Reflections on EMDA’s three-year anniversary

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Fall, 2013 ribbon-cutting ceremony at SOU’s Digital Media Center celebrating the launch of the EMDA major.

This week is the 3rd anniversary of the launch of Emerging Media & Digital Arts (EMDA) at Southern Oregon University, where college and community come together to discuss real-world problems and collaborate on visionary solutions in digital media. Enrollment in courses that make up the EMDA minor and major has grown on average 150% annually since we opened our doors in November 2010, but that overall growth of more than 400% has come during a period of broad economic volatility and contraction across higher education. In other words: If you’d invested ten bucks in EMDA in 2010, today you’d still have ten bucks.

Last week, the SOU community got some news that wasn’t easy to swallow, but I really appreciate how local writer Sam Wheeler put it into perspective. I think he captured how hard President Cullinan—and everybody at SOU—is working to keep our beautiful school thriving into the future. EMDA is just one star in this constellation. Initiatives like the Shakespeare Institute, the Institute of New Writing\Ashland, Green House, and Social Justice House (I’ll stop there, but the list grows longer every day) are making great progress at fulfilling a university vision of creativity, collaboration, adventure, and community connectedness.

When I think of recent successes like EMDA, I know it would have been impossible without our solid management. It would have been impossible without our President Mary Cullinan asking business, education, and nonprofit leaders in our community to provide internship and job opportunities for SOU students to launch successful careers. It would have been impossible without our Provost Jim Klein promoting EMDA’s program proposal at Oregon University System meetings in Salem earlier this year. And it would have been impossible without Alissa Arp, whose intelligence and vision inspire my colleagues on the SOU faculty across the generations.

But do you know what? It would have been most impossible without Southern Oregon. This place is incredible. I can’t imagine EMDA happening anywhere else, with partners like Rogue Hack Lab, Southern Oregon Film & Television, SOREDI, and others making Ashland a Google ‘2013 eCity’ and the Rogue Valley a world-class business incubator, a powerfully local entrepreneurial engine, and a veritable community-engagement Xanadu.

I’m grateful for the encouragement that I have personally experienced this past week. From friends at the Ashland Chamber to nonprofit partners in Medford like the Gordon Elwood Foundation and the barista in Talent who pulls my shots, people have asked me what’s happening at the university, how we’re doing, and whether there is anything they can do to help.

I love that. In the midst of a challenging transformation that’s happening across higher ed, the outpourings of encouragement and appreciation for SOU have reminded me how rewarding my work really is. And when people ask me how they can help, I’m reminded what a great community we share, a community that believes learning is important and that education matters.

Is there anything you can do to help? Yes! (Re)activate your passion for learning!
Sign up for a winter class, whether as a traditional student or through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institue (OLLI). Many of the opportunities for learning and engaging in community we offer are second to none in the nation. Follow us on Facebook or on Twitter and listen to what’s going on—there are some very positive messages to share. Get involved in community journalism through JPR or the Southern Oregon Digital Media Center (the new home of RVTV). With every tweet and shot of coffee, this community is rallying around SOU.

Come to SOU! Like your libraries, we are here for you, and if can find the time to take part, you will live life to the fullest. My kids are still in their single digits, but I hope someday they’ll come to SOU. You are the bridge to 140 years from now, when this community and Southern Oregon University will still be launching future visionaries.

Robert Arellano, director
Emerging Media & Digital Arts
Southern Oregon University