“A day I’ll never forget…”

In 2011, James Madison University students experienced an earthquake. This fall there was another — of a decidedly different variety. But this time around the seismic impact was even greater when ESPN’s College GameDay was broadcast from the Quad. Marketing and communications intern, Rachel Petty (’17) was there. For today’s blog, she describes how the whole event reflected what it means to be a JMU Duke.

College GameDay Brought JMU Together and Embodied Our Spirit

By Rachel Petty (’17)

Hundreds of signs, purple and gold streamers and spirited students, faculty and alumni fill the quad. Chants of “J-M-U, J-M-U, J-M-U” are heard from all around. ESPN’s College GameDay hosts take the stage, and the crowd erupts.

College GameDay is a day I’ll never forget. The JMU community had the opportunity to show everyone what we’re really all about.

A sea of Dukes, savoring College GameDay

A sea of Dukes, savoring College GameDay

JMU students have such pride and spirit that we were truly able to exhibit on Saturday. Everyone was decked out in purple and gold, holding signs and cheering for our school.

The GameDay atmosphere was truly an embodiment of JMU—thousands of students attended the event, some having camped out all night.

JMU students are the perfect example of “work hard, play hard.” While we take academics seriously, there was no hesitation in putting our all into GameDay and Homecoming.

The excitement didn’t end when the broadcast ended—after tailgating, I stood in the sold-out stadium, surrounded by a sea of purple. It was packed for the football game from start to finish, and I could feel the energy in the air—signs, pom-poms and streamers contributed to the overwhelming support the fans provided for the Dukes.

Even though the game didn’t turn out how we would have liked it to [JMU lost to in-state rival Richmond], we cheered until the end and showed the team that we truly do care.

Rachel Petty ('17) on the right at GameDay

Rachel Petty (’17) on the right at GameDay

GameDay was the perfect opportunity for JMU to come together. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., campus was filled with students, faculty and alumni who love JMU and are proud to be Dukes.

Win or lose, the overwhelming spirit and atmosphere there was on Saturday made it a day that I’ll surely never forget.

Dukes from day one, alumni for life.

To see much more of the JMU GameDay coverage, check out these links: 





[Photos provided by Rachel Petty ’17]

The power of a mentor

“What do you want to get out of our time?”

by Brad Jenkins (’99)

Stephen and I had been meeting for a couple weeks, and it looked like we were settling into a familiar routine: lunch at Market One on campus (our usual: burgers and fries) and small talk about life at JMU — his as a student and mine overseeing the student newspaper and teaching.

ThinkstockPhotos-462259013“So, what do you want to get out of our time together?” I asked. It’s a question I routinely ask the students I mentor through JMU’s Civic Learning Mentoring Program, which is run through the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices. The goal of the weekly meetings, held for eight to 15 weeks, is to give students who have violated a university policy the chance to be mentored and think through their mission and goals.

The program, begun in the mid-1990s, has grown over the years so that at least 50 students are being mentored at any given time, says RJ Ohgren, who coordinates it. The program, which represents about 7 percent of all violation sanctions, has a pool of nearly 100 trained faculty and staff mentors to call on.

Usually, students greet my question with a stare or a “Let me think about that and I’ll let you know.” The next week, I’ll ask again, and the response is similar.

Stephen was different.

“I’d like to do something,” he told me, “accomplish something.” He had a couple ideas: Maybe we could learn something together or work on a project.

Stephen’s early reception to being mentored surprised me, given where he’d been when he started meeting with me in the fall of 2012. Already, he had spent a semester suspended from JMU and attending a community college near his hometown after violating alcohol policies for a third time. The Civic Learning program was his last chance to get through his final year and graduate in May.

It took a while for us to figure out what our “project” would be. As fall turned into winter and Stephen started thinking about graduation, we continued having lunch and I kept listening. Meanwhile, Stephen was trying to figure out to do with the communications degree he was about to get.

One day over lunch, Stephen casually told me how he had recently helped some of his friends settle an argument.

“Doesn’t conflict bother you?” I asked, adding that I dreaded it.

No, he told me, adding that he actually enjoyed helping people figure out how to solve disagreements.

“Have you ever heard of the mediation center?” I asked.

He hadn’t, so later that week I sent Stephen some information on Harrisonburg’s Fairfield Center, a mediation group that was looking for interns. It could be a place to test out whether mediation fit him. He eventually got the internship, working about 30 hours a week during the spring semester.

Given the academic, emotional, relational and career challenges that come with being in college these days, there’s a lot to mine, but finding these gold nuggets takes a good amount of listening. Students in the program are often at a crossroads, even if they won’t admit it, which is often be the case.

Another guy I mentored, Robby (I’ve changed his name*), came to me unhappy about having to be mentored. He told me up front he wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. Week after week, as we engaged in small talk over coffee, I wondered if I was making a difference.

