In a special weekly series, the College of Liberal Arts is featuring a faculty member from one of our 13 departments. We asked questions about why they are passionate about the subjects they study and teach, and how they found their path to CSU. See all “Faculty Friday” features here.
Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Communication
1. What inspired your interests in journalism?
Well, I’m going to tell you the truth. It was a Snickers commercial when I was really young and that’s honestly what got me into this business. It was this reporter who was running all over the city and coming back to the office to type the story really fast, and he pulled out the Snickers bar just to keep himself going because that’s all he could eat. And for whatever reason, I just looked at that guy’s life and I thought, ‘Yeah, I want to do that. That looks like the life for me.’ Since I was really young, I’ve always liked writing. It just took seeing someone do it in front of me for me on a commercial to know I could too. I remember the first day an article of mine came out in the kind of big-city paper he worked for in the commercial and saying to myself, ‘I made it. This is it.’
2. When did you know you wanted to go into higher education/academia?
Well, there are two answers. When I went back to get my masters at NYU, I was 40 at the time. I started mentoring students there because they were so much younger than me and I had been in the business for a while and most of them hadn’t yet. They were master’s students, so they were very advanced, and some of them were extraordinarily talented, but they just didn’t have a lot of experience yet. So, when the teachers weren’t around and we were just hanging out, they would ask me a lot of questions and some of them started asking me why I wasn’t teaching the class. At the time, I was learning a lot as a student there and I always thought of them as just my classmates, but I liked mentoring them more than I thought I would. I never had kids so I never knew, but I got along with them really well and could relate to them, so that’s when I became open to the idea of teaching.
I also started teaching as a part of a journalism project many years before getting my master’s when I was in my late 20’s. I got really interested in the fact that so many people I was interviewing were telling me stories that didn’t end up in the written piece, and a lot of times I think about those stories instead of what was put in the paper. So, I started a program where I collaborated with libraries to create a space where people came in and I could teach them a very basic journalism model to write about their lives. I taught about 2,000 people in that program over 10 years on how to write their life stories using a very “what, when, how, why” kind of model to make it very readable so their family would actually want to read it. I always thought I would have loved to do that for the rest of my life if I hadn’t moved and the media landscape hadn’t changed so much.
3. How did you get to CSU?
When I was in New York finishing up my degree, I saw there was a job opening for the student media advisor role. I grew up in Colorado and my mom was needing some assistance and was pretty much on her own, so that job and her needs sort of convinced me to try it. By some miracle, I got that job and I ended up here.
I was teaching JTC 326 (Online Storytelling and Audience Engagement) at the time because a lot of news advisors also teach, and Pete Seel looked at me and said, ‘You know, you seem to really like this part of it. If you really want to do it, then seal the deal and get your Ph.D.’ So, I was a Ph.D. student here from 2013 to 2017. Since 2011 when I got here, I’ve taught JTC 326 as an instructor, a graduate teaching assistant, a visiting assistant professor, and an assistant professor. There’s a lot of opportunities here, and it also makes me feel really proud to be an alum.
4. Which class if your favorite to teach and why?
I can’t not say Online Storytelling and Media Engagement, you know? It’s a history of my life here. It’s meant a lot to me and has changed so much over the years and I’ve learned and experienced so much through it.
5. What is one thing students would be surprised to learn about you?
I think because of the way I present myself, students probably don’t realize at the core of what I research is a lot of philosophy reading. It’s a lot of very serious thinking that I don’t tend to show in class. I’m a pretty realistic thinker and I do have a lot of hope, and that hope is what shows up a lot of the time. But I have a lot of big questions for the world which feels like the private part of my life in some ways.
Michael Humphrey was awarded Best Teacher for 2019 by the Colorado State University Alumni Association. Nominations are submitted by students, faculty, and alumni. Humphrey was selected as one of six award recipients.