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LIFE LESSONS: Steve Hudson After 33 Years – ?It's Always New'

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by Susan Hereford

Steve Hudson is the Forrest Gump of PCC. Don’t misunderstand. We’re not talking intellectual capacity. In fact, Hudson, an English instructor, is a brilliant man with a Ph.D. in English, an undergraduate degree in English with double minors in both math and chemistry, and a master’s degree with a specialty in linguistics. This man has both sides of his big brain working just fine, thank you. Yet sitting down to talk with Steve Hudson is a veritable tour through PCC history, and like Gump, Hudson experienced it all.

"When I arrived in the fall of ’66, we were still working out how we were going to survive," Hudson says of his first job out of the university. "Portland State saw us as possible competition, the Oregon State System of higher ed wasn’t sure the caliber (of teaching) would be there, and the community at large wasn’t sure they wanted to finance this new education."

Hudson began his PCC career at Shattuck Hall, (formerly Shattuck School in the downtown park blocks) which had opened two years earlier in 1964, offering 28 college transfer classes. He taught freshman- and sophomore-level college English. The idea of this "open door," undergraduate education promoted by the community college appealed to him and he was eager to become part of the new movement that emphasized teaching and the classroom – not research – as the focus had become at many universities.

"This lack of (student) access to the faculty ? many of us felt we were teachers, not scholars. I can research, argue the odes of John Donne, but we were performers and we were passionate about sharing it!" Hudson says.

Anyone who has seen Hudson perform at the annual rite of in-service at Portland Community College realizes he was born to perform. At the yearly gathering, his emcee stints with quips about PCC culture and its people leave staff rolling in the aisles.

Speech instructor Susan Haigler recounts her initiation to Hudson. "I was working 10-, 12-hour days that first quarter and I was overdoing it, trying to overachieve. One day I had printed a number of documents in the office late at night. I came in the next day to find a very official-looking note typewritten on PCC letterhead stating something to the effect that there had been a college-wide computer shutdown because the system had been overworked," Haigler laughs, explaining that the document looked authentic, and being new at the time, she took it very seriously.

Hudson is known for his good-natured pranks, his colleagues say it is his commitment to students and to the written word that most defines him.

PCC psychology instructor Jim Howell, who has been teaching for 28 years, says, "I don’t think you will find anyone who will spend more time helping students who want to be better writers. There are many, many students who have gone on to success, been published, entered university creative writing programs."

Haigler calls Hudson "brilliant" and says she can make the most exotic requests for information – for example, needing a succinct definition of charmed particles for her next class – and be met with Hudson’s quick reply – " a flavor of quark" – followed by a brief explanation of subatomic particle theory.

Howell recalls Hudson getting "worked up over ?Beowulf’. And some years ago when he performed in Chaucer’s ?Canterbury Tales,’ he traveled round the campus in costume speaking Middle English wearing a monk’s cowl," Howell says. "Students in the class just roared."

Following Hudson’s stint at Shattuck, founding PCC President Amo De Bernardis sent Hudson to open up Cascade Campus in North Portland. Hudson remembers that era as an exciting one. "We were going into a community that had never been given access to a college education. We were dealing with non-traditional students and minorities – Asians, African Americans, people returning from Vietnam. Some of the writing was so strong, powerful – not mechanically sophisticated – but the ideas, the dialects (were) exciting."

Hudson moved on to Sylvania Campus in 1977 before settling in 1980 at Rock Creek, where he teaches today. Besides serving in the classroom at PCC, he has been a department chair, an interim assistant dean, and for almost 20 years was a member and chaired the state’s Writing and English Advisory Committee.

How does he stay inspired after 33 years? "There is no other place," Hudson says, "where I can come every day and be educated. I can read Sophocles, or Greek tragedies, Philotedes, Shakespeare. What a wonderful thing! If I want to talk about Sappho, I can do it every day."

On teaching: "I really do respect my students. If I do a good job, I can teach them to think, to use their cognitive skills, to use this world of ideas that we are all a part of. I teach them, they teach me ? what better way?" Hudson says.

Finally, Steve Hudson says his continued love affair with teaching comes from his belief that "It is always new. Every day is different. Every term I get the butterflies in the stomach and every term I have another chance, another crack at it – to get it right."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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