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21 February 2013

Former students offer trip down memory lane

Bleeding orange and green is something that has become somewhat commonplace at the U – but some professors have taken this sentiment to new heights.

Alumni faculty members like Donn Tilson and Michael Werner have spent their educational and professional careers at the university calling campus their second home.

Back when the Cosford Cinema was called the Beaumont, when limestone steps surrounded Lake Osceola and the Toppel Career Center was a bowling alley, Tilson was an undergraduate student at UM.

“I love being here because it’s always felt like home, it’s about the only way I can describe it,” Tilson said.

Back to the U

“I graduated twice from the University of Miami and it’s not like I couldn’t get it right the first time, but I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in English and journalism in 1972 and with my master’s degree in public relations in 1986,” Tilson said.

Tilson, now an associate professor of public relations in the School of Communication, always dreamed of being a teacher.

After a 17-year career as BellSouth-AT&T’s public relations manager, Tilson said he wanted to go back to what his original love was. When UM began looking for a PR lecturer, Tilson jumped at the chance.

“… Everything kind of came together, so before you knew it I was on the faculty. Then ultimately I earned tenure … well, here I am,” Tilson said.

Destiny decides

Of the many professors at the university who are alumni, not all of them planned on coming back to teach.

Michael Werner, a lecturer in the department of accounting, said he lucked into his major.

“The reason I selected accounting was very scientific,” Werner said. “My roommate thought it was a good idea, so he was taking accounting courses and I was well, ‘Count me in.’”

He spent his career working as an accountant for several corporations until 1984 when he joined his family business as president and CEO. He began teaching at UM shortly after that.

“I had a little CPA practice with somebody on faculty here … and he said, ‘Man, I’m retiring from UM, so you know if you wanted to teach there, you ought to go talk to them,’” Werner said. “I’m not sure why, but they gave me quite a few courses to teach. More than I wanted to teach at first. And then within a semester, I was on full-time at the University of Miami.”

Werner said he never really thought about teaching at UM but often wondered about the faculty experience.

“When I was going to school here, I thought, ‘Wow, it would be really something to be one of these professors’ … Back then, they had the little faculty parking stickers on their bumpers and I thought, ‘Man, someday I would like to have one of those,’” he said.

Trip down memory lane

Both Werner and Tilson said they enjoyed their undergraduate experiences. Werner expressed that he wished he had done some things differently.

“I was working a lot and I didn’t have the typical student experiences,” Werner said. “I was here for a time and then I would run off campus and work … I wish I had done more.”

Tilson, on the other hand, worked on the Tempo Magazine staff, the predecessor of Distraction Magazine, but said he did not rush and join any fraternities.

“I was a commuter student, so you have a different experience … than you do if you’re living on campus,” Tilson said. “Sometimes you miss out on some of the things … because you’re stuck in traffic.”

Both Tilson and Werner agree that returning to UM as faculty has demonstrated to them the progress campus has made since their days as students.

“When I started … it was not like it is today. I don’t even know if I could have gotten in if I had to apply today,” Werner said. “The students are so good, they’re so bright, they’re eager to learn … it’s coming to class and focusing and having that endgame in mind.”

Tilson shared similar sentiments.

“We really have grown up into a major university,” Tilson said. “Between the time that I was here studying journalism in the department of communication and now … we have a major school of communication and we’ve grown both in majors and in program …”

Tilson expressed his love for his alma mater.

“It’s great to be a Miami Hurricane,” Tilson said. “Always and forever.”