Interview with Erik Ernst, 04/25/2018

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
Anne Wilhelm, Interviewer | uwocs_Erik_Ernst_04252018_uc.mp3
Campus Stories Oral History Project (UWO Audio Series 51) |

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´╗┐AW: I'm Anne Wilhelms here today with Erik Ernst. I am at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh campus. It's 10:03 [AM] on Tuesday April 25, 2018. Now, Mr. Ernst, is it okay if I use bits and pieces from this interview in my final oral history project?

EE: Yes.

AW: And if there is any pictures or any other documents that you would be willing to share with me about what we talk about what we talk about today or anything from your four years here at UWO, if you do give those to me, is it okay if I use those in my project as well?

EE: Yup, absolutely.

AW: All right, perfect. And, again, I will get you the Deed of Gift after our conversation today. Sound good?

EE: Yup, sounds good.

AW: All right, let's begin. Now, where are you from? Where did you grow up?

EE: I grew up in Racine.

AW: All right, why did you pick Oshkosh? And did you come in as a journalism major? What made you pick that major?

EE: Yeah, I actually did. I looked at a lot of schools in the state, I had gone 1:00to a fairly large high school in Racine, so I knew I wanted to go to a school that was larger than my high school, but at the time, it was kind of ironic because I now work at UW Madison. The two experiences in visiting the two campuses, between Madison and Oshkosh, were so starkly different. Madison at that time, the welcome experience was very much "here's a map for you and your parents, go have fun and figure it out" whereas at Oshkosh, it was a whole day of programming and introducing you to students, it just made me feel really welcome. I mean, it was a, yknow a big school, and it was a good enough distance away from home where I could be independent and it was too far away for me at least to go home every weekend but also wasn't too far away that I couldn't go home if I needed to. So it just seemed like the right fit and ended up working out that way. Per the journalism thing, I had sort of fallen in love with 2:00writing through my high school career and had had landed in the student newspaper in high school and just decided that that was what I wanted to do. And sort of definantly went into the journalism program knowing that I was going to be a news reporter and yknow took as many news editorial classes as I could, and took the very bare minimum of PR and advertising that were required for the major, and now I sit here as a publicist for Wisconsin Public Television, not actually a full-time reporter and make my living now in public relations, but that's the way it works out. The journalism department was just absolutely phenomenal and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

AW: That's awesome! I know, last year I was actually a journalism major with a writing and editing emphasis. I absolutely adored the journalism programs and all the professors that I've met and have had throughout my time in the program, 3:00and I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything. I also wrote for the A-T, I saw you wrote for them as well.

EE: I did, absolutely.

AW: And you were the arts and communications editor?

EE: Mhm, mhm.

AW: Nice! How'd you end up getting that job, because I see here you were a part of the A-T from the time you entered college in 1998 until you graduated in 2002.

EE: Yeah, I did the Advance-Titan all four years, which really was-- When I look back at Oshkosh, there's three main experiences that really made my time there fantastic. One was the friends I made, the most important. I met my wife there and so I can't rank anything higher than that, obviously.

AW: Awww.

EE: The second is working at the Advance-Titan and the things that I learned there, being able to, yknow, put out a hands-on independent newspaper is just a 4:00really remarkable experience, just getting to learn through all of our mistakes and put out a product that we were all really proud of. And then the third thing, is also something I have in common with you just from seeing in your email signature I was a CA in Fletcher Hall for my last two years, and so I was highly involved in Residence Life for all four years that I was there.

AW: That's awesome! I know my experience as a community advisor here on campus has been absolutely amazing. I just started this semester, but I can't wait to come back for fall 2018 and continue on through hopefully the rest of my college career.

EE: Mhm.

AW: It's really really awesome, ResLife is amazing, the CA team is awesome to work for so I understand completely regarding those.

EE: Yeah, absolutely. And yknow I ended up working here at Wisconsin Public 5:00Television. One of my favorite anecdotes of my time is I actually have a direct line to work as I did with the Advance-Titan to my job here. When I was [inaudible] the arts and entertainment editor I did a lot of interviews with entertainers and personalities et cetera. My senior year I spent just about the entire year pursuing an interview with Fred Rogers who had by that time retired from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, but it was shortly after September 11 when it became apparent that even college kids could use the wisdom that Fred Rogers had imparted to so many of us as kids, things like coping with tragedies and things like that and so I pursued this interview for almost a year when I eventually got it it was almost one of the greatest experiences of my life. I spent an hour talking on the phone with him, the first half hour I didn't get any questions in because he just wanted to interview me. But the takeaway from it was that he 6:00talked about how I would be so appreciative of the people who gave me my first job because they had taken a chance on me, and so I was able to relay that a couple of years later for my job here at Wisconsin Public Television and it was [inaudible] to me after the fact that being able to include that anecdote at least got me that interview and in the door here, so I can relay that I work here on public television because of, partially because of Fred Rogers, and partially because of the Advance-Titan and the opportunities that they provided me.

