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“What I am Working on Today” Blog

Stepping Up, Not Down
Remarks at the April 21 Recognition Reception

April 25, 2017

Michael Bugeja, director,
Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication,
Iowa State University of Science and Technology

University News Service Photo

Editor’s Note: On April 21, Iowa State University recognized Michael Bugeja’s 14 years of service during which the program was re-accredited three times by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications and reviewed favorably twice by the Iowa Board of Regents. The School won the 2014 AEJMC Equity and Diversity Award and, in 2015, Dr. Bugeja won the Scripps Outstanding Administrator Award. Below are his remarks. Dr. Bugeja has written our “What I am ‘Working on Today’ blog for six years. This is his 91st post with one or two more left before his ASJMC column concludes at the end of this semester.

There are so many people to acknowledge today—from family, friends and former students to alumni, benefactors and colleagues—I don’t know where to begin, except, perhaps, with one heartfelt, communal, profoundly sincere thank-you. Thank you. Everyone. Your being here means the world to me.

To my colleagues, I say this: You are the reason for our collective success at the Greenlee School. My primary role has been to shape your talents and contributions into a world-class Mass Communication School. I did so, in part, by embracing the legacy of our program and fostering a culture of transparency so we might better serve our exceptional students. They deserve the best from us, and you give them that every day. That is why I say I am not stepping down as director … but stepping up to your standards as public servant.

Support comes in many hues, personal and professional.

To my family and friends, I say this: You are the most important part of my life.

My wife Diane’s family is here from South Dakota, Oklahoma and Colorado, and I love them as my own. My daughter Erin and sister Lori couldn’t be here. Diane and son, Shane, have supported me throughout our personal journey in Ames. It’s complicated. We arrived here in June 2003 with a wolf, a 180-pound Malamute, and a 20-year-old cat. Within a month, without warning, a baby—our special Mikayle—dropped into our laps, literally.

That was not the only surprise. On my first day at Greenlee I learned the School was up for re-accreditation. The self-study had not yet been completed but was due. Happily for me, Joel Geske, our associate director then, worked with me throughout the summer, and we made deadline. We accomplished what many at the onset believed was impossible: We were re-accredited, thanks in part to the promise of incoming professors, namely Daniela Dimitrova and Jay Newell; new benefactors Meredith, Lee Enterprises and Scripps Howard; and supportive leadership of university administrators. They include former deans Mike Whiteford and Zora Zimmerman, Provost Ben Allen and President Greg Geoffroy.

Ben Allen, in particular, did one thing he may not remember that saved the day for us personally and professionally. Diane and I were in our Fifties when Mikayle arrived on our doorstep from West Virginia. We could not find daycare in Ames just as we couldn’t for our daughter Erin in Oklahoma and for Shane in Ohio when they were babies in the 1980s and 90s. That had not changed. Ben helped us secure daycare for Mikayle so we could focus on challenges ahead at Greenlee.

Ben’s one seemingly small gesture allowed us to move forward. He is a role model of administration, ethics and fairness. We are fortunate he is our interim president at Iowa State.

So many of our collective achievements have been personal and professional. Faculty and staff put in long hours, day and night and on weekends, grading, advising and researching. They elevate the interests of the school above their own … so as to be part of something greater than themselves. That is why they, too, are family, not only to me, but to each other. That is a secret of our success.

As an accreditor, I visit many of reputed top mass communication colleges around the country. Not one of those acclaimed programs can boast our collegiality and culture, grounded in respect for and love of students.

To past and present students, I say this: You are getting a first-rate education. Your teachers and advisers bask in your accomplishments and careers.

Perhaps no one exemplified that commitment as much as the late Barbara Mack, my best friend, so beloved of alumni.

To this day, reading Barbara Mack’s student evaluations, I cannot fathom how she entranced 400 students each semester with a mixture of love, profanity, bluntness, and hilarity. She passed away in 2012, but is here tonight in spirit. In her paranormally telepathic manner, Barbara says she is happy I am stepping down as director … and stepping up as a professor.

Throughout my 38 years in higher education, I have been blessed by talented students at Oklahoma State, Ohio University and Iowa State.

A few of those have spoken today, and many more have sent warm wishes.

Miles Moffeit, one of the best investigative reporters in the country, studied journalism and wrote poetry with me and, yes, Garth Brooks, at Oklahoma State. On an occasion or two, I had the honor on playing mandolin with him. One of the highlights of my day was an email from him in which he wrote:

I was lucky enough to be a student of Professor Bugeja in my undergraduate years. … Mickey was not like any other professor on campus. Mickey was cool, a musician, a common sense professor who made you feel you were not only learning, you were learning in real time—not some outdated text information. What you took from Mickey's class, you could apply in your life as soon as you left the classroom. Mickey, thank you for making college fun and an actual learning experience. I am quite confident ALL of your students would say the same. … I love you, Pard. All my gratitude and respect, Garth Brooks.

Tracey Noe is a corporate communication expert. I had the honor of speaking at her wedding to another of my magazine students, Jeff Noe, her husband. So many Ohio students fell in love in my writing workshops; good writing sparks that magic. This week I found photos of Tracey and Jeff in an album that Ohio students assembled for me years ago. They wrote: “Thank you for helping unite our souls.” Education sparks that magic.

I have another book, assembled by my colleague, Jan Lauren Boyles, with tributes from Iowa State students. This book, too, is as dear to me as the one from Ohio. ISU students and graduates who sent letters are rising stars in advertising, journalism and public relations.

Another student, DJ Jefferson, couldn’t be here tonight. I met DJ when he was in Middle School. His verse appeared in the Omaha World Herald, and I began recruiting him then. I have one of his letters on my shelf, and I read it from time to time for support. I’d like to share a few lines from it because it represents our standards at the Greenlee School:

“Yes, we are one of the longest continuously accredited programs in the nation. Yes, we have an incredible placement rate. Yes, we have rigorous classes. But how, specifically, do we teach students to become individuals like yourself or Eugene Patterson or countless others who have a profound duty and calling to produce media? Here is how: You work closely with students everyday, you see the literal blood, sweat and tears we put into our student publications. You see the passion in our clubs and classrooms. We have a calling. The Greenlee School facilitates that calling; it personifies that zeal. It gives it life.”

Wow. That defines us, doesn’t it?

To our alumni and Advisory Council members, I say this: You recognize passionate lines like those from DJ Jefferson. You have written similar lines, haven’t you, to your own professors like Harry Heath, Rod Fox, Ed Blinn, Jack Engel, Dick Disney, Jim Schwartz, Bill Kunerth, Jack Shelley, Jane Peterson and so many others? It is one thing to lead a school, as I have done, and another to step up to legacies such as these and your own.

My success has much to do with the support I received from our Advisory Council and the millions of dollars our benefactors have donated, along with wisdom and experience, to the Greenlee School.

Wisdom. Experience. Dedication. Contribution. Commitment. Friendship. Love. These are the ingredients of our program. Dean Beate Schmittmann knows about that essence and, together with faculty and staff, has selected an erudite incoming director, Angela Powers, to preserve and advance the Greenlee School. Thank you, Beate. We are excited to work for and with Angela.

I have been fortunate to teach some of you, to compose poetry with some of you, to advise some of you, to guide some of you, to work alongside many of you … and to be family and friend to all of you.

I will never forget you … or these amazing 14 years.


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