few brief moments, we shared a bond in our desire to be creative with our craft projects and in the story we were reading aloud as a group, each taking a turn.

I fiddled with my glasses, trying to get the best view of the small beads as I tried to spear seven at a time for my sock-beading creation. At the same time, I listened intently to be sure to catch all of the story from this variety of voices.

At times, I fid it hard to concentrate on two things at the same time. Yet, there I was creating a work of art (at least to me) and absorbing tales that shed light on human experience.

I am a Native Minnesotan. I was born and raised in Minnesota and have lived most of my life in this state. The blood in my veins comes from the genes of only Northern Europeans, about 90 percent Irish and 10 percent Swedish. My parents were born in America. My grandparents were born in America. I was born and raised in America and have lived in this country my entire life. I am a Native American.

I'm not sure how the people who fled Europe to North America, mostly because of religious beliefs, justified their actions as they violently took over the land of their new neighbors.

Often, I'm ashamed to be a white American.

It's hard to admit, but racism lives in me. The stories, misguided or erroneous, of the white American culture-- an oral history of its own kind-- have found their way into my consciousness over the years. I know Indians don't yell "woo-woo" and I understand not all Native Americans are poor and have drinking problems, yet those stereotypes occupy a small corner of my long-term memory.

The opportunity to talk about these issues and to hear real stories of human experience of Native Americans takes me in the right direction. The opportunity to visit the Fond du Lac Reservation and see the caring and sharing community there also helps beat down misunderstanding and stereotypes.

I wonder. I'm an interested participant in these community-building activities. I'm flawed and need help to root-out misinformation and insensitivity planted in me. How can others who share my limited-focus cultural up-bringing be reached? Can it be done in a generation? Three? Seven?

The American Indian Pedagogy workshop and programs of its kind are positive steps. This is especially true because the workshop focuses on educators and future educators who will tell the stories that will be seeded into the consciousness of young people and future generations.


The journalism projects of my student teams this summer are in line with this thinking. Working together with a common goal of creating meaningful, interesting documentary projects that will help break down cultural barriers: among those described in the pieces and those who professionally and respectfully create the pieces -- but also in all who view, read or hear the documentaries.

Thanks for reading… I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Monday, May 18, 2009

MassCom Summer Travel Study

This Summer I'm leading a three-week Travel Study program from Winona State University to the Navajo Nation. Because it is a big part of my life and such an important journey for the students, it will be a key factor in my blog for the next few weeks.

Each summer, the WSU Mass Communication department offers a summer travel course during which students study the mass media in unique locations and learn something of a diverse culture. Past WSU MassCom Travel Study programs have been in Paris, London, Rome, and last year I was pleased to go along to Cairo, Egypt.

More than three years ago I started planning an opportunity for mass communication students to learn in the field, working on real projects that showcase their skills and abilities. I've always had a fascination with American Indians of the United States. European immigrants to the U.S. were ruthless in their treatment of the indigenous people of North America. I can't take responsibility for what happened more than a century ago, but I can help make things better today.

Instead of visiting a foreign country, I thought it would be good for WSU students to get a better understanding of a unique culture that is very near-- within the borders of the United States.

The course I'm leading with my colleague Dr. Cindy Killion is called Media and Society International. The title fits because the Navajo Nation is a sovereign nation with its own government, law enforcement, schools, healthcare, language, religion and cultural values.

The course subtitle is: Documentary Journalism Partnerships: Navajo Oral History. A dozen Winona State students will work in teams with students from Diné College, the tribal college of the Navajo Nation. The student groups will interview Navajo elders and create journalism pieces that tell the stories of the elders.

Teams will decide the medium to use for their project: written word, still photographs, audio or video recordings, or any combination of the above in multimedia presentations. The finished pieces will become the property of the Navajo Nation and will be archived at the Navajo Nation Museum and Navajo Nation Library. The hope is that these projects will serve as the pilot for an organized oral history program recording and preserving the culture of the largest Indian tribe in the U.S.

