Longtime professional communicator retires from mass comm department



At the close of the spring 2014 semester, MSUM will say goodbye to long-time professor of mass communications, Mark Strand.

Strand will retire with 25 years experience at MSUM. However, his comprehensive background in the field of mass communications is due to over 40 years combined experience from not only

MSUM but also NDSU, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, and a few odd jobs he has held.

Mark Strand poses in his office surrounded by momentos from the past 25 years spent teaching at MSUM.
Mark Strand poses in his office surrounded by momentos from the past 25 years spent teaching at MSUM.

Midwest native
Strand, a native of St. Paul, Minn., grew up in Rugby, N.D. His father was a photographer, and both Strand and his brother developed a passion for the medium as well, despite their father’s warnings about a career in photography bogged down with hard work, long hours and little pay.

Strand took his father’s advice for the time being and attended Concordia College – Moorhead to receive a bachelor of arts in history and political science. After he received his undergraduate degree, he got jobs teaching and coaching football and wrestling.

Road to communications
Eventually Strand’s interest in photography won out and pushed him to get a job at the Hatton (N.D.) Free Press. It was there that Strand said he learned a lot about layout, typography, photography and graphics.

After leaving the Hatton Free Press, Strand went on to work for NDSU in a joint appointment. He taught a photography class and was the “worker bee” who did various projects in the communication office.

During his 17 years at NDSU, Strand was the university photographer and “idea guy” who edited pictures, type, layout, videos and 3-D displays. He was also the production editor manager for the Institute of Regional Studies, which publishes books on regional history and culture.

NDSU granted Strand a two-year leave to study at MIT where he got his master of science in visual studies. “They wanted me to get my hands on really new technology, specifically digital stuff,” he said.

Strand spent time with the “information architects” as he called them. The department, now called the media lab, is responsible for certain technologies such as E Ink, used on the Amazon Kindle, and 3-D printing.

He described it as, “the first place where they came up with the idea that modern communications media (photography, film, print, television) are merging through the computer.” At the time, during the 1970s, this information was new to most.

Strand returned to NDSU and used his knowledge gained at MIT to start a laser-video disc project. This involved putting more than 50,000 images, film and video from NDSU’s archives on a 12-inch disc, interfaced with a computer and a database.

The Library of Congress liked the database project and decided to partner with NDSU and other places across the country to start the National Memory Project whose goal was to “get photos digitized, online and accessible to people,” Strand said. The Project is ongoing; individuals are still able to contribute photos, documents, etc.

From a Bison to a Dragon
Strand was grateful for the knowledge gained at NDSU along with the experience, noting the work atmosphere was a bit different back then.

“I was really, really lucky to work with the people that were very good at what they did,” he said. “Those offices those days were really like a family.”

Strand eventually decided to make a career change from NDSU to MSUM. He said NDSU was changing, with faculty retiring, and he was ready for something different.

He liked the practicality of MSUM’s mass communications department and the idea of convergence media.

“It’s not like a department where you kind of hope that these kids work out, or that they take a general course and hope a job happens,” he said. “You have a little more invested in people. You really want them to succeed.”

More than just a professor, Strand also held the title of mass communications department chair from 2004 to 2011. While department chair he added the classes event planning, sports information and social media.

He also started Red River Interscholastic Press Association, a program giving real world exposure to high school students who worked on the yearbook and school newspaper.

Strand also had a part in the 2000 remodel of the mass communications wing of Flora Frick which used to be a computer science area.

He and architect Milt Yergens were asked to come up with an idea of how to distribute computer resources in the department.

They decided to dedicate each lab to a specific field of study, which changed the way students were able to learn and interact.

“It helped (mass communication) take off a little more,” Strand said. “Student groups were able to do interesting things. They were able to do their work better.”

Reflection and looking ahead
When asked his proudest moment at MSUM, Strand grabbed an email that was printed and pinned above his desk. The email was a “thank you” from Rick Hertz, one of Strand’s former students.

Strand had introduced Hertz to a job in Bismarck, N.D., that lasted only a couple of years, but Hertz and his newfound co-worker left the job to start their own award-winning printing company, Image Printing, Inc.

“I’ve been stuck in Fargo-Moorhead this whole time, but I kind of live through these kids,” he laughed. “It’s a cheap way to get a thrill.”

Since his days spent at NDSU interviewing retirees as a part of his job, Strand has known what to expect with his upcoming retirement. Of the people he interviewed, he said some couldn’t let go, and others were angry or bitter with how things turned out.

He said he’s feeling a little bit of both but has adopted a new slogan – “Not my circus; not my monkeys” – and has learned it’s no longer his position to strive for change but to sit back and watch things unfold.

He said he will miss students and teaching the most. “I love kids. I love people who are happy and interested,” he said.

His retirement plans include getting on the water with his new 27-foot sailboat, driving around the middle of nowhere for photography adventures in his re-vamped school bus and anything else that could qualify as “honest work” while still continuing his self-education in photography and other freelance work.

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