What y’all saw

Take a look at how you and your classmates chose to exercise Wednesday’s in-class diagnostic:

The University of Georgia’s Grady college is equipped with a handful of multimedia labs where Grady students can often be found developing their professional aspirations.  Lab number 241, first door on the left in the building’s lab nook, features a large, glossy discussion table with a faux-granite finish, a centerpiece among three walls of sleek iMac computers.  The room is overseen by a Millard B. Grimes, a paintfully quiet guardian with a fixed expression of accomplishment and encouragement.  Another wall is modestly decorated with assorted journalism paraphenelia, some of which one might assume are likely associated to the essence or progress of the field, or perhaps specific examples of close-to home success stories.

The computers flash stunning high definition photographs of the natural world, one specifically featuring a collage of space photographs that serves as kind of a momentary perspective refreshment for an individual overwhelmed with telling the story of modern humanity on Earth.  The lights are strongly fluorescent and encourage productivity by discouraging rest, and the brightness factor continues yet with a fairly enormous projector screen that demands the attention of all that are seated at the aforementioned discussion table.

 
 

A tiny book of chrome sat in a jungle of fruits.  A small apple and a huge screen occupied every angle the chromebook’s eye could focus on. The devices sat inside of a University of Georgia Grady School of Journalism lab room. There were about 21 Apple iMac desktop computers, five Macbook Pros, and one Google Samsung Chromebook.  

The singlehood is not the only detail that made the samsung device secluded. The students in the room were sure to give the chromebook the space it needed to feel unloved and unneeded. While they used the Apple products to complete their daily assignment and consequently create keyboard harmony amongst themselves, the chromebook sat in the middle of the room. The professor displayed it as the example of what a college journalism student should invest in, in the event that they had not already invested in some form of an Apple computer. 

The black portable computer stood closely 2 inches shorter than the smallest Apple computer in the room. The size was only one of its conveniences. The professor said it was $200 dollars, at least $800 dollars cheaper than a Macbook. For a college student who mostly uses the web on mobile devices, the chromebook is undeniably attractive. However, even the professor, who vouched for its usefulness, left the black laptop in the middle of the table as decor for the class. The chromebook rests on the table, an idle tool–looking almost as lonely as the silver Samsung label that decorates its back.

 
 

Room 241 is filled with students and a “coach”. The white walls are hung with pictures scattered around the room of various newspaper clippings and magazine articles.  Apple computers surround the walls. An overhead screen is in the front of the classroom. A rectangular table is the centerpiece of the room.

At the table, a few students are working on assignments with their personal computers. The “coach” sits quietly as he types on his laptop and reads over his notes, occasionally speaking to the class. Books, papers and water bottles are placed around the table. Jackets are hung around chairs.

Several students sit around the room typing on the computers provided by the university. The computers are lettered A-R in alphabetical order. While some computers are being used, others are set on a screensaver with moving graphics re-looping after a couple seconds. The room is slowly starting to empty as students move on throughout their day.

 
 

Eleven twenty-somethings and their professor gathered for the first Magazine Writing class of the spring 2013 semester this morning, as students elsewhere in the Grady College and across the University of Georgia assembled for the third day of the term. With visible excitement and a hint of trepidation, the students lined their rolling chairs around a long, faux-marble table. A strange syllabus from an earlier course lingered on the surface, evidence of a newly-bustling campus. The cramped space left little room for the backpacks filled with fresh, unmarked paper, unchewed pencils and pens full of ink.

Professor Suggs, in a gray tweed suit in contrast to the casual dress of his pupils, asked each of the students to introduce themselves. The students would later discover that Prof. Suggs had already learned some basic knowledge about them by Googling each of the names that appeared on his roster. The students said their names, then shared their hometowns and two achievements they hoped to gain from the course, all with varying degrees of temerity– some students enunciating with bravado, others quietly demurring.

After each of the room’s budding journalists had taken their turn, Prof. Suggs shed some light on his own background, describing how his experience both as a journalist at the Chronicle of Higher Education and as a researcher uniquely prepared him to instruct the course at hand. As he transitioned into the day’s lecture, he explained that composing long-form stories would require both substantial advance preparation and the skills of a journalist accustomed the rush of an imminent deadline.
 
 

It’s the first day of class in the dungeon of the Grady building.  The room is monotone from the white cardboard ceilings, all the way down the gray windowless walls and onto the stained brown carpet.  The Academic Honesty plaque hangs on the front wall, like it does in every UGA classroom, to remind students what will become of them if they cheat, plagiarize or refuse to tell on any other student that does.

