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Barbour Award Winner H. Michael Sanders Gets Students Involved in Learning

Date: May 14, 2002
By: Kelly Lucyszyn
Photos by Dottie Stover
Archive: Profiles

"I never planned on teaching -- I just always did," says H. Michael Sanders, director of the Media Services Center and Electronic Media Program and professor of Electronic Media.
H. Michael Sanders

"As a child, I would lead the other kids in the neighborhood on science projects."

Today, Sanders, winner of the 2002 George B. Barbour Award for promoting good faculty student relations, is still leading people on projects. In the Electronic Media Technology (EMDT) program at Raymond Walters College, Sanders is proud of the apprentice-style learning opportunities the program offers.

"He encourages students to get involved in department activities as a way of putting their new knowledge to work," says Kathryn Grubb, EMDT student.

"Students work alongside professionals in the department," Sanders says. "It is an exciting mode of learning. Our graduates end up coming to the job market with skills and experience because of the symbiotic relationship between the Media Services Center and the degree program."

"They are getting real professional experience while they are here. Some students have very impressive credentials when they leave," Sanders says.

Neil Sharrow, EMDT adjunct instructor and Media Resources coordinator, says that Sanders "understands that today's students will be tomorrow's professionals and goes out of his way to ensure that students understand from day one what it means to be professional."

"His classes are rigorous," Sharrow adds, "but I have observed that the students emerge exhilarated and inspired."
H. Michael Sanders with students

"This is an era of converging technologies," Sanders says. "We are trying to teach our students so they can go on in lots of different directions depending on their interests."

Graduates of the program have gone on to careers at Channels 5, 9 and 12, digital imaging at Hasbro, On Location Multimedia, Gardner Publications and advertising firms like Mann Bukvic Olsen Partners and Nash Finch.

Sanders can't say enough about his students. "Consider the number of awards the students have won," he says. "Telly Awards, International Communicator Awards, and even honorable mention in a competition that is a qualifying competition to the Academy Awards."

But it is the way students feel about Sanders that has earned him the Barbour Award.

"Professor Sanders gets to know you on a personal level," says alumnus Bryan Bertsche. "He wants to learn about what students want to do with their careers, and what students are willing to do to make their dreams come true."

Electronic media technician William Boyle agrees. "One of the most impressive things to me is how accessible Mike is to his students. Mike's door is always open," he says. "The only way he could be more accessible would be to move his desk into the hallway."

RWC alumnus Chris Malott praises Sanders for his ability to "step outside the conventional mold of a college professor.

"During my American Cinema course, the class would have social gatherings before class at various locations. Mr. Sanders would always join us, laughing, discussing homework assignments," Malott says.

What draws students to Sanders? Is it his apprentice-style teaching? Is it his open door policy? Probably both, but also it may be a little of his rock 'n' roll past that appeals to students. Before coming to RWC, Sanders photographed rock 'n' roll bands like King Crimson.

"I went on tour with the bands. There were a lot of diversions," he laughs, "I survived."

Sanders also brings his personal experiences to the classroom. "I'm not hesitant about explaining how my experiences shaped my view of the world."

"I let my bias hang out. I don't hide behind objectivity in the classroom," he adds. "And I encourage students to not be fearful about offering their opinions."

"I always felt that he valued my opinion and encouraged me and others in class to give it," says RWC student Grant Mueller.

By having open dialog with students, Sanders says he has also learned from them.

"My graduate adviser said to me years ago, 'You know why college professors get so smart, don't you? They steal all the ideas the students bring to them.'"

But sometimes you don't know how the students will teach you. Sometimes you end up learning by the things they pull out of the trash.

"One student worked at a local television station when they were getting rid of some old footage. There was footage of floods, Babe Ruth hitting home runs, and more really interesting things," Sanders laughs. "The student snagged it from the garbage, put it in his car and brought it back to the college so we could learn from it."

He also learns from students when teaching on films he has seen dozens of times, like those on his American Film Noir course. The course looks at movies from 1940 until 1959, which he calls "dark poetic essays on the human soul."

"Films like Double Indemnity and Touch of Evil. Films with heavy symbolism that give the students a sense of how narrative and images work in film," he says.

"I've seen these films 50 times, and students always show me something new," he adds.

Sanders also enjoys teaching the Professional Practice course. The seminar class prepares students for life in the real world after graduation. "We grapple with personal and professional issues. It gives the students a chance to talk about the road ahead."

The class came out of Sanders' own experiences - once again - when he graduated from college with a strong portfolio and no idea of how to sell himself.

"I didn't want students wandering in the desert like I did," he says. "We spend time in the class talking about selling their projects - and learning to sell themselves."

"Professor Sanders has more than once lent an ear to bend, dispensed some words of wisdom and made himself available to me when I needed it. We spent many a lunch or after-class session discussing my career goals and graduating project," says RWC alumna Stacie BeBout.

"I feel very blessed," Sanders says. "The two things I love most are making images and teaching. My hobby and my vocation have all been wrapped up in a nice package. I try to tell my students, you don't have to have a job you hate."

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