But I kept on listening, and almost at the end of our dozen weeks together, Robby met me with sagging eyes and a solemn expression. After spending much of the semester working to make it into a fraternity he really wanted to be part of, he had found out the night before he did not make the cut.

The disappointment had crushed him, and the only way he knew how to deal with the pain was to plan for a night of drinking during the coming weekend.

Several times, I told Robby I was sorry he didn’t get in, and sorry he felt so hurt. I shared with him several major disappointments I had faced, including a recent freelancing job I loved and then lost. “It stinks,” I told him. There was no glossing over it: Disappointment is painful.

But then I challenged him: “This is an opportunity,” I said, “to figure out a way to deal with your disappointment. You can numb it with alcohol this weekend, but after you sober up, the disappointment will still be there.”

I wish the next part of the story was Robby’s telling me he found a new way to deal with pain. He didn’t, not this time, anyway. I see mentoring as seed-planting, though. Maybe that advice didn’t sprout fruit now. Maybe later, though.

I don’t often see the long-term effects of mentoring. After they’ve finished their required weeks with me, the guys I mentor are glad to be done, and I only hear from them again through a reflection paper they write. That’s usually it.

I expected the same thing with Stephen. It had been nearly two years since he graduated when a friend heard about my time volunteering as a mentor and asked if I’d write about it. I sent Stephen an e-mail asking if he still had his reflection paper. Somehow, I had misplaced it.

A day later, he wrote back and attached the paper, and I chuckled again as I read his description of me: “a kick-ass mentor.” That was a new superlative, but one I am proud to own.

Stephen also suggested we have lunch sometime. So a couple weeks later, as the spring semester was winding down, he drove from Northern Virginia and we met for pizza.

Stephen was the same confident, outgoing person I remembered, but he had matured and become less arrogant than when I had seen him as a student, something he’d later confirm.

“I’m getting married!” he announced as we sat down at our booth, then flipped through some photos on his phone before getting to his engagement photo.

Stephen has had several jobs since graduation, all of them in sales, and each one has led to the next. But that first job, right out of college? The interviewer noticed Stephen had worked in a mediation center, and it was the clincher.

I couldn’t help but remind Stephen that I had told him about the mediation center during our Civic Learning days. He hadn’t forgotten.

After about 90 minutes catching up over lunch, Stephen headed home and I went back to my office.

A few days later, I had another appointment with Robby. We drank coffee. He talked. Thinking back to my pizza lunch with Stephen, I couldn’t help but hope.


To learn more about the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices, visit their website: https://www.jmu.edu/osarp/index.shtml


Brad Jenkins (’99) is the general manager of The Breeze, the twice-weekly student newspaper at JMU. In that role, he oversees operations of the print newspaper, a news website, a lifestyles magazine and an annual magazine guide to JMU. He also is an adjunct instructor in the School of Media Arts and Design, where he teaches feature writing and feature-magazine production. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in JMU’s College Student Personnel Administration program, a decision that was inspired in part by his experience as a mentor.


* Editor’s note: The student named Stephen in this story has given his permission for his first name to be used. The other student, Robby, is a pseudonym.

Snapping change

The Madison of 1972 was a very different place than the Madison of today. During the 1970s, the public perception of the college began a dramatic transformation. One of the players in that tectonic shift was photographer Tommy Thompson. His photography helped the public understand that the Madison of old was shedding its identity as a teachers college for women and becoming a vibrant and exciting co-educational university. Tommy retired this year, but thousands of his images remain, along with the influence on many students he mentored over the years. Kayla Marsh (’16) takes a look back over a career defined by change.

A picture of change

by Kayla Marsh (’16)  

It was a dark year for Tommy Thompson. It was 1972, and Thompson had just taken over as the director of JMU’s photography department.  Processing photos in Thompson’s first year as the university’s photographer took place in the cold and dreadful “worm room.”  Sharing the Burruss Hall attic with another professor who was raising planaria — small worms used by science students — made the upgrade six months later to a real office in Godwin Hall feel all the more worthwhile. While the chemicals from working in the “worm room” stained Thompson’s fingernails and most of his clothing, nothing could stop his passion for photography at JMU.

“I did it all. I did sports and academic work. I enjoyed being a photographer. It was a neat time,” Thompson said in his gentle, southern accent.

(Photo of Tommy Thompson  courtesy of The Breeze)

(Photo of Tommy Thompson courtesy of The Breeze)

More than four decades later, Thompson is still at JMU, but just for a few more weeks. Although he retired from his job as a university photographer in 2000, he continued his work as an adjunct instructor in the School of Media Arts and Design, where he has taught photojournalism since 1975.

“I’ve always looked at students not as students, but as young photographers wanting to learn, and if I could trip a light on one out of the 18 [students I teach each semester] I thought I was doing pretty good,” Thompson said.

