Best of four: Mason Ramirez wins 2024 Harry Jacoby award

Published by Robin Bailey on

Mason Ramirez enjoys trekking around campus, taking photos of nature. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Four graduating students were nominated as finalists by faculty for the 2024 Harry Jacoby Award: Mason Ramirez, Hope Bancroft, Flower Gloria-Mary Behlke and George Humphry.

In previous years, only three finalists have been chosen.

The winner, Mason Ramirez, was announced June 14 at the Swanson Amphitheatre commencement ceremony, making him the second Mainstream staff in a row to win a Jacoby Award.

Phi Theta Kappa public relations officer Mason Ramirez graduated with Highest Honors at the induction and graduation ceremony this May.

Graduating with an Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer to Oregon State University: ASUCC and Phi Theta Kappa public relations officer • The Mainstream student media visual director • Identity, Diversity and Equity Action Leadership Committee member • Outstanding Student in Media Studies, Photography

If you’ve picked up an issue of our paper, you’ve probably seen Ramirez’s pictures — in fact, he won an Outstanding Student award this May for his “professional-level photography (that) helps student media writers tell their stories.”

His most memorable college experiences have been hanging out with his team in the media lab and mentoring fellow photography enthusiasts. Ramirez has lugged his equipment through campus shrubbery, up and down every campus hill and all the way to conventions above New York’s busy Manhattan streets to get the perfect shot for student media.

“It’s awesome to see (my teammates) grow throughout the term,” Ramirez says. 

After college, Mason Ramirez plans to pursue a career in professional photography. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Ramirez has grown so accustomed to mentorship that — after a professional photography career — he plans to settle down as a rural high school teacher, establishing the photography program he lacked after moving here in Oregon.

That’s why Ramirez joined The Mainstream — though he admits, at the start, being nervous. His first photoshoot was incredibly daunting: “Melinda (our advisor) told me, ‘Mason! There’s an event going on! Go, go, go!’” he says, recounting with a little humor. “She handed me a camera and I went. Turns out it was the Day of Remembrance.”

Ramirez has handled an incredible amount of work throughout his two years here with similar grace, further developing both his dramatic photographic style and self-confidence. “Failure is essential for success,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many times I have failed, but each (one) was a learning experience.”

His words of wisdom: “Get connected with your university and seek out resources. It is so helpful to know where you can get help when you are struggling.… (Saying yes to certain) opportunities and individuals has led me down an incredible path.”

Hope Bancroft left a mark on students when she volunteered in Advising Services. Provided by Hope Bancroft.

Graduated this winter with an AAOT in General Studies to pursue Lane Community College’s dental hygiene program next fall: UCC Scholar volunteer in Advising Services. Hope Bancroft volunteered in Advising Services as a friendly face to students new and old.

Though Bancroft has already earned her degree, that didn’t stop her nomination as a Jacoby finalist.

Her volunteer work in Advising Services left a mark on students new and old: “I was often the first person students met when they walked in,” Bancroft said via email, “and it was very rewarding to be a friendly face to help direct them where needed.”

But those students, too, left a mark on Bancroft. In particular, she remembers a student who “needed help with something that normally a parent or family member could assist with, but he did not have the support system at home.” The student was extremely grateful for help, Bancroft said.

“It was a good reminder of the influence I could have in my role as a volunteer,” she said.

Her words of wisdom: “(College) staff are there to help you and provide great support as you attend UCC. Make connections and use resources available to you. Your college experience will be greatly improved because of it.”

Flower Behlke frequently jokes around with visitors to the information desk in the LaVerne Murphy Student Center. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Graduating with an Associate of Applied Science in Business Management: Resident Director of Hawk’s Landing • Former employee at Casa de Belen • Former Strategic Energy Management coordinator • Peer Navigator • College conduct panel student representative • Participant in Vietnamese student communications program • Volunteered for Upward Bound and Phi Theta Kappa • Outstanding Student in Admission and Advising Support

Behlke initially went to college to open up a food truck, planning to serve soul food and theme her business after the “Fried Green Tomatoes” book and movie. Though the idea still lingers in her mind, her plans took a different turn: “Halfway through, I developed a weird passion for helping people: guiding students through the whole process from (registration) to graduation,” they say.

