Dec. 13, 2011Vol. 42, Issue 3

A Commitment to Student Success

David Waddell Steps Down as Orion Advisor

With 11 Pacemaker awards and dozens of other honors to its name, The Orion's success is well established. It has maintained a consistent quality that has made it known throughout the nation, despite the comings and goings of the students (two-thirds of student staff turnover each semester). But Waddell doesn't believe that having a prize-winning newspaper is the most important thing.

photo of Dave Waddell"Honestly, I think The Orion's quality is secondary to the control students have," he says. Because The Orion generates enough ad sales on its own, it is not financially beholden to the University or any corporation, and students have freedom to cover whatever they want without fear of censorship. "There are no sacred cows," says Waddell. "And I hope it never comes to that for The Orion."

As advisor, Waddell allows students to have all the freedom they want to run their paper. "I've never attended an editorial board meeting," he says. "I don't belong there. Sooner or later they'd look to me for an opinion, and that's not my job." He likes to advise in a hands-off way as well. In fact, feedback and critiquing the paper comes almost entirely after publication. He writes a critique and sometimes brings in guests to critique. He feels that most of the learning comes after publication. He likes to see students join the paper early in their college careers rather than later, because, he says, "The Orion is the single best learning experience for news majors in the Department of Journalism."

Waddell believes that equally important to hands-on learning that The Orion provides journalism students is learning in a class full of different types of people. That's why diversifying the department has been so important to him. Waddell began student recruitment in 2006. Funded first by a four-year Media Newsgroup Journalism and Diversity Partnership obtained by the department and then by a California philanthropist, Waddell has been able to travel to high schools and community colleges all over the state to bring a diverse group of journalism students to Chico State. And it's paid off—in five years, the number of Latina/Latino students in the news-editorial option has doubled from 12 to 24, with 37 percent students of color. "In a pretty small department, that's impressive," he says.

Waddell has traveled as far south as Southwestern College, a junior college in Chula Vista, to recruit students. Max Branscomb is the advisor of Southwestern's newspaper, the Sun, and has become a great contact of Waddell's over the years. Waddell goes Chula Vista to pitch Chico and the Department of Journalism, and Branscomb brings a few students to Chico each semester to visit the campus. About a dozen Southwestern students have transferred to Chico after being recruited by Waddell—in fact, five graduated last May. "Every recruitment I've made from Southwestern College is either on track to graduate or has already graduated," he says.

photo of Dave Waddell playing basketballWaddell has learned that relationships are everything when it comes to recruiting students. Los Angeles City College and Contra Costa College are two other schools where Waddell has had success. But it's not always easy. "There is no instant success," he says. "You can't just go to a school once and expect people to flock to Chico, but you keep trying."

Waddell has visited Unity High School in Oakland several times and still hasn't been able to commit any students to Chico. But, he says, "Once I get one, I know I'll get more students." Unity High is the perfect example of a place Waddell likes to recruit from. It is racially diverse, and its students don't always get an opportunity to attend college. Waddell likes to see students from lower-income areas come to Chico. "I like to see these kids get degrees at a place that's special," he says.

And having a diverse department pays off in having a diverse newspaper. "A newspaper cannot cover all aspects of a community well unless it has different ethnicities and cultures on its staff," says Waddell. Covering Cesar Chavez Day is an example of the importance of having a diverse staff. There were years in the past where this holiday was under-covered because there was a lack of Latina/Latino students on the paper to write about the deeper significance of this holiday. "With an all-white newspaper staff, some stupid things are more likely to happen when writing about race."

Sometimes Waddell will bring a few current journalism students on his recruitment trips.

"Students are sometimes more effective than I am," he says. "Students believe in the program like I do, but they've also been through the program."

Aside from using The Orion itself as a selling tool, Facebook has also been convenient in recruiting students. "I joined Facebook 10 months ago, and it's been a great way to communicate," says Waddell. By posting pictures of the students he meets during recruitment, he gets to make a more personal connection than e-mail or a phone call might. "Facebook has also helped me to reconnect with a lot of former students, and that means a lot," he adds.

Photo 1: Even though The Orion will no longer be under Waddell's supervision, he will continue to teach part time in the Department of Journalism. He is also currently writing a grant to get more funding for future recruitment trips and scholarships for the department. "I will continue recruiting and teaching part time as long as the University wants me to," he says. Waddell will also be doing some freelance journalism of his own for local newspapers, getting back to what he's always loved, which is reporting the news.

Making connections and building relationships with students has been the highlight of Waddell's career. "If you're in journalism education, there is no better job than student newspaper advisor. The personal relationships with students are deeper and more meaningful than in a typical college class," he says. "I'll miss that, but I treasure all of those relationships."

—Cassandra Jones, Public Affairs and Publications