The Index sat down with three alumnus Pacific faculty members to figure out what made them return to Pacific after graduation.
President Jennifer Coyle, class of 1993, Associate Dean Michael Geraci, class of 1992, and Jaye Cee Whitehead, class of 2000, are three Pacific graduates who currently on the faculty. All three first sat in desks in classrooms at Pacific; now they all have offices on campus. And, all share a passion for Pacific and acknowledge that none of them had anticipated returning or holding the positions they do now, but when they did return, it felt like they had come home.
Jennifer Coyle and I got to know each other on her first day as President. I worked at Outdoor Pursuits throughout the summer when I noticed President Coyle heading towards Marsh Hall along the lengthy cement brick pathway; she was carrying a moving box. In my nosey nature, I took it upon myself to introduce myself and followed her into the building. I had never been above Marsh’s second level, so when I did, I knocked on President Coyle’s door and entered. She welcomed me with the warmth of an old friend, making me feel significant and thrilled to be a part of Pacific with her.
After graduating from Pacific with a bachelor’s degree in vision science in 1990, a doctor of optometry in 1993, and a master’s degree in vision science in 2000, Coyle served as associate dean from 2006 to 2008 and dean from 2008 to 2019. Not long after departing Pacific in 2019, she returned years later, but with a slightly different title: President of Pacific University.
“Pacific has always felt like home to me, and even when I was away, I felt like something was missing,” expressed President Coyle. “I missed it. I really, really missed it. I missed the CPS officers. I missed the people in the library. I just felt like I knew everyone here.”
With a view of Knight Hall and the trees in the distance, Coyle’s favorite study spot was in the corner of the library, which is now Pacific Hall. She admits to being a bookworm; while she wasn’t studying, she was at UC eating the soup of the day. While working on campus, Coyle is often reminded of how much of Pacific is in her. A quick glance around a campus area triggers a flood of memories.
“I watched Pacific grow up, and even when I was away, I used to reflect, Pacific is a place where I learned how to think, not what to think,” President Coyle proudly stated.
It’s not always obvious that professors go through the same things as us students when you think about them. President Coyle, myself, and likely other students at Pacific share comparable experiences while learning from our professors and our surroundings. She expressed her appreciation for her mentors and the support they provided that helped her climb to the top of Marsh.
“My faculty were my mentors, and even saying here I am in this seat, mentors are someone who sees something in you, you don’t see in yourself,” explained President Coyle.
Also a student at the same time as Coyle, Mike Geraci strolled the Pacific University campus—and only three months after graduating, Geraci returned to Pacific as a faculty member three months. He has been here for the next 37 years; nearly equivalent to going through undergraduate ten times.
Growing up in Portland and graduating as a first-generation student, Pacific had a journalism program entirely by chance. Geraci chose Pacific since it was in state, he could get there on his own, and the financial aid was exceptionally significant.
During undergrad, he lived in all three resident halls at the time; he lived in Clark for his first two years, junior year in Walter as an RA, and senior year on the third floor of McCormick. He doesn’t recall the physical structures of our older resident halls now as much, but more the people he always hung out with.
In the summer after graduation, Geraci received a phone call from one of his former professors, who offered him a part-time job in the media department, paying two dollars over minimum wage at the time. He accepted a $7.50 hourly job and was back on campus in no time; this time, though, he brought his first suit, which he keeps and rarely wears. The suit worked and got him through the lengthy hiring process. But turns out you don’t often need a suit while working at Pacific.
“I wasn’t planning on coming back to Pacific, but in what I think is the kind of true Pacific Fashion, my professor at the time called me up and basically offered me a part-time job on campus,” explained Geraci.
The real question is, why did Geraci take this low-paying part-time job three months after leaving Pacific?
“I immediately missed this place,” said Geraci. “Because for me, those four years were the best four years of my life. Not just because I had a bunch of fun, it’s because I learned so much about life, about how to be an adult, about creativity, how to make things, and how to be a part of a team and it’s not until you don’t have that, that you realize how much it mattered to you.”
At 22 years old, Geraci was immediately running summer workshops, training the faculty in video and film. He notes that being so young and working at Pacific so quickly worried him initially, but he felt valued from the start.
“I didn’t feel any sort of condescension or like people didn’t accept me,” said Geraci. “And again, I think it does come back to one of those things that I truly appreciate about Pacific, and that’s the way we support one another and try to do the best for one another, and try to do the best for one another.”
Gercai used to write for the Index, but after seeing what the film and video program was creating, he gravitated toward film and video productions. He went to college when there was no internet. So, when the internet happened, he was the guy that the university turned to help people use the internet, how to make webpages, and how to develop content.
“I kind of straddled the line. I still wanted to journalism and write, but I also found my true passion was the moving image,” explained Gercai. “So doing film, video, and audio was where I really felt empowered to do the type of work I was doing.”
The entire media arts department used to be in the basement of Carnegie, and Gercia spent all four of his undergraduate education there and the first two as a staff member. He can’t walk into the basement of Carnegie and not see the walls he painted, the furniture that he purchased, and his handwriting on the shelves. Like President Coyle, Geraci’s favorite study spot was on the first floor of Pacific Hall.
“Pacific Hall first floor and the basement of Carnegie was where I spent a lot of time, and it’s just so much of me in those places that it’s almost creepy,” laughed Gercia.
Jay Ce Whitehead, the acting Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is located in Berglund, about a five-minute walk from Geraci’s office in Drake House. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Pacific in 2000.
She called her two mentors, Sarah Phillips and Byron Steiger, and asked them to a celebration after receiving her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. Former mentors once again offered a job to a Pacific alumni. Whitehead had other job opportunities lined up but abandoned them to return to Pacific.
“When I heard that offer, all I could think about was how this place changed my life,” smiled Whitehead. “And really everything good that came out of my life started at Pacific, so that offer was something I couldn’t refuse.”
Suddenly, walking back on campus seven years later after leaving, Whitehead life was now on the other side of campus towards the academic buildings instead of the dorm halls and UC.
Being from Wyoming, one of her favorite things to do was go to the ocean with her friends. She also spent a lot of time working on research projects with faculty and getting lost in her curious nature of subjects. Before one of her professors advised her to solely major in sociology, she was trying to figure out how to triple major.
Whitehead ties run deep within Pacifc. She also gained two cats from the mail room when she left Pacific. One day, while working her work-study job in the business department, she wandered into the mail room and was offered two black and white kittens. Both cats followed her to grad school and back once she got her job at Pacific.
Along with her cats, she also met her wife at Pacific, and they have two kids who love to run around the campus. Neither of them hesitated to get back to the Grove when the opportunity presented itself.
After entering graduate school, she realized that Pacific was different from the academic world. She felt at Pacific that people actually cared about each other more than they cared about their individual accomplishments, and she credits a lot of that culture to her academic success and personal growth.
“I love the culture here, I love the down-to-earth nature of Pacific,” said Whitehead. “I feel like most of the people that are around here are genuinely authentic. They are just trying to be good people who do good things.”
Working at Pacific, according to Whitehead, does not feel like a job since she feels such a sense of purpose there and enjoys giving back to the place that has had such an impact on her. She stated that now that she is working with alumnus President Coyle, she believes there is no better individual with the understanding and love for Pacific to lead the university on an uphill path.
“There’s something that happens when you grow up here, and what I mean by that is like when you decide who you are here, it’s hard to shake it,” explained Whitehead. “It’s hard to forget about Pacific, it becomes a part of your heart and soul and what you care about.” — Emily Rutkowski