The course has five main goals:

1.) Foster partnerships between WSU students and students from Diné College to learn from each other while completing documentary journalism projects.

2.) Immerse students in a culture they might not be exposed to through normal classroom learning.

3.) Provide students opportunities to practice and showcase MassCom skills and abilities.

4.) Inform and educate the public through publishing documentaries including social and cultural significance.

5.) Provide students opportunity to create portfolio quality work.

While on the Navajo Nation in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, students will provide manual labor in service learning projects for the Navajo elders they'll interview. They'll camp one weekend at the site of a traditional Navajo sheep camp. They'll also camp near Anasazi ruins in Chaco Canyon. The group will enjoy a Navajo-guided horseback tour of ancient ruins, petroglyphs and pictographs along the walls of Canyon De Chelly.

When the journalism projects are finished, receptions are planned at both Diné College and Winona State University. The pieces will be published on the web, and if appropriate also on local cable television and in the Navajo Times newspaper and The Winona Daily News.

I'm proud of the project and know the students groups will do amazing work. I can't take all the credit, however. This program could not have been successful without the ideas and help of many people. I won't list them all here. Suffice it to say I am appreciative of all who supported this proran, including Diné College leaders, members of the Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board, my colleagues at Winona State University in the Mass Communication department and the Travel Study office.

I also recognize the help of a great group of communication experts and strategic thinkers who attended a Dialogue in the Desert Strategic Communication master class a couple years ago who really helped focus my thinking and planning.

Throughout the three-weeks of the program, while the students are documenting the lives of Navajo elders, I plan to document the student efforts and post updates to either this blog or on, a journalism site related to the WSU MassCom department.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mass Com Jobs: Changing, Not Gone

Students in college or university mass communication programs are worried, especially those who graduate this year and those within a year of graduation. They are worried there won't be many jobs open when they graduate.

Ironically, the news media has been effective telling the story of the collapse of newspapers, and the merging of jobs in other news media. These stories make it seem as though there are no jobs for students with good writing ability and well-honed visual communication skills.

Clearly, newspapers-- especially those that cling to the traditional ink and paper delivery system-- are having difficult times. Students hear about their colleagues who graduated a year or two before them and who are having trouble finding jobs. Or, of those that have found jobs in media, many are being asked to learn additional skills and do more.

This kind of information has caused current students to rethink their career plans. Most, thankfully, haven't given up on the idea of working in mass communication. Many are looking more seriously at combining other education programs-- a minor, second major, or graduate school-- that will hopefully give them additional skills and make them more valuable to a potential employer.

Though the economy has been in a downturn, I personally don't think the picture is all doom and gloom for most mass com majors.

In the mass communication program at Winona State University where I teach, each student in the major chooses a specific area of emphasis from among five options: advertising, broadcasting, journalism, photojournalism, or public relations. In the core of the major, all students take one class that serves as an overview of the media, a visual communication course, a journalism class, a course in issues and ethics in media, and then a variety of electives from across the department's catalog. They also follow a plan taking a series of courses in their particular option.

In mass communication programs like this, students get a broad education in the media field as a whole, and a narrow and deep focus in one specific area. This kind of program allows graduates greater flexibility to move more seamlessly between media-related positions, and makes them more qualified for newer hybrid positions in media.

Many media companies no longer have distinct positions such as writer, still photographer, videographer, sound technician or editor. An employee at a newspaper may shoot still images, capture video and write an article. They may also be edit the work-- words, audio and images-- and prepare the packages for the print edition or website.

Similarly, employees at traditional radio stations are capturing and posting video and still images to their websites. TV station newsrooms, well-versed in working with images, audio and video, are also combining tasks and are using more one-man band professionals who can do it all themselves.

The wild card in the media world, and the place where there is tremendous growth potential, is in web-based media not affiliated with traditional media outlets. Hundreds of new websites are developed each day. They all need content on their web pages and connect with their audiences.

