Faculty need to get out more. Offices are not the best places to gain perspective. It hit me again on a recent trip I took to a college media convention in Washington, D.C.

I was on this trip with several members of the Chimes staff and four members of the Point staff (I’m the Chimes faculty adviser). Point is the student-run magazine put out by our department twice a year. Both these publications have won state and national awards for writing, photos and design. So students’ attendance at this convention was a reminder to them that they should continue their winning ways.

I sat in workshop sessions with them (did a workshop on my own, based on research from my recent sabbatical), trudged the National Mall with them, and ate a meal with them in a tavern that hosted George Washington in a century past. Along the way, we talked sidewalk level journalism in ways not possible in La Mirada. Something about getting lost in a distant city brings up new levels of conversation about life, learning, and journalism. Faculty need that now and then. So do students.

But part of this trip was about meeting alums. Two of my former students do journalism in Washington, D.C. and I wanted to hear how that was going (several of my former students — from a university where I taught previously — also set up a time to chat).

And it was these conversations that made my flight back to L.A. one that barely needed an airplane. A former president of the University of Kentucky once wrote that a university is not merely a place, but a spirit. And the spirit of Biola University — rather, the Spirit of God among us here — is an intangible that some prospective students will say is what convinced them that this place is where they should study. It takes getting away to remind us what that’s about.

In our program, pursuit of God is a foundational theme; another key foundational element is moxie (or “chutzpah”) in the pursuit of stories, factual details, and the hidden meaning behind surface facts. It’s very biblical. But it’s a go-getter attitude that, in all fairness, tends to come pre-installed in some of our better students. With these, we merely fan the flame and wave them on in the high-striding pace they take down the curricular path.

One of my visits was with Krysta Fauria, a transfer to Biola from Fullerton College. She came in as a writer (an editor of the Fullerton College newspaper) and hungry to learn video. Before she’d entered senior year, professionals were after her. She became executive producer of our weekly Webcast EagleVision, and within a year of graduation had beat out hundreds of other applicants for a paid multimedia internship with the Associated Press.

They had offered her jobs in Washington, New York and London. She chose D.C. And over a table at 11th and H streets in D.C., Krysta told me she still didn’t know why they’d picked her. I just smiled. “It’s because you don’t know,” I told her. It’s those who know how worthy they are that get turned down. Krysta just worked her tail off so intently that she didn’t have time to look around, look back, or compare herself.

And what I loved more than all that was that she wanted to study Hebrew on the side. She was asking me for a recommendation for admission to seminary. She was happily married (Jon Lunde did the ceremony on a beach near Biola), and spoke glowingly of the church she and her formerly-atheist husband attended together. My last glimpse of her was of that former student trudging down the wet sidewalk with no umbrella intent on grabbing the rest of her day.

Then there was Katie Watson. As editor-in-chief of The Chimes, Katie had led the staff with conviction and passion, but also with an attitude of mentoring. Staffers followed her lead-by-example approach, and by year-end, the newspaper had earned a national media award for overall excellence — beating out newspapers from state universities across the nation. It ranked with newspapers at Harvard and a few other prestigious universities that year.

Katie took me to a breakfast place near the White House. We talked about life, journalism, and how Capitol Hill Baptist is meeting her needs as a young single follower of Christ in a city full of transient professionals who put political achievement ahead of anything else. Katie is an investigative reporter for The Daily Caller, and her job involves looking under the rocks and into the crevices of what appears to be normal political life. She sees the grime that journalists must call attention to. But what I loved about meeting with her was her attention to spiritual things. She takes care of her walk with Christ and guards it — right there in the District. And part of our conversation was about we might get her teaching with me in a distance learning course in Capitol Hill news reporting.

I returned to campus a little weary, but joyful to get back in the classroom with people who, in a few months, would be out there waiting to do coffee or breakfast with me — to tell their stories.

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