AW: That's absolutely amazing! And honestly adorable. I loved Mr. Roger's Neighborhood when I was growing up, so talking to someone who got to interview him is amazing. Thank you for bringing that up, I'm actually going to ask you about that later on.

EE: Yeah, it's cool.

AW: Because 9/11 is one of the topics I want to ask you about.

EE: Sure, yup.

AW: So, this works! In a weird way, this works. All right, is there anything else about your early life that you would want to add to the interview? Anything at all?

7:00

EE: I don't know necessarily about my early life. Yknow I was born and raised in Racine. I come from a family, mom, dad, and my sister who's ten years younger than me. I went to Park High School in Racine and without any planning there was a cohort of folks that I was close friends with at Park that all ended up at Oshkosh and all of our experiences there and it wasn't one of those deals like "we're going to school together", we all actually kind of surprised each other when we realized that we had all landed kind of in the same school after casting our nets out to see where we wanted to go. So Oshkosh was just sort of the right fit for a bunch of kids who had gone to a really large public school still looking for that sort of large-school feel, but still a large school that has a really like caring and comfortable community.

AW: Yeah, from what I've experienced here at Oshkosh these past two years, it's 8:00a big school with a small-school feel. And I personally really appreciate that.

EE: Yup.

AW: All right! So. Let's get started, shall we?

EE: Yup!

AW: All right, so college students have always made their opinions known, mainly by protest. If we look back in history, the Vietnam conflict and the Korean conflict immediately come to mind. In 1999, Osama bin Laden declared war on the U.S. What was the campus reaction? I mean, if there was one. Did campus officials react to this?

EE: I don't remember anything specifically. You're saying in 1999?

AW: Yeah.

EE: Yeah, I don't remember anything specifically then. It really, I don't know if I remember much on the line of protesting, protest activity. I do, to what you had said, and [inaudible] it was more, I think it was more related to the larger impact came with September 11, and that hit the campus much, at least in 9:00my experience in college, that's all I can speak to, much harder there.

AW: All right, so you would say that the atmosphere on campus after he declared war on the U.S., there wasn't really a reaction from anybody? Nobody kind of-

EE: I don't think there was, and nothing overwhelming. I mean I remember, y'know, people talking about it in classes and such like that, but nothing, no sort of political action that at least struck my mind in remembering that.

AW: What about the A-T? Did they report on anything about it?

EE: Y'know I can't remember anything specifically. We might have, if there were any sort of vigils or protests, but I apologize that I can't speak to anything that I can recall specifically.

AW: Oh, no, it's not a problem, I just figured since this kind of leads into 9/11, that was one of the big big things that happened at this time, I figured it was a good thing to ask about.

EE: Yeah, absolutely.

10:00

AW: All right, so moving on to another grim topic. 1999 saw one of the most prominent school shootings known to date, Columbine High School in Colorado. When the news broke on campus, what was the general reaction?

EE: Y'know I was involved in ResLife at that time, and through USRH, and obviously was living in Nelson Hall, which doesn't exist anymore. I do remember the day that that happened and watching the news reports, and it was interesting being on campus at that time in the dorms, because for a lot of us, we were, it would have been our first year or two of not living in that sort of safety net of home. So that, it was sort of a, that first, first moment where it was like "woah, things really bad happen in the real world, and we're gonna have to deal 11:00with it on our own now". And so it's one of those interesting parts, I think one of my favorite parts of living in the residence halls was that it was sort of a soft pass from home to independence. You still had the, y'know folks you could lean on, you had the administration, the CAs and the Hall Directors, so it didn't feel as scary as being out on your own. But when those moments like the Columbine shooting became, or happened, that those were the moments where reality started to sneak in, like we really are on our own and we need to look out for each other.

AW: I see. Would you say that like following after, you say that there was that general mindset of 'we need to look out for each other', would you say that comradery kind of spread through the rest of the campus the days and weeks after the shooting?

EE: I think so, yes.

