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Courtesy of Special Collections

UMBC’s finest classroom by Alexander Pyles

Alexander Pyles is a former Editor-in-Chief of The Retriever. He now works as a content editor for The Baltimore Sun and teaches at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

When I arrived at UMBC, Facebook was still a social network for college and high school students. iPhones didn’t exist and photographers at The Retriever developed film in a darkroom.

By the time I graduated, smart phones were ubiquitous. Social media was unavoidable. Photoshop had replaced the darkroom.

The world changed quickly in those four years. In The Retriever’s newsroom – perhaps the university’s finest classroom – we learned to adapt. We confronted real-world problems. We made a ton of mistakes, then went back to work. We’d have to do better the next time; another edition deadline was always drawing near.

I have a number of happy memories from my time at UMBC. I’m grateful for the teachers and staff who took me under their wing, for the lasting friendships, for the skills I learned working as a maintenance assistant in the residence halls.

But at The Retriever, students had a daily opportunity to create something of real value to the campus community. It felt important and it was thrilling. The digital revolution happening around us only increased that feeling.

By the time I was named editor as a senior, we had cut down on the number of papers we printed and designed a new website that we planned to update daily. The darkroom had become an office. Inside, a succession of student business managers joined newspaper executives across the nation in trying to solve the digital advertising puzzle.

And we kept practicing journalism every day, striving to do justice to key campus issues and events. We learned a few things about the importance of details, teamwork and problem solving that I suspect have helped us all in our careers.

As a first-year sports editor, I learned my greatest lesson when a writer blew his deadline. I blew my top. Later, we talked about how unproductive that was. The writer reminded me that people respond better to reason and positive reinforcement. The lesson stuck with me. Now an editor in a professional newsroom, I take it to work every day.

The writer remains a dear friend.

A lot more from those days stuck, too, though the particulars have evolved.

I still eat Chick fil A and burritos, but definitely not every day. As we celebrate crossing into our 30s together, the friends I played intramural sports with are more like family. Some faculty and staff are more like friends.

And I’ve not stopped practicing journalism. It does pay a little better now.

It’s a craft I first learned at a 39-year-old UMBC, where we college students spent years learning to do good work, correct our mistakes and work together.
I happened to do much of that learning at The Retriever.