Engineering a journalism career


My recollections of 50 years ago are mostly fuzzy but some things can never be forgotten.
February 1970 had me enrolled in courses to lead to an engineering degree at the University of Tennessee at Martin. During the years prior to high school graduation I never dreamed that I would be able to afford college, but I applied for and received some work-study grants that made college possible and played a huge role moving forward.
Following my advisor’s advice, I declared engineering as my major. It was not out of a deep desire to build bridges or rockets or anything else that required a lot of technical thinking, but my guidance counselor said because I had good math and science scores that it would be the best choice for a course of study. My lifelong dream was to go to the UT campus in Knoxville and become a part of the UT Volunteers. Engineers were required to transfer from UTM after the first two years. I was on track for Big Orange Country.
Maybe my math and science scores were good because those are subjects that can be checked and rechecked to get the correct answer. I scored well on homework and tests.
Little did I know that along with every engineering class came a big stack of books and workbooks, a gadget called a slide rule many wore on their belt and labs almost every evening.
How I migrated from engineering to journalism is more a story of survival and passion than anything else and the move would set my course for the next 50 years. And, like engineering, journalism kept me on track to transfer to Knoxville after my sophomore year. UTM did not have a journalism major at the time.
College brought a lot of distractions. It was the first time I that I lived away from home and I felt obligated to my friends to stay up late at nights and play basketball in the parking lots behind the Y dorms. After all, they needed me to make even teams, not that I was a particularly good shot. We would play until there was no one else to play with. I should’ve been in the room studying all the engineering science stuff, calculus and mechanical drawing and practicing on the slide rule that I have never used since those days. But I did not. I could blame it on having to work on campus to help pay the bills but that wasn’t a reason that I got put on academic probation that first year. I really had no genuine interest in those courses. There was no “burning passions” like I developed while writing for the college newspaper.
Being a news reporter gave me the opportunity to learn about new developments around the campus. It opened doors to talk to those who made the decisions. I felt empowered. Looking back, my articles were probably a little too short but they were to the point. Our news holes were small as well.
In journalism classes Professor Carl Giles taught us to write tight. “Wordiness and cliché’s were the biggest enemies to effective writing”, he emphasized.
Changing my major was a start to a rewarding career, one which does not really feel like work but more like doing what I love to do every day of the week. Doing what you like it is not work at all. I look at it is a half century of blessings.