The fake granite desks are covered with TV-sized Mac computers.  Some of the screens

are still and black; others flash an array of brightly colored optical illusions, while the rest display a slideshow with definitions of words that the students will likely never use in their writing.  In contrast with the modern computers, the walls are covered with vintage news clips and framed portraits of men who one can only assume is who they should strive to be in their journalism careers.
The students sit around a large conference table as the professor presents his introductory powerpoint.  A girl at the front writes down his every word as if this class’s syllabus is the most fascinating topic she’s ever heard, while another stares blankly, occasionally nodding and smiling, just so the professor hopefully thinks she’s paying attention.  As the professor announces that there will actually be an assignment on the first day, a look of dissatisfaction crosses all of the students’ faces at the realization that class will not be ending early.
 
 
By Grady standards, Room 241 does little to stand out. Millard B. Grimes, ABJ ‘51, slouches in a portrait overhead, looking rather disinterested. Screensavers on flashy new Apple desktop computers flash pictures of beach paradises, far-away galaxies and a morbid dictionary definition of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.First day jitters begin to dissipate (for some, at least) as students stave off the fog of a month spent sleeping, eating, and, well, sleeping. Several pupils finished their room descriptions in a flash, as if they woke this morning with visions of Room 241 already in their heads. Others stare at empty Google Documents, occasionally peering behind them to implore the beige walls to provide inspiration. Compared to the National Geographic prints hanging in Mark E. Johnson’s photo cave, the yellowing front page of an Opelika-Auburn News (“GOP Leader Asks Nixon To Resign,” it shouts) proves unremarkable.

And yet, though the room may seem uninspired and plain to the untrained eye, there’s an energy here. J-school students from Athens, Ga., to College Park, Md., may answer get-to-know-you questions with the same canned answers (“I’d like to be on SportsCenter,” they’ll say, or better yet, “I hope to become a staff writer for the New Yorker.”) First, though, comes Dr. Suggs’ Magazine Journalism class. Out of the 16 undergraduates enrolled, some may find journalism is exactly the place they want to be. A select few may find they despise journalism more than the Kardashians or having cavities filled. In Room 241, they’ll find out soon enough.

 
 
Journalism 241. Down the hall that few people know, and in between the building’s two exit doors is Room 241. This morning is the first class of JOUR 5580 for the semester. There are 18 Apple desktops dotted around the walls and a large marble table that most people think should stay only in executive conference rooms. With sterile lighting and a large projector that takes up nearly the entire front wall, this must be the wrong place.Professor Welch Suggs walks in. This is the right place. His professionalism mirrors that of Millard B. Grimes, pictured in a regal painting placed in the middle of an otherwise bare wall adjacent to the massive projector screen. Somewhere between his Apple laptop, Google Chromebook, and iPad, he has a steady, old fashioned, envied passion for writing: a trait many people don’t even know they’re missing.

Students file in. Their faces are expectant, curious, and perhaps sleepy from whatever may have happened last night. The seats around the table are filled and people are probably too close for having just met, but no one minds. Maybe because half of the class is from Marietta. Or maybe because ol’ Millard is staring everyone down in unison.  Or maybe the reason is not yet known. Sometimes, strangers in a room have a way of surprising people.

 
 
With only a thin rectangular window to the rest of the world, room 241 bursts with ideas and possibilities. Pale eggshell walls left empty, save for a few framed newspaper articles and photos of notable university contributors, offer no distraction from work. The simple square room, lined with Mac computers on three sides, provides insulation from the outside world, but allows space to bring ideas to life on paper.

Furrowed brows and pursed lips of humble new authors who want only to paint the most vivid and enticing pictures of the stories they tell exude tentative confidence, not sure that their own voice proves adequate enough to be heard. Each one lives in their own world. Some hunch over their keyboards, rapiding typing away. Some lean back, staring absentmindedly at their screens.

 

At the head of the room sits the man in charge, the keeper-of-keys. It’s his approval that each writer seeks. Sitting up straight, with confidence, he commands control of the room without seeming arrogant. Students’ heads dart up when he speaks, making sure to digest every word he utters. He looks nurturing, but challenging. It’s his demeanor that sets the tone for the coming weeks of learning and living.

 

 
 
The first day is always good day. Anything is possible and nothing’s due. The lecture fades into silence and everyone moves apart for the assignment. Everyone has claimed some territory in the classroom. Four women pull out their laptops and stay at the main table, while everyone else moves aside to the comfortable if generic desktops along the walls. The classroom transforms into a newsroom, albeit a scarily quiet one.

