2011 SOU grad comes back to teach

Southern Oregon University is home to many inspirational people and stories of success, and Richard Balzer is an individual with a story that shines a light of hope on possibilities after graduation.

A 2011 graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in photojournalism, Balzer was out of school barely a year before being asked to step in as a new adjunct professor for the same department that issued his degree.

“I have been lucky having had my return to college happen here at SOU and even luckier to have been afforded this opportunity to teach this class,” he said. “To share my passion and to place the seed of possibilities into the minds of students, students who may go on to impact the world with one or more of their images.”

He now teaches photojournalism, a class that would have been cut if he hadn’t offered to be the instructor, as well as attending classes himself in pursuit of a Masters in Education through SOU’s MAT program.

“There were not enough students for a normal adjunct position, so Richard is serving as a faculty member with a more of a mentor with a one-on-one relationship with the students,” said Communication Department Chair Jody Waters.

The three students in his class all have different interests within photojournalism, and Balzer is developing a curriculum that interests, inspires, and challenges all of them.  He has taken it upon himself to learn and experience with his students, completing the assignments he gives out, carrying his camera at all times, and journaling about his photographs and experiences as  he expects them to do.

“There is a difference between a structured curriculum and being able to assess someone’s ability and competence in visual media,” said Waters. “A traditional classroom isn’t for everyone, some need the attention of a mentor to excel.”

Even though the number of students interested in photojournalism has declined over the last few years, there is definitely a need for more visual artists and photographers for the growing field of media, said Waters, adding that it is important to keep students and working professionals interested and passionate with their work.

“Having to find and create a curriculum that interests the students and taking on the assignments I have handed out, has had the affect of rekindling my photographic desire for which I am grateful,” he said.

While his present and future are bright, his past wasn’t without its struggles. A veteran of the Vietnam War, he underwent and open heart surgery his senior year, as well as two knee repair surgeries and a complete knee replacement.  Pain and extended periods of recovery resulted in mental strain that caused periods of depression, which still affect him and can diminish the desire the photograph and pursue his passions. But he still continues on and inspires those around him through his presence on campus and in the classroom.

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