Acting on his passion for music and love of teaching, University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) professor Tom Wheeler is inspiring a new generation of musicians through his work with The MusicianShip. The charitable non-profit organization is dedicated to helping at-risk youth succeed by providing strong role models and a collaborative social environment to help build self-esteem through music.
When Wheeler found out about this program, he knew it was something that he wanted to be involved with.
“In The MusicianShip, I get to be part of contributing to a community,” he explains. “I get to work with people I admire, have a lot of fun, and participate in a fulfilling cause.”
The organization is based in Washington, D.C., so Wheeler works from a distance to help write and edit fundraising presentations. He also works with content creation to coincide with the organizations’ Musical Ambassadors, noted icons in the music industry that share the vision of the program, such as Carlos Santana, Orianthi, Greg Grainger and many others.
Wheeler’s musical background—which consists of writing for Rolling Stone magazine, serving as editor-in-chief of Guitar Player Magazine for 10 years and publishing six books—has allowed him the opportunity to work alongside some of the best musicians in the world and participate in meaningful programs that make a difference.
Along with an extensive career in music journalism, Wheeler plays in two bands, The Blue Valentines and the noteworthy Deb Cleveland Band (watch video of performance). He performs about one gig a month, including private events, clubs, and state and county fairs. On his own, the self-taught musician plays for fun every day, as he “just likes to feel those strings.”
“By the time I was in the fifth grade, I was a little rock-n-roller,” he recalls.
Long term, Wheeler hopes to extend The MusicianShip program beyond its high-stepping, competitive marching band roots to include all types of music genres, such as rap and rock ‘n’ roll.
“I think there is a great opportunity to expand this program, as there are at-risk kids in every neighborhood. What can we do here, in Eugene?” he wonders.
Wheeler went on to explain that communities all around us are no longer receiving the support they once did to maintain music programs, and those in the music industry are looking for ways to step up and fill this gap.
“I think this program and anything we can do to help put some of that ambition back into communities has to be a good thing,” he says. “For me, this is a very rewarding way to spend my time.”
Not only is Wheeler sharing his wisdom and musical knowledge with The MusicianShip, but he is also teaching the importance of empathy to his aspiring journalism students at the SOJC.
“I coach my students when they are preparing for an interview to be open and sensitive to other peoples’ stories,” explains Wheeler. “It’s about connecting with people and being open to be challenged.”
One of his tactics in connecting students with stories is to share his personal experiences. His continued pursuit of meaningful opportunities has allowed him to keep his stories fresh and his students engaged year after year.
“What motivates me is that I keep learning from my students,” he says. “I love teaching because my students keep me on my toes.”
Whether he is inspiring students in the classroom or impacting those around him in the community, Wheeler works to make a difference in the lives of all those he teaches.
“What are we doing that’s more important than helping our kids? It’s the classic win-win situation as far as I can see.
Story by Katie MacLean ‘15