Bye-bye, retirees

Published by Molly Kay on

Collage with three photos with one predominantly facing the left. This photograph features a smiling woman with glasses and short blonde hair. The other two next to it are two photos stacked with one above another. The top photo is a woman wearing a jacket, teal shirt, and is wearing long blonde hair. Below that picture is a man wearing glasses and a green shirt. To the right of these photos is a stack of books. On the top of the books is a red apple. Slightly behind the stack of books is a small green plant. On the desk are two pencils and behind these photos and books is a blackboard with chalk.
Collage created by Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

On commencement day, congratulations are typically directed toward the graduates adorned in their green robes. However, as the academic year of 2023-2024 draws to a close, farewells are also in order for three esteemed faculty members: Melinda Benton, Gary Gray and Susan Rochester.

Melinda Benton

Woman with short blonde hair wearing black framed glasses and a smile. She is wearing a long sleeved jacket with dark yellow circles.
Melinda Benton has worked as the advisor of The Mainstream for 21 years. In addition to advising the publication, she is also a Communications and Journalism professor. Mason Ramirez

 Melinda Benton began working for UCC in 1996, She is currently an instructor for communications and journalism classes as well as the advisor for The Mainstream student media.

Benton graduated college with a minor in journalism and a major in English and moved to California with her husband, looking for a job. Jumping head first into the competitive California media market was too much to handle as a recent college graduate, so Benton started her own business as a ghost-writer for companies and organizations that needed newsletters.

After moving to Oregon, Benton wanted a job that worked with her son’s Monday-Wednesday-Friday kindergarten schedule. This proved difficult until she found the job listing for a part-time writing instructor at UCC.

Benton had experience teaching in a high school setting and during her master’s program as a teaching assistant to fund her college experience, but Benton did not see herself following this career path. However, she knew she could fulfill the role, if she had to: “My TA students were always performing higher than other TA’s, so I wasn’t afraid of teaching. I think my performance was because I was able to quickly tell where students’ roadblocks were by watching and listening to them,” Benton says.

After going to a convention with her department chair Kelly Cooper in her first years of UCC teaching, Benton finally decided that teaching was where she was meant to be.

While working at UCC, Benton has connected with students, “Students have given me so much. And the knowledge that every day they needed my help forced me to be more of a people person even though I am actually an introvert. Teaching also forced me to keep updated, learning new strategies for teaching and researching topics students are interested in,” Benton says. “Teaching really does keep your brain and your heart alive. Yes, it’s stressful, but not a lot of jobs combine those two.”

Benton does not want to leave the diversity of UCC behind: “I get to see a picture of humanity that is very diverse and broad on a daily basis. Everything that each person tells me teaches me something,” Benton says.

Benton does not have any set plans for retirement right now besides taking time to focus on her own writing and finding ways to get involved in the community and caring for her husband. “I have a feeling the right thing will come to me; there is something I am supposed to be doing in retirement besides helping my husband, I’m sure,” Benton says.

Gary Gray

Man is in a cafe leaning forward on a table with a white cup facing his right. He is wearing wire frame glasses and a black watch on his left wrist.
He is wearing a long green sleeve shirt.
Gary Gray, business and economic instructor and program coordinator for the retail management certificate program which he developed Photo provided by Gary Gray

Gary Gray has been serving UCC for over 20 years, filling various roles around campus such as committee member, program coordinator and instructor. Currently, Gray teaches economics, business law and multiple accounting courses.

Gray relocated to Oregon after following his corporate job with Umpqua Bank as the executive vice president for retail. Gray found himself wanting to stay in Roseburg when the bank headquarters moved, and he landed a job at UCC as a college professor: “The opportunity to join UCC became a reality. I stayed with the college and was proud to become a full-time associate professor of business and economics,” Grays said in an email. “Like many of the faculty at the college, I came to UCC and the Umpqua Valley for the lifestyle and found a home at the college.”

Since beginning his career at UCC, Gray has strived to make improvements to the business classes. “My biggest contribution was to develop, launch and coordinate the Retail Marketing certificate program which has served over 3,000 students since 2016,” Gray said in an email. Gray serves as the program coordinator, and the program under his supervision has had an average of 400 students per year across 21 states.

Classes in the RMC program are strictly online, a decision made by Gray after his students voiced the desire to have the classes switched to an online format. Gray has been teaching online classes at UCC since 2008: “UCC Business Department was one of the first areas to move classes online. So, I have taught in-person, online, and hybrid,” Gray said in an email.

While moving the RMC program online has extended opportunities past the limits of campus, Gray misses the opportunity to engage with students on campus. In an attempt to make the online classes more interactive with students, Gray uses different techniques. “I like to use videos and other multi-media tools that are available in an online environment. I then use interactive discussion forums to really engage the topics,” Gray said in an email. Gray is also certified as a Quality Matters reviewer for online classes, The certification provides instructors with the experience of learning online from the students’ perspective.

The skills students learn in Gray’s online courses are termed as “soft skills” which help prepare the students for a career after certification completion: “I find that online students develop really great skills in the areas of time management, organization and attention to the details. Without the forced requirement to be in a physical classroom three days a week, students must learn to plan, schedule and organize their approach to the class and the material,” Gray said in an email.

The online classes taught by Gray have opened the doors for students who might not be able to make it to campus five days a week, “Most of my students are either working or handling numerous family challenges. In many cases transportation is challenging and expensive. [Teaching] online allows the students to study from any place and at any time that works for them,” Grays said in an email.

Susan Rochester

Woman sits in her office leaning over her desk with her artwork in front of her. She is wearing a gray jacket and a teal shirt. She has a smile and is holding a pen in her hand.
Susan Rochester retires after 22 years of employment at UCC, she hopes to create art full-time during retirement Melinda Benton/ The Mainstream

Rochester has worked at UCC for 22 years as an associate professor of visual arts with 14 years spent as the chair of arts and humanities overseeing the art, music, theater and English courses which include literature, writing, communication studies, media studies and Spanish classes. “I call it the island of misfit departments; we are spread across four buildings,” Rochester says.

Rochester has taught art history and studio classes which encourage students to improve their skills with her innovative un-grading approach. A number grade is not assigned to each produced art piece, but instead students complete self-evaluations throughout the term, and then Rochester has a conversation with them about techniques used well and ones that can be learned next to improve their skills. “We’re not negotiating what quality looks like; we’re talking about how each individual with the skills they have can get as far as possible,” Rochester says.

Throughout her teaching, Rochester encouraged students to branch out into different medias. “Students were siloed based on discipline for so long, so you had to choose. It [art] has become more fluid, and it’s more about the concept. You use a media that expresses the idea in the best way. There is a lot more cross-pollination between the disciplines,” Rochester says.

Collage created using a book as the framework. The paper leaves and alignment of paper animals and photos creates the impression of stepping into the jungle.
Collages made by Rochester using books and vintage botanical guides to creating scenes that match the theme of the novel Photo provided by Susan Rochester

Rochester wants to produce art full-time after retiring, further developing her style and techniques. “It’s hard to make art while you’re teaching because your teaching brain and artist brain aren’t always on the same page,” Rochester says.

Rochester’s recent art stems from her love of geography, maps and paper; “There is this common thread of stuff, and honestly for me it is this love of paper and what you can do with it,” Rochester says. One of Rochester’s more tedious projects took four years and consisted of stitching together satellite images of the Mexico-America border. Rochester even hosted a TEDx talk explaining the project origin and process.

Currently, Rochester is exploring various art forms that include logging daily pictures of the sky, book binding using historic techniques from 1000 years ago, and collages inset in books using botanical guides from the 50s and 60s.

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