By Russell Zazueta
In a classroom booming with computers and technology galore, graphic design professor Mike Owens flip-flops between a student’s questions and helping another print out artwork from a computer in the back row.
It’s his last semester at East Los Angeles College as a full-time faculty member, but he says he’s not yet ready to retire completely.
“I’ll be back part-time after a six-month hiatus to teach one or two classes,” Owens said. “I’ve met some of the best students ever . . . that’s why I’ll stick around.”
Along with having met great students at ELAC, he’s had to deal with some serious situations. He recalls a dangerous encounter he had with two students several years back.
“I had to stand between a student and her boyfriend who had a gun in his hand, over in the old Art Department building,” Owens said. “Issues like that are not great.”
Before Owens devoted his time as to being a professor of graphic design, he was a musician that took on professional work earlier on in his life.
At one time in his career, he even backed Chuck Berry’s band on bass for five weeks, but wasn’t impressed by his personality. “Chuck Berry was a horse’s ass. Every night he’d change the key of the songs, and I’d see him grinning about it when he started the songs,” Owens said.
A few decades later in 1996, Owens decides to work at ELAC. Since then, he has made some big contributions to the Art Department.
Linda Kallan, the Art Department chair and professor of art, said that Owens is responsible for kick starting the animation program a few years back. During the advent of the program, Owens brought in Mike Libonati – the now full-time head of the Animation program – to assist in building it from the ground up.
“(The challenge) was building up the animation program from nothing. Mike was here at the very beginning when the Animation program first started, so he (Owens) was very helpful in that,” Kallan said. According to Kallan, the program has been growing ever since.
“We had a full-time animation person, who we lost to retirement a while back. We have a full-time one now, and we’re interviewing for a second full-time person. So the animation program has really taken off,.” Kallan said.
While Owens agrees with Kallan that the program is growing, he also believes there should be prerequisite classes implemented ahead of animation classes.
Sometimes, he says, students have enrolled in his classes thinking they know what to expect in animation but find out they aren’t ready. He believes they underestimate the knowledge required to understand the material.
Chris Nielsen, a digital imaging professor at ELAC, recommends that students take a Photoshop course as a prerequisite before enrolling in Animation classes.
He says it would help students on how to use design programs vital in understanding how animation works. In spite of this challenge, however, Owens says that animation is doing well and that he’s learned a lot from his students and faculty.
“I like to learn, so that’s why I teach. I’ve learned a lot from my students,” Owens said. Some of his peers, like Nielsen and Kallan, said that Owens is a dedicated professor who has cared extremely about his students always.
“He is very caring. He could not say no to a student. He let in (his classroom) just about every student just because he had a hard time turning them down,” Kallan said.