80 semesters of lessons

The end of this semester marks the end of an era at James Madison University. After 40 years, David Wendelken, associate professor of media arts and design, retires from his post, a place where his influence has been great and his tutelage, beloved. In today’s blog, two of his many protégés, seniors Gabrielle Smith and Riley Alexander, take a look back at a career with tremendous impact…..

40 years and 80 semesters of passing down lessons

By Gabrielle Smith (’15) & Riley Alexander (’15)

wendelken graduation 2007 - Version 2Students, faculty and friends describe him as a mentor, both wise and supportive. After 40 years and 80 semesters, Dr. David Wendelken is retiring from teaching at James Madison University.

Wendelken began teaching at JMU in 1975. He founded and advised several publications at JMU: Curio, a general interest community feature magazine (1978); Madison 101, an orientation guide (1999); and South Main, a campus feature magazine (2000). Three years ago, he started 22807, a student-lifestyles magazine. All of these magazines have been part of the magazine-production class he has taught since 1978. Wendelken also advised the campus newspaper, The Breeze, for 25 years.

Brad Jenkins, a 1999 JMU graduate who returned to JMU in 2006 as The Breeze’s general manager, worked closely with Wendelken when he was a student working on the newspaper. He also took two of his classes (Feature Writing and Feature Magazine Production) as a student.

In 1999, Wendelken encouraged Jenkins to help create one of the publications Wendelken has begun at JMU, Madison 101, a guide to the university for new students.

“He trusted me and another student to basically launch a brand-new magazine,” Jenkins said. “That’s one of the things he does so well…he sees potential in students and then gives them the ability to get some experience and practice.”

In 2012, Wendelken began thinking about another publication called 22807, and he called on another student to develop it.

“There was an empty hole in the publications, so Wendelken and I and a group of other students kind of mind-melded and came up with 22807 as a culture publication,” said senior media arts and design major Griffin Harrington.

“We worked a lot on who would be right for each role,” Harrington said about the magazine. “It wasn’t as much as a line of advice for him, but a mindset that he gave me that I’m not going to be able to do it all on my own and that I need to find the right people and bring in the right talent.”

Wendleken also makes it a point to have a relationship with his students outside the classroom. In the fall of 2014, Harrington photographed the wedding of Wendelken’s daughter.

“We had a glass of champagne together…it was cute,” Harrington said.  “He’s been really cool about having me be a part of his outside life too, not just inside the walls of Harrison [Hall].”

wendelken teaching - Version 2Wendelken has a knack for guiding students and helping them discover their hidden talents. Jenkins remembers that when he took Feature Writing, he was more interested in hard-news stories and didn’t think he’d be able to write features. But Wendelken saw and developed his potential.

“He sort of encouraged me that I could do it,” Jenkins said. “He recognized the talent in me and told me I should do it [feature writing]. And now if I had to pick something, it would be that over anything else.”

Wendelken has given his students countless pieces of advice over the years to help them pursue their dreams, whether in journalism or some other field.

“He always told me to take it slow,” JMU alum Spencer Dukoff said. “That’s been some powerful advice in a world where you’re always hurrying and fudging the details.”

Harrington calls Wendelken a “real father-figure to everyone at JMU.”

“His office is where I go when I need some help,” Harrington said. “He’s one of the most important heads I bounce ideas off of [for projects].”

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 11.27.47 AMThe “king of publications,” Wendelken has left his mark all around the world.

“When I think about his mark on Madison, I think about all the journalists who are carrying his lessons, his mentorship and all those things into the business…I’m sure all those people are like me passing along his lessons, so it’s kind of like this ripple effect of mentoring,” Jenkins said.

Students and faculty say they will miss his wise words, wry sense of humor and, of course, the animal lover’s stories about his adopted cats and his adventures taking birding photos all over the world.

“I’ll miss just having his perspective on things,” Jenkins said. “I’ll miss learning from him as I watched him teach and interact with students.”

Although he will not be returning to JMU in the fall, Wendelken will continue to carry his love for journalism and photography with him throughout his life.

“He’s talked about all these bird adventures he’s going to go on: traveling to the Mediterranean, to the south of America,” Harrington said. “He’s going to take his wife and his camera and just look for birds.”

Gabrielle Foster ('15)

Gabrielle Foster (’15)

Gabrielle Foster, from Yorktown, Va., graduates next week with a degree in Media Arts and Design with a journalism concentration and a minor in Sports Communications. She hopes to land a position as a sports or news reporter for a local TV stations.




Riley Alexander ('15)

Riley Alexander (’15)

Senior Riley Alexander will also graduate from the School of Media Arts and Design with a concentration in journalism. The Richmond, Va., native plans to move to New York City to pursue a career in advertising, working on the account management side of the business.




Many thanks to Breeze adviser Brad Jenkins for sharing this story and photos with us.
To read more about the career and influence of David Wendelken, check out this story by Patrick Butters (’83) written for Madison magazine’s popular series, “Professors You Love.”

About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

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