University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) alumnus Oliver Hagan’s ’05 (magazine) career path was influenced by the five weeks he spent in the Media in Ghana program. Although he’s not in a traditional media career, the fundamental principles of journalism that he learned in the SOJC allowed him to create a profession of his own.
Hagan now takes a moment to reflect on his time in the SOJC and where his degree has taken him.
What have you been doing and what’s next?
In 2006, I founded VACorps, an international internship program in Cape Town, South Africa. With our program’s 10th anniversary approaching, we have solidified our reputation as one of the best internship programs in Africa. In 2013, I opened a bar and restaurant – The Foreign Exchange – that is becoming a very popular spot in Cape Town and has made it on to several major “must-do” tourism lists in the city.
By the end of 2015, I hope to complete a long-standing project to build an ecolodge in Morrungulo, Mozambique. The lodge will be called Casa de Luz (Portuguese for “House of Light”) and is situated on the beach in a location that is paradise on earth. When dipping your toes into the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, you feel completely disconnected from the hyperactive din of urban living, which is why the lodge will provide guests with a “digital detox.”
Each project I’ve tackled is more ambitious than the previous one and I find that the pursuit of “dream” projects gives you an incredible sense of motivation.
Could you describe one person and/or experience in the SOJC that shifted the course of your career, and/or that illustrates one of the SOJC’s core attributes of ethics, action or innovation?
In the summer of 2004, I lived in Accra, Ghana as a participant of the Media in Ghana program under the direction of professor Leslie Steeves. I worked as a news editorial intern at the Accra Daily Mail and wrote a regular column called the “American Obroni in Accra.” I devoted my column to the exploration of Ghanaian culture and spent my days exploring the city while meeting the many wonderful residents of Accra. I delighted in this internship role, embarking upon daily adventures across the city in pursuit of great story ideas. During my internship, I wrote more than 10 columns for publication. I grew incredibly attached to Ghanaian culture and at the conclusion of the program, I left with a deep appreciation for a wonderful African nation.
Looking back, those five weeks of experiential learning in the humid streets of Accra are arguably the most directly applicable to my current line of work. In many ways, the VACorps internship program is modeled after professor Steeves’s Media in Ghana summer internship program. Like the Ghana program, we give our participants a great deal of personal freedom to make discoveries on their own terms. And like professor Steeves’s course curriculum, we arrange a series of cultural encounters to introduce participants to the unique aspects of South African culture. Most importantly, like professor Steeves’s program, we help our participants discover a global way of thinking.
Is there an example of how an SOJC faculty member aided you with your career?
Without the support of professor Steeves, it’s hard to imagine that I would currently find myself living and working in South Africa. In 2006, when VACorps was a mere infant of an internship program, she connected me with IE3 Global Internships and we established our first academic partnership. It’s unlikely we would have formed additional partnerships with academic institutions without having had an agreement in place with IE3. Universities are very risk-averse and administrators from other schools were understandably reluctant to go into partnership with a new internship program in South Africa, let alone one run by a 22-year-old. Professor Steeves was a powerful advocate and once IE3 was on board, we added additional academic partners and experienced rapid growth in annual participant enrollment.
What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d like to give to current SOJC students?
The beautiful and often overlooked virtue of a journalism degree offers incredible career versatility. I made a very important series of discoveries after graduating from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. I am not a writer. I’m also not a photographer. I’m definitely not a graphic designer or a television producer. I had exposure to all of these professions at the SOJC and I’ve borrowed techniques and theory from all of them to design a career and lifestyle beyond my wildest college-era dreams. But I will never be able to call myself a professional in any of these fields. And I’m fine with that.
Leverage the tools you are currently developing in the SOJC to your professional advantage. Approach your prospective career by abandoning the traditional idea of what it means to be a journalist. Dare to think different. Break all the rules, thoroughly explore and research your ideas, make a commitment to the fundamental principles of journalism, and your professional future can be one of your own design.
What impact did you think your SOJC education has had on your life?
Graduating from the University of Oregon SOJC ranks as one of my proudest career achievements. I am forever thankful for the skills I developed as a student who once roamed the halls of Allen Hall. Today, I still consider myself a journalist at heart, even though I don’t do interviews while wearing a press badge. The SOJC unexpectedly provided me with an entrepreneurial tool kit that gives me the confidence to tackle the biggest of dreams!