I remember calling and setting up a meeting with Dr. Leigh Browning, the director of broadcasting at West Texas A&M University . I didn’t know that day, but I found out later, The day I met with her was a day in the middle of June and she was in the middle of running the Guy P Yates Speech and Theater camp. More on that later. She was literally wearing a visor, shorts, and had a tan. I was beaten down at that point and discouraged by most of my Community College experience. I explained to her that I had just spent 3 years at at the school that shall not be named. I told her, “I understand that I can’t be on the air. I can’t …..” This was basically a 45 melodramatic monologue from me. She let me go on and on, loathing in self-pity. All of this with my mother sitting next to me. The whole time Dr Leigh had this look on her face
When I was done she leaned over her desk, looked me in the eye and said “You will be on my air. You will be on my staff, and you will graduate from here.” Within a week of my starting there in the fall, I was on the air. Their studio wasn’t as advanced as the The place that shall not be named, but it worked better for me and my chair. I had to take 2 television classes where you had to pick up a camera and learn to shoot video. When I got to those classes, I would go to her and ask her what I should do. She assigned an assistant for me to carry the camera. There was nothing that she let me “get out” of because of my wheelchair. I did everything that everyone else did.
My first day, she walked into the class and said, “I’ll tell you right now, there isn’t anyone tougher on students than I am, but if you can get through this class, you can make it anywhere.” It was the complete opposite of my other experience.
Up to that point, nobody had ever really had the balls to tell me when I had made a mistake. Dr Leigh knew how to yell if you messed up she told you about it, loudly most of time. She was not afraid to yell at me the only difference was she often started with the phrase, “I know I’m going to go to hell for saying this…but…”
She was a tough lady, and I owe so much to her.
The 45 minute melodrama never happened again. When I would go into her office, she would have me tell her what was my issue, she would give me a solution, and she would tell me to go. She was busy. She was more like a boss than a college teacher, and this was perfect for me.
There have been times when I stepped out of line and said something I shouldn’t have. There were a lot of days that I didn’t like her, and we didn’t get along. She would tell me that I am just like everyone else, and I can’t talk to other people like I’m the boss. She’s the only one who gets to do that. I have nothing but respect for her.
She helped me fill out my vote for the awards ceremony for the radio station. “Most Improved On Air Personality”. I told her I wanted to put myself. She said, “You can’t put yourself. You were good when you came here.” She gave me confidence in what I was doing.
She kept us busy. It was the closest thing to a real job I’ve ever had. We always had a project, or we were doing some kind of community service when we were not in the studio doing the fun broadcasting stuff.
Community service was a requirement, not an option. if you weren’t willing to do community service, then you shouldn’t be in her program. That’s how she thought. Mass comm and speech communications students ran a camp every summer together for gifted high school kids who were interested in improving their skills in speech and theater. It was “working” Camp. This kids came to get better at what they did, not sit around the campfire.
We helped out with Christmas stuff for the needy, coats for kids. We would work on Saturdays and Sundays sometimes, whatever was needed. If you are a Mass COM student and you had a lot of downtime you were doing it wrong.
I’ll never forget the final project for one of Dr. Leigh’s favorite classes. It was called the Canyon Weekly, named after the town the school was in. Canyon, TX. We were a news team. Every single week your job would change. Everyone in the class would. work together put together a newscast like you see on TV. The final exam for this particular class was that the last show for that semester had to be perfect before she would let us go. Perfect means just what it sounds like. If the news anchors for that week missed one single word, or someone ran a commercial early we started over. This happened until we did it right She did this on a Saturday morning at 4am. My dad drove me to school that particular day, “Why in this on a Saturday? ” The whole time, my dad would argue that she can’t require you to is this happening on a Saturday? You are paying to go to school here, they can’t require this of you. She must understand you’re in a wheelchair and it’s a hardship on us to get you here” finally as we pulled into the parking lot i looked at my dad and said “Do YOU want to go to her office and tell her there’s a problem? Because I don’t!”
There’s no question. All of the podcasts and things that I have, my job in Second Life, I wouldn’t have any of that if it wasn’t for this program. She taught us to adapt. Everything that I am came from that experience. There were days I thought Dr. Leigh was a wack-job. A nutter. A crazy. It wasn’t until we got to be better friends after I graduated that we could really talk about her reasoning behind things. I can’t say that I rose to the point of being her “equal”, because she will always be my teacher and I give her that respect, but after graduating I did notice that after I graduated I moved up the ranks a bit, allowing me more freedom to voice my opinions and such. Dr. Leigh passed away recently. it was not unexpected and she was very young. I was very sad when I found out because she had some idea of the projects I was working on, and that I was trying very hard to be one of her success story’s to be honest, I’m hoping this website becomes a huge success because I’m having to use every skill she gave me to make it happen. I wanted her to see me go from being a guy in wheelchair, who lived with his parents, to a guy in a wheelchair helping millions of people using the skills she gave me. If the site goes big I’ll feel like I have lived up to the expectations she had of me.