By Masaki Ova
In her three years at the University of Jamestown, junior Echo Locken has taken a few classes from Irene Paasch.
“I really enjoy her classes. There is definitely something new every day,” she said. “She brings so much personality with her to every class that sometimes it is just exciting.”
Locken said she “really enjoyed” Paasch’s nonverbal communication class.
“I just thought it was really interesting and it is a topic she is very passionate about,” she said. “She would just get so involved with every class that you just felt how excited she was to be there, so it made you kind of more excited to go to class.”
Paasch, who is the chair of the communications department, will retire after teaching 26 years at the university. She taught part-time at Jamestown College, which changed its name to University of Jamestown in 2013, in the ’80s before she became a full-time faculty member in 1992, Paasch said. She became the department chair in 2006.
“Dr. Paasch has such an incredible energy about her, and it is infectious in a lot of ways,” said Paul Olson, vice president for academic affairs and dean at UJ, in an email. “A generation of UJ students, whether they are Communications majors or not, have benefited from her passion for teaching courses like Oral Interpretation of Literature and Cross-Cultural Communication.”
Sophomore Vincent Kloubec has also taken some classes from Paasch.
“It has been a lot of fun. She is really high energy, especially in her 8 a.m. oral interpretation literature class when everyone else is just waking up and dragging,” he said. “She is ready to teach and ready to have fun.”
Senior Mark Lybeck said Paasch get students to think in a different way and her teaching style is unique.
“She is very personable, but she can also be tough loving,” he said. “She knows what she wants to get out of you but she will do it in such a very different way, asking the very hard questions, maybe making you a tad uncomfortable from now and then again, but because of that she makes you think so differently from everybody else that she gets it out of you in that way.”
In the 1970s, Paasch said she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya as a teacher at Lake Victoria, which is where Luos reside. Paasch, who is from Texas, met her husband, Carl, in Kenya, and that is how she got to North Dakota.
Paasch taught at the first Luo girls school in Kenya. While she was in Kenya, the Luo girls school became a high school that started with teaching just freshmen and sophomores and eventually added juniors and seniors.
“So we graduated our first girls high school while I was there in Kenya,” she said.
When Paasch started at UJ, she was called to teach speech part time in the ’80s. She began teaching English and speech and taught part time for four years.
“It came at a turning point in my life too,” she said. “They were desperate for a speech teacher, and I was desperate for money.”
Paasch pursued a music degree from Jamestown College in the ’80s.
“As in life you always want to have something that will enrich your life, and music has always enriched my life,” she said.
While Paasch was teaching part time, she taught music appreciation and speech until 1992, when she became a full-time faculty member.
“And that developed into full time because I taught speech and I taught music,” she said. “I taught music appreciation for several years there and did speech and oral interpretation. I did two courses each semester and I did that for a couple years.”
Paasch said former Jamestown College President James Walker had a vision of having a communications department because he “thought that was the cutting edge” and “the new thing that mass communication, human resources, nonverbal, interpersonal, cross-cultural would become very important in our country.”
“They asked me if i would take a sabbatical and to get my doctorate and we could have a communications department,” she said.
Jamestown College hired Chris North, and the communications department was developed in 2003. Paasch went away for two years to earn her doctorate at the University of Kansas.
Paasch said the communications department started with teaching the human side of communications — nonverbal, cross-cultural and interpersonal. After a couple of years, a decision was made to expand the department and offer mass media courses. Paasch said one major was still offered before the college decided to offer two majors — interpersonal and mass media — within the department.
“Since then, I brought diversity. Diversity became a topic. I have been teaching that diversity class,” she said. “Diversity came and then we had a newspaper, we even did some TV and tried some radio.”
The communications department currently offers three undergraduate degree concentrations — convergent media, human resources and organizational communication and interpersonal communication.
Paasch said communication has the possibility to be very powerful. She said communication defines the social world and defines who people are.
“I think the field of communication is just a powerful force in the world right now,” she said. “It has that possibility to be. I fully believe that our leaders of tomorrow must learn the skills of communication.”’
Paasch said people need to learn to communicate orally, in written form and technologically because “that is a part of the medium is the message, (Marshall) McLuhan said.”
She said critical thinking and knowing nonverbal cues is important.
“Language might be a barrier, but if you can read nonverbal cues … (that allows us to) know and understand other people and where they come from,” she said.
Paasch said people have to understand and recognize the emotional awareness of people, which comes with empathy and being aware of other people.
Paasch said she will miss the classroom the most after she retires. She said she will miss the classroom because of the students, the communication and exchange of ideas.
“When you empower students to think critically and think for themselves, it really empowers you and your own thinking,” she said. “That I will miss the most — bringing ideas to the classroom. I like all of my classes a lot, but I think the best conversation went on in my diversity class because that is sort of the topic of the day is that you discuss diversity, and that I will miss teaching that class very much.”
Paasch said she will also miss teaching oral interpretation because it empowers students to read out loud well.
“I get to read poetry all the time,” she said. “They read poetry to me and they read great literature because that is what we do.”
She said the highest level of thinking is creative thinking, which takes place in her diversity and oral interpretation classes.
“My students in diversity class they create their own video,” she said. “They take the concepts that we talked about in class — diversity, race, class and gender. Then they make a video of that using all sorts of cuttings from movies, quotes from the book, interviews, you name it, put it together and that is some really excellent things that are quite professional. That I will miss.”
After she retires, Paasch said she will stay on her farm that is 28 miles north of Jamestown and would like to visit her children and grandchildren. She also wants to do some traveling.
“Not a lot, maybe take one big trip a year,” she said. “I‘d like to go around to South America. I would like to go to Alaska. There is just a lot of countries that I would love to visit.”
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