Almost all of the 12 (a 13th has apologized, leaving one MIA) are from Georgia, but we have a Sri Lankan and as many as four men, rare for a UGA journalism class. They ask questions, they volunteer information. Most importantly, they want to be writers.

 
 
Faces peer intently into laptops. Hands are poised on the keyboards. The screen invites a kind of rapt attention as keystrokes become words.Desktop computers do not invite the same deep engagement, at least as this classroom is designed. Students sit straight, as if playing piano lessons, or slump back and away from the screen.

Does it make a difference? Probably not. But these kids all seem like they could do something with this class, and I want them to be in the right place to be compelled to do good stuff in here.

 
 
It’s a typical academic scene in Professor Suggs’ classroom. Students sit in front of their respective computers and laptops typing their descriptions of what they see. And Suggs fiddles with his iPad and laptop while his students begin looking around the room, inspecting the terrain. There is one item in this room that seems out of place. A painting of Millard B. Grimes, whoever that may be, hangs dead-center on the wall parallel to the entrance that is hard to avoid staring at. Quite eerily, when you gaze at this businessman in his gray suit, his eyes always seem to follow you no matter where you move.

And that smirk. It almost seems as if Grimes is looking at the artist painting this portrait, thinking, “Are you done yet?” Besides the eyesore of the portrait hanging on a naked white wall, this room looks like most on campus: a computer here and there, a marble table in the middle and a projector screen. A typical scene on a typical academic day.

 
 
    The most eye catching objects in the room are the computers that line the walls. When first entering the class, about half of the screens were turned off and others had various colorful screensavers. The computers sit on long tables with a grey and black marble design on top. The same design is on the main table in the center of the room, which is surrounded by chairs.
     The walls in the room have something different on each surface. One has two newspapers on it, which have a tan color and seem very old. There is a portrait of a man in a suit and various posters and signs spread over the front wall. The floor is littered with backpacks and purses dropped either in the open space by the computers or underneath the center table.

In the center of the ceiling there is a projector, which displays it’s image on the white screen in the front of the classroom. In front of the screen sits a wooden desk, with a single computer placed on the left. To the right side, there is a wooden podium pushed up against the wall, as if rarely used.        
 
 
The hum of the projector is about a B-flat, musically speaking. The thin Apple computer keyboards all have the same sepia-toned dinge on them, no doubt from years of unwashed fingers typing, typing, typing on them. The letter J seems to get the most use, judging from the intensity of the grime upon that particular key. Perhaps a lot of admirers of the discipline of jurisprudence passing through this room. All the keys have a satisfying combination of resistance, click, and bounce. The faux-granite countertops are much shinier than real granite, and much thinner, too. The wood trim is a dead giveaway, as if it isn’t apparent that a journalism school in 2013 can’t afford real granite countertops in a student lab.A painting of an old white guy in a gray suit with a red tie stares benevolently at the room’s occupants. Millard B. Grimes, ABJ ‘51 says the gold plaque beneath the painting. He must be dead by now. It’s baffling to think of how many people graduate from Grady without even the slightest intentions of going into journalism. It isn’t difficult to guess what he did, and the relative ease with which he achieved it.

The fluorescent lights give everyone a sickly pallor, like jaundiced babies. The yellowed, framed newspaper pages hung on the walls are true relics, but not in the way that those who hung them imagined. The point was probably to highlight the headlines, the excellent journalism—now, they serve to remind students that people got their news delivered to their houses on dead trees once.

 
 
In the middle of the room is a large rectangular table with school bags lying hodge-podge under it. A seemingly random assortment of books, computers and other technological equipment is arranged on its fake-marble top. Along three walls are counters in the same marble-like material, holding old-ish mac computers at which students sit, typing quietly. The atmosphere is hard to define, but palpable nevertheless.It is the silence. The only noticeable sound is the rare squeaking of chairs over the hum of machinery. Every few minutes someone says something, breaking the silence, but gently. There is also hesitant, nervous laughter. The consternation on the students’ faces tells of first-day-of-class anxiety, of everyone trying to do their best, make a good first impression.

In a few weeks if not a few days, the atmosphere is likely to be very different. Just beneath the projector screen that occupies most of the wall behind the professor’s desk are visible (feet?) marks on the wall. One imagines the classes in here must usually be either very informal or very frustrating. One by one the students get up to leave, do they know yet, what to make of it?

 

 

Advertisements

About welchsuggs

I am an associate professor of journalism at the University of Georgia and associate director of the Grady Sports Media Initiative. http://welchsuggs.tumblr.com, @welchsuggs

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s