UCC welcomes new staff

Published by Amy Latham on

Three new faculty join the college’s staff this year, teaching math, history and mechatronics. Collage: Robin Bailey / The Mainstream

In the fall term, 2023, UCC welcomed three new teachers: Associate Professor James Mortensen, Associate Professor Blake Norton, and Associate Professor Joseph Richards. While all three have a different story for what brought them to UCC, they all make a great addition to the campus.

New mechatronics instructor James Mortensen shares his passion for giving back to students.
Gerardo Lopez, Mason Amos / The Mainstream

James Mortenson, the new mechatronics teacher for UCC, just entered his first year of teaching. “I always wanted to give back and share and teach, and I saw this job over here at UCC, so I applied and now I’m here.” 

Mortenson, who graduated from Oregon Institute of Technology, worked at Boeing Global Services. “Things move a little differently here at school,” he said. “It takes a little more time, a little more bureaucracy, and it would have been nice knowing that so I could’ve set a little different expectations when I started.” 

His first teaching experience was when he had worked a couple years before going back to college, and he lost one of the instructors Oregon Institute of Technology. “They asked me to fill in the course. I loved it, it was great.”

Although Mortensen teaches in Roseburg, he actually lives in Gold Beach. “I’m renting an RV spot here in town and have an RV here, and I spend my week here and go home to my wife and dogs on the weekends. When I’m home, I like to hike and go walking on the beach were we look for agates, jasper and opals,” he said.

“I look forward to continuing to refine how I teach. I want to get more engaged with the students and the curriculum and what they’re learning and what the end goal of what their learning is,” he said.

New history instructor Blake Norton compares online and in-person classes while expressing his desire for student success. Gerardo Lopez, Mason Amos / The Mainstream

Blake Norton has loved history since middle school. A Roseburg native, he went to Fremont Middle School, Roseburg High School and Umpqua Community College before transferring to Oregon State University. “When I went to Fremont, with my history teacher in my first ever history class I fell in love with the subject. I said ‘you know, I want to do that. I want to teach history someday.” 

After Fremont, Norton took multiple history classes at Roseburg High School and continued his passion at UCC. After getting his bachelor’s degree in history in education and master’s of history in adult education from Grand Canyon University, Norton taught elementary and middle school before hearing about the open teaching position for history at UCC. “When I went to UCC, the history teacher, my predecessor, Charles Young, I thought he was a great teacher. And one day I emailed Charles and he said he was going to retire, and I thought ‘you know what the heck, I’m going to try for the job’ and I got the job. 

For Norton, the new school year has started off well, but he misses having in-person classes.  “I’m all online right now, which for somebody who really likes teaching and interacting with students, it isn’t quite the same,” he said. “I record my lectures for the most part, but by the end of the year, I’m hoping to have my in-person classes, so please sign up for my in person classes.”

While the possibility of in-person lectures excite Norton, so does the content he is going to teach. “By the end of the year we’re going to go over more modern history like World War I, World War II – stuff that I personally am more interested in. I really like from World War I to the Cold War periods.”

In his free time, Norton likes watching documentaries and listening to podcasts. “I do watch a lot of them,” he said. “I fall asleep listening to them and podcasts about history.”

New math instructor Joe Richards discusses pursuing education and going back to being a first-year teacher. Gerardo Lopez, Mason Amos / The Mainstream

As a previous math teacher at Roseburg High School, Joseph Richards had an itch to do something new. “About that 10 year line, I needed to spice this up again and when an opportunity came up for an opening out here. It was good timing because I had always wanted to land at UCC,” Richards says.

Richards, who teaches courses in calculus and statistics, got his bachelor’s degree in math at Montana State University and obtained his master’s degree in education at Portland State University. 

After earning his master’s degree, Richards said he was at a loss for what he wanted to do. “There was a local school that needed a coach for their basketball, and I thought I’d give it a go. I don’t have any basketball experience, so it will be a train wreck at best, but I was interested to know whether I had any kind of leanings towards being a mentor, and it was a blast. It was so much fun and that gave me the confidence to say I wanted to go into education because I know I enjoy that,” he says.

Although Richards doesn’t have a lot of free time as a first year teacher at UCC, he enjoys the time he does get to relax. “If there’s ever a chance to sit down and actually read a book, I love that and crossword puzzles as well,” he says. When he lived in Portland prior to living in Roseburg, he enjoyed visiting Powell’s Bookstore and riding the tram as well as walking around the downtown area. 

When he needed a job after graduating with his Master’s degree from Portland State, Richards applied to many Oregon school districts. “I love the Northwest, so I just applied up and down the coast. My first interview where I was offered the job was in Roseburg. When I met the folks interviewing for the position, they were eager to mentor me in that whole process and I was very excited. They were rock stars in math education at Roseburg High School and in Roseburg in general, and I really wanted to soak up as much as I could from that.”

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