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AW: All right. March for our Lives has become the quote-unquote "poster model" for student protests in the 21st century. Did UWO have any protests about gun control after Columbine, either for stricter gun laws or not? If not, why do you think nobody reacted like that, to where the thought process is "okay, this isn't okay, we need to get our voices out there so people know this isn't okay, there's a change that needs to happen".

EE: Y'know, it's interesting because I don't, and this is something now working on a college campus, watching the student action around issues today, is really interesting to me because I don't remember as much political action around specific events that were happening when I was in school now 20, about 2 decades ago. But I do remember, that doesn't mean to say that there wasn't a lot of 13:00really great community involvement, but it was interesting because the community involvement was a lot different, it was a lot more focused on not particular events, but on just community issues and things that were going on. So like, I remember lots of regular vigils and rallies for issues around like, domestic violence and supporting the domestic violence shelters in Oshkosh, and that, and those weren't around specific events that occured, but just around things that felt like we needed to do to help support those types of issues that affected communities every day as opposed to whatever the issue that was some larger incident that was occurring at that time, at that moment.

AW: I see, I see. That's actually really interesting because I haven't personally seen anything like that on campus today, or as much. I know that 14:00there are the occasional fundraisers for like the Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Shelter, and-

EE: That was actually the facility that we would do marches and walks and things for and in support of through ResLife, et cetera.

AW: Oh, that's really cool! ResLife got involved?

EE: Yep, what was that?

AW: ResLife got involved? With that kind of stuff?

EE: Yeah, yeah yeah.

AW: Oh, that's actually really really cool. I can't think of any examples off the top of my head where ResLife got involved with stuff of that nature today. So, that's really cool. I wonder why they stopped. That's something I'm going to have to look at further.

EE: Yeah, it's just, it's been really interesting working on a college campus now to sort of see those differences in how, and yknow I think a lot of it probably does have to do, for all of the ills that social media has that as far as like, yknow, as far as like declining interpersonal communication in real 15:00life, I think that the rise of social media actually has spurred a lot of these movements that are ironically resulting in in-person protests, movements, demonstrations, things like that. So, which is really interesting cause the criticism that social media gets is that y'know nobody talks to each other anymore, but I think that without social media we wouldn't necessarily have the volume or impact of those types of movements that we have today. I mean, we didn't have social media when I was in college and so it was much more of this regularized thing like y'know 'in this month, we're going to do this thing for this thing that's always happening', not for 'hey guys this happened today, let's get out in the streets and deal with it', yknow that sort of thing.

AW: Yeah, I completely agree with you, like for all the harsh criticisms that 16:00social media gets today, it is a pretty useful tool in regards to getting people aware of what's happening in the world around them and encouraging them to go out and get their voices heard.

EE: Mhm.

AW: All right, so moving on to the next year, we have Y2K. Now, there was that general fear of electronics fritzing out or completely shutting down on New Years 1999 leading into the new millenium. What was campus' reaction to this, if there was one?

EE: I know there, there was a lot of work that was done in it, and we did report on it quite heavily in the Advance-Titan, and I don't want to diminish the work that happened, because I think it's because of the preparatory work that was done by the MIO folks and such that probably prevented any sort of issues from occurring, but in hindsight it's pretty wild to imagine the amount of work and the attention that went into it. I don't know that anyone was fearful of it, it 17:00had become much more of a joke than anything y'know that it was going to be this big deal but I think it had become a joke because the IT sector had gotten so far ahead of it, had identified it so early and put the resources into making the fixes that were necessary that there were yknow very rare instances of anything actually going wrong. But I do remember that there was a large emphasis, especially stresses on the folks working on and in management information offices and such, to get all of that work done in time for New Years.

AW: Gotcha, gotcha. So you said you reported on it pretty extensively for the Advance-Titan. What was the general coverage like? And how did it affect printing out the newspapers and editing and everything? Cause I know today the 18:00A-T office is very technological-based.