Thompson has seen numerous students become success stories. One former student, Maryland’s Portrait Photographer of the Year for four consecutive years and Kodak Gallery Award winner, Sandra Paetow, started out looking for federal work study that involved typing in 1976. Thompson’s department had one of the only jobs left.

“Well, you have to take pictures if you’re going to work for me,” Thompson said to Paetow while introducing her to the capital-letters-only typewriter.

Another Tommy Thompson success story happened in in 2004 — when Thompson mentored a student named Casey Templeton. Templeton, now 31, is a commercial advertising photographer based in Richmond, Va., where he works for himself. Though Thompson was no longer working for the JMU photography department after 2000, he still visited the department, where he met Templeton, who went on to become a nationally recognized collegiate photographer and also took photos for National Geographic and other major publications.

“He taught me to re-evaluate my standard of quality. He really pushed me to do better,” Templeton said.

He also taught the importance of maintaining quality relationships with clients. Thompson has built a platform in the School of Media Arts and Design and credibility for photography. He only teaches one class but takes it so seriously that it has raised the bar as far as how sought-after the class is among students. Thompson reminds students that they can always do better.

“I wouldn’t be where I was if it wasn’t for him. He’s continued to be a great asset for me, on my thinking, my industry and my work. He is the reason I am able to make a living doing this,” Templeton said.

SMAD professor George Johnson, who will take over teaching the photo class in the fall, has known Thompson since 1984 and has seen him work well with students.

“The photographers he’s had have just been phenomenal,” Johnson said. “The passion that the students had and the guidance that Tommy gave them is all it took to get them out there.”

Thompson’s own beginnings were humble. Out of high school, he wanted to be in the Navy but “didn’t like the bell-bottomed trousers,” and, at 5-foot-7, was too short, calling himself “the runt of the family.” After doing police reporting and surveillance photography, Thompson started working for Harrisonburg radio station WKCY as a newsman. Desperate for a new job, he worked for free starting out, but little by little began to get paid because of his quick ability to find stories, which led to a job at Harrisonburg’s Daily News-Record. He would beat others to stories and get them on the Associated Press wire, which then distributed content to member newspapers.

The university hired Thompson four years after he started work at the Daily News-Record.

“I had a natural curiosity. Being in the news and having those credentials gets you into a lot of places. It was helpful to stay in the news business,” Thompson said.

When JMU hired him in 1972, he was part of then-JMU President Ronald Carrier’s plan to hire photographers and expand the public information staff. At first, Thompson was given six assignments but didn’t have a camera, equipment or a studio.

Just like he did with students, Thompson guided JMU, helping the university make the switch from film to digital photography. In the 1980s, with computers becoming essential to photography, Thompson kept pushing for new equipment to match the change in technology.

“I told the institution we were changing to digital, which didn’t go over well with artists who were used to putting things together by hand, the old way,” Thompson said.

And so the photography department said goodbye to the wet darkroom and brown skin from the chemicals that came with it.

While working at JMU, he worked for media companies such as United Press International, shooting photography in Western Virginia until the 1990s.

“There weren’t that many people around. I was good. I won a lot of awards—a variety at the time,” Thompson said.

Thompson has been able to bring his practical experience to the classroom, where he most recently has taught every Tuesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. Smiling in his gray polo and jeans, he’s approachable. He assigns his class a “read the background” project in which the CEO of a company may want his picture taken under a tree when it’s sunny. He draws a diagram of the lighting setup before sending them outside, and says, “Here’s the sun. You probably recognize it.”

He lists off every possible situation that could happen in a real-life scenario, but reassures them one thing that will always help them succeed.

“You have to use you intellect, which all of you have. Your creativity, which all of you have,” he tells them.

He takes his students on an assignment to practice what he taught. He looks up, waving to other students passing by the photo site, turns and says, “Now how’d y’all do?”

SMAD student Abigail Moore (’16) said Thompson’s class has helped her become more comfortable with the camera.

“He’s really passionate, so he is really into the class,” she said.  “He has a good sense of humor and pushes you to step out of your comfort zone.”

When Thompson retires from JMU, he will continue to take personal and commercial photographs and keep up with new technology. He plans to set up his quadcopter, which can take aerial photos, something he’s always wanted more time for.

“I have plenty to do, it’s just finding time to do it,” he said. “I love just doing my photography. It’s just been amazing to see how receptive these young people have been to my techniques.”

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 Author Kayla Marsh, a senior from Louisa, Va., is studying journalism in JMU’s School of Media Arts and Design. She is also a copy editor for the student newspaper, The Breeze. After she graduates next year, Kayla hopes to work as a reporter or producer at a news station or as an editor for a magazine. She is still deciding between print and broadcast but says: “I hope to figure that out within the next year!” 
Our thanks, once again, to Brad Jenkins, adjunct instructor in SMAD and adviser to The Breeze, for sharing this story with us. It first appeared in April 2015.


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.”
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