Some of these new and developing sites may have a journalistic mission and rely on advertising support, like traditional media. Others may have a different business model, but still will rely on effective communication with a target audience. Skills taught in mass communication programs are perfectly targeted to these new web-based media. Well done websites need skilled professionals to write engaging copy and create meaningful images that communicate an intended message.

The material taught in mass communication programs is evolving and changing. The skills in mass communication remain the same, even though delivery methods are different and more technologically advanced.

There is still tremendous opportunity in the mass communication field. Due to the economic recession, growth is perhaps slower than it might have been. Nonetheless, use of the web and its new possibilities will continue to grow, and provide opportunity for mass communication graduates into the future.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Students Who Care... and some who don't

I've managed to irritate many students in my mass communication courses this semester. I do a little of that each semester. It seems more serious this semester.

I try to challenge students, to make them work hard, to make them feel accountable for the quality of their own work. I offer many hours a week to students who visit my office for help, advice, input on projects, etc.-- not just my advisees or those registered in my courses.

Last year, I was selected Professor of the Year at my university. I was honored and humbled, because the award was the result of a campus wide student election. We have dozens of excellent professors here at Winona State University, many of whom are deserving of the honor.

So, why are a few students irritated with me, more than in past years? It comes down to a couple things I say in the first week of classes and then hold firmly to those comments throughout the semester.

1.) In a journalistic article, if you spell a proper name wrong, the article receives an F.

It's simple. Check and double check names. Get them right. It's one of the biggest complaints people have about news media. It's lazy journalism. It's easy to check name spellings in a variety of ways. Perhaps the easiest and most credible way is to ask the person to spell their name slowly and clearly.

2.) Each assignment has a deadline. No extensions, no excuses, no late work accepted; Late equals F.

Mass Communication is a deadline business. When students graduate from our program, I want them to be prompt, professional, accountable. Try working in professional media, and miss a few deadlines. Better have some resumés printed, because the job search will be on.

3.) Show up for class. Miss more than two class periods in a semester, and the grade will suffer.

Students buy a product when they register for a course. They pay a fee and expect a quality product. You wouldn't buy a nice car then let it sit in the driveway. You bought a class-- drive it, every day.

In a 15-week semester, with a holiday or break day or two, a course that meets twice a week has about class 28 meetings. Miss three class periods and you miss more than 10 percent of the course information. It's not fair to expect the rest of the class to listen to material explained a second time for those who missed class. A professor shouldn't be expected to give lectures over and over for one or two people at a time.

My classes aren’t that difficult. They're challenging. There's a difference. I tell students I believe it is my job to make them uncomfortable several times each semester. It's in the uncomfortable spaces where learning occurs. If everything is easy and quick, they don't have to think, read, learn.

The recipe for success in my courses isn't difficult: show up, listen carefully, take notes, speak up occasionally, and apply what you hear in your assignments.

Since I instituted these class requirements, nearly every project is turned in on time, rarely is a name misspelled, and attendance is close to 98 percent. There's the occasional illness or family emergency, but those usually fall within the two classes per semester range. I consider this from the standpoint of expectations. I make my requirements clear in the first class meeting. Students can and do perform to clearly communicated expectations.

This semester, in the fifth week of the term one student had already racked up seven absences and turned in one assignment late. The project was poorly executed because the student hadn't heard most of the discussion of the theory behind creating an effective and memorable communication piece. I suggested the student drop the course because I saw little chance for a passing grade.

A colleague suggested that a college education is the one product some people purchase at full price hoping to get less than what they pay for.

Today, an email from a student who questioned my attendance policy contained this sentence: "I'm sorry my tardiness bothered you, if I was aware I would have put more effort into being on time." Yeeesh.

Thankfully, most students take their education seriously and challenge themselves to learn and grow and get the most value from their time in the classroom and the application of learning to their outside-of-class projects.

If my class expectations make me less popular with a few students-- but they help the majority learn and prepare themselves for careers or grad school-- I can live with that.