EE: We were, so that's one of the interesting things about the A-T and the journalism department at the time. I was there as sort of journalism was moving onto the online space, and as editing and page layout et cetera was moving from what had been yknow offline paste-ups. Before I was there to use computers and digital layout programs et cetera, and unfortunately in my first year or two there a couple of the editing classes I had were actually still, the curriculum was still based on sort of the old, non-computerized way of doing things. Counting headlines, point sizes, things like that. At the time, I remember one of the classes was taught by two editors of the Northwestern, and they actually 19:00laughed and said "well, we need to teach you this because that's what the curriculum is, but you need to know you're never gonna use this in the newsroom", because their newsroom was obviously already computerized at the time. That's where the advantage of working for me working for the Advance-Titan came in, was that we were already computerized and we were working with our advisors, and so the work we were doing with the Advance-Titan was actually much more relevant to real-life experience than at the time some of the journalism classes were. So our reporting on Y2K was just part of our general, yknow campus news reporting. Obviously there were additional resources put into Y2K preparations through MIO and the other IT folks on campus, and we reported on that, but we didn't face any sort of technological glitches at the A-T and because of those, I assume due to those preparations. But just hearing your question about digital layout and stuff, that was one of the differentiators 20:00that was a real benefit of being involved with the Advance-Titan that I thought got much more real-life experience, albeit working for a campus newspaper, in that case, those first couple of years than instead of the classroom studies that we had.

AW: That makes sense. Looking back on my classes last year, as well, I know I got a lot more experience and I learned a lot more working on the A-T and editing and getting all the stories, learning how to ask questions, I learned a lot more doing that than I did in the classroom.

EE: Sure.

AW: That's nothing against the professors, it's just--

EE: Right, and I have to say that, yknow, in that case, it was, the department was going through sort of, I mean the whole industry was going through a technological change. I mean, the people that were graduating the year that I was a freshman, were going off into newsrooms and getting jobs. A lot of newspapers, this is just crazy now in hindsight, but a lot of newspapers as they were starting their own websites, weren't just doing what they're doing now, 21:00where they're putting the news they're creating on the Web, they were actually creating entirely new competing newsrooms, to create the Web version of their newspaper, while keeping a separate newsroom for their paper version. And so, basically anyone who had any computer experience and was graduating in '98 was getting a fairly decently paid job to create these new online newsrooms. Fast forward four years, and many of them had already been laid off because the newspapers realized that was ridiculous to have two competing news rooms within their same building. But they had those people that had four years of real-life experience under their belt. The other point I was going to make about the journalism department was, as the industry was changing, they brought in a lot of professors who had, and a lot of the existing professors, did a really good job of creating, even if it was just pretend, real-life experiences in the classroom. So, I don't know if you had a class with a professor named Miles 22:00[Mcguire?] who I know is still there, he came in and started during my time at Oshkosh, and treated his classrooms as if they were a real newsroom, and I learned more in his classes about working on deadlines, working with editors, realizing to not take, yknow, editing criticisms personally, because he treated his classroom like a newsroom, treated us as reporters instead of students, and that's one of the things that I still remember, fondly about Oshkosh and its curriculum there.

AW: That's really awesome. Unfortunately, I did not have a class with him, I left the program before I could have a class with him. But, kind of upset now that I didn't get a chance to have a class with him. He sounds like an awesome professor.

EE: Mhm. Yeah, he's the best.

AW: All right, so how did you react to the hype around Y2K? Did you believe it at all? I know you mentioned earlier that campus kind of treated it like a joke 23:00because of all the preparation that MIO put into it, how did you [inaudible]

EE: I think it was more, it was actually more society had by that point had hyped it up as a joke more than anything, just society at large, and I think it was because people thought that it was potentially a real issue, but because the IT folks in Oshkosh and around the world had identified it early enough and had put all the resources into fixing the bug, by the time that 1999 arrived, it was pretty clear that there wasn't going to be any sort of major outage or thing or problem, so it just sort of became a cultural joke point at that point, yknow, that yknow, "Oh, the whole world's gonna shut down!" because we all knew that it wasn't, because the IT folks had done such a good job for preparing.

AW: Gotcha. See, I remember different stories my mom would tell me because I was only 2 at the time, I remember her telling me how she filled the bathtub with 24:00water for whatever reason. I think that the water was going to shut off? I don't remember.

EE: There were all sorts of horror stories about what could happen. Yknow, power grids, water, et cetera. Actually, in hindsight with all of the things that have happened in the last 20 years, it's kind of quaint to think about.

AW: Simpler times, simpler times.

EE: Yes.

AW: All right, is there anything else you want to add about Y2K or Columbine or anything before we move on to 9/11?

EE: Nope, I think that's, no, nothing else.

AW: All right. So. Moving on. For almost as long as my generation has been alive, there's been a "war on terror" that really kicked off on September 11, 2001, when planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and in a field in Pennsylvania, killing almost 3,000 people. What were you doing, where were you when you found out about the attack?

EE: Yeah, I was in my room at Fletcher Hall, I didn't have class until that 25:00afternoon, so I was up that morning watching The Today Show, and I remember the