September 28, 2015 11:00AM
When Pittsburg State alumni and friends Rion Huffman and Andrea McConnaughey joined the Graphics and Imaging Technologies faculty together in the fall of 2013, they noticed that many things had changed since their time as students.
Some things, however, had not.
“I noticed almost right away that the camera equipment the photography program was using was the same equipment we used when we were students here nearly 10 years ago,” Huffman said. “We’re talking about first generation digital equipment.”
Spurred on by a passion for photography and, more importantly, for helping move the program forward, the new assistant professors helped acquire a donation of more than $30,000 worth of new photography equipment.
“I made that my singular goal when I got here,” Huffman said. “I reached out to a potential donor, and we ended up getting something done. It was a great feeling.”
It was a feeling both young teachers were seeking when they made the transition from the graphics industry to education.
“I needed to be reinvigorated,” said McConnaughey, who earned a bachelor of science degree in technology in 2005 and master’s degree in 2013. “When I was out in industry, I got into a routine. I needed a new challenge. I never imagined becoming a teacher, but I’m so glad I took that step. I love it.”
Huffman, who earned a bachelor’s of science degree in technology in 2005 and a master’s degree in 2011, said he had wanted to teach at Pitt State from the moment he earned his bachelor’s degree, but a slight fear of public speaking always held him back from chasing that dream.
“Then one day, a light bulb went off,” he said. “I just decided to get over it. I felt a call to teach, I wanted to teach and I wanted to make an impact on the GIT Department here at Pitt State. So I went for it.”
Since joining the faculty two years ago, Huffman and McConnaughey have focused on giving students real-world, practical experiences that would benefit them in their professional careers.
Students have taken on assignments photographing regional concerts and events, they’ve worked with 360-degree videos and the latest photo/video editing software, and they’ve even had the chance to meet and interview celebrities such as MTV’s Todrick Hall, who was on campus in late September.
Their overall goal, the instructors said, is to give students the optimal university experience.
“When I think back on my undergraduate experience, I can remember many good experiences and some that I thought were less than ideal,” Huffman said. “One of my goals coming in as a teacher was to do my best to eliminate the bad experiences for our students.”
Both young instructors credit their peers and mentors for their early successes.
“I don’t think either of us could have come in and had this great of an experience without the people we work with,” McConnaughey said. “The faculty here is second to none, and they’ve helped us all along the way. We’re quite fortunate to work alongside such great educators and mentors.”
Huffman said he’s been “floored” by the support and care shown to him by longtime faculty.
“The amount of dedication these people give to this university and to their colleagues is amazing,” he said. “Everyone helps one another; everyone tries to lift each other up. Working in this environment has provided that spark that I think Andrea and I were both seeking.”
Both Huffman and McConnaughey said they’re still working to perfect their craft and be the best educators they can be for the students. Both feel, though, that they’re off to a good start.
“When you see your seniors presenting their final project before graduation and they start to get tears in their eyes, you know you’ve made a difference in their life,” McConnaughey said. “You realize in those moments why this profession and this university are so powerful.”