During the nomination process, when Behlke was asked to send in a list of their volunteer work, they say they drew a blank until her friends stepped in and pointed out all the things they’ve done to warrant a nomination. “I don’t pay attention to the many service projects I do because I think it sort of defeats the point of service,” Behlke says. “I do the service because it is needed, and it feels good to help others — then I move on to the next opportunity.”

“To revisit and tally up all the cool projects I have been involved with since I started school in spring 2022 was equal parts awesome and uncomfortable,” she says.

Flower Behlke can often be seen working in the LaVerne Murphy Student Center: taking calls, answering questions or chitchatting to pass the time. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

During our interview, while Behlke works one of the student center’s information desks, they speak to a Hawk’s Landing resident about a disciplinary action. Her tone is caring and affirming but very real and “how-it-is” — a kind of tough love necessary in directing a house full of student athletes.

Behlke’s empathy partly comes from her own experiences dealing with losing several loved ones throughout attendance at the college, reaching out each time to instructors and faculty for support. “If you ever want to give up on school,” they say, “go into student services and tell someone, because they are like a warm blanket of acceptance and understanding when you are at your lowest… They will be there to cheer you on through every struggle, all the way to the finish line.”

Ultimately, Behlke says they are serving their inner child’s needs by succeeding at school. “My body rejects the idea of success: I was always taught, ‘You’re never gonna be smart enough to get a degree or education,’” she says. “The fact that I’m graduating with a 4.0 (GPA) has blown me away. I can no longer call myself stupid because I’ve proven to myself that I’m not.”

Their words of wisdom: “Be (your) own best advocate. I mean it when I say it… Ask the questions; ask for help; ask for tutors if you still don’t get it… Take advantage of every resource the school has to offer and spend as much time as possible… (giving) back to those who have helped lift you up. Create the community and society you want to live in, and don’t ever expect anyone to do more for you than you are willing to do for yourself.”

George Humphry won an Outstanding Student Award in Human Services in May. Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

Graduating with Associate of Arts in Human Services this spring and AAS in Human Services next fall: ASUCC senator • Harm reduction volunteer at HIV Alliance • Community outreach volunteer at Oxford House • Outstanding Student in Human Services

While nervous about interviewing, Humphry speaks easily on the subject of harm reduction, something The Mainstream previously interviewed him about. He says being nominated for the Jacoby award was unexpected, but impactful and humbling. “It validated my purpose, in a way.”

His purpose, Humphry says, is a power greater than himself: “To better my legacy — being more than an old, washed-up dad who went to prison twice.”

Humphry devotes countless hours to community service in places like Roseburg’s Oxford House, where he’s lived by choice for five and a half years. “We take people right out of prison and give them structure and stability,” he says. “It’s rewarding; it really is. Gave me that sense of purpose at my ripe young age of 63!”

Like many other students who also attended in 2015, the college has been both a place of trauma and, later, a source of healing for Humphry. After losing someone in the tragedy, he spiraled — resulting in his second prison sentence — and only considered going back to school after Larissa Czernowski, former ASUCC president and partner to a longtime Oxford House member, came at him, asking: “George, what are you gonna do with your life?”

“Well, we have this addiction studies program here, so I went for it,” Humphry says. “I would say I was fairly successful.” He’s been sober since March 29, 2017.

Though Humphry says he’s struggled with how society has changed, he’s been able to adapt by remembering his “why”: “I’ve come back with an open mind, learning how to serve others and give back,” he says. “I’ve gained the knowledge and wisdom to respect, honor and live the life of today.”

After graduating next fall, Humphry wants to find a permanent position with the HIV Alliance.

His words of wisdom: “You can’t help someone if they’re dead… Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help, ever. That was probably my biggest barrier to recovery — I think it’s a ‘George’ thing.” He also says he lives by The Four Agreements:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

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