From THE BEACON
Will Lyons, staff writer
Bringing all members of the community together for civil discourse is one of the many skills for which Renee Heath will be remembered. After eight years as a communication studies professor at UP, Heath is moving to Boston to be with her family as her husband takes a new job.
Heath won UP’s Outstanding Teaching award in 2011 and created the Teaching Our Leaders Civil Discourse (TOLCS) club. “First I’ll miss the students and people in the UP Community,” Heath said. “We have such a warm culture here.”
Heath touched and shaped the lives of many students. “She made me fall in love with my education all over again,” senior Andriana Alexis said. “I’m sad to see her go but I’m happy for her and her family.” For communication studies department chair Jeff Kerssen-Griep, Heath brought an incredible energy to the faculty. “She had the gift of turning ideas into practices, products and relationships,” Kerssen-Griep said. “I’ll miss her as a colleague and friend.”
Heath is on sabbatical this semester as she finishes working on a book with fellow professors Jennette Lovejoy, Courtney Vail Fletcher and Bill Barnes about the Occupy movement. The transition out of the University will prove trying for Heath, who grew up in Portland. “The University of Portland is a special place,” Heath said. “Not all schools are so dynamic.”
For Heath, one of the most transformative events that happened while she was working at UP was the shouting matches at Town Hall meetings over healthcare during the summer of 2010. “I remember thinking, surely there must be a better way to have public discourse,” Heath said. Heath developed TOLCS to create a fair way to mediate discussion over controversial topics and to develop professional facilitation skills. The club had over 60 members it’s first semester. “Once students participated [in TOLCS] I didn’t have trouble getting them to come back,” Heath said. “Having [TOLCS] come to fruition is amazing.” The club began to provide a critical action role in many of the University’s biggest events. Besides the healthcare summit, TOLCS held discussions at the Food for Thought Conference, Focus the Nation and Water Rights Conference.
Today the club has over 60 active members, and according to recent alumna Hilary White, the skills learned in TOLCS translate well into the real world. “In interviews, I feel better at responding to questions,” White said. “TOLCS also helps in everyday things like finding common ground among friends.” With Heath’s departure, Fletcher will be taking over as faculty advisor for TOLCS, a club that continues to have an active membership. Through TOLCS and the passion she shared for civil discourse, Heath’s legacy will live on. “Thanks to everyone who’s touched me,” Heath said. “I’m on to new adventures, but Portland will always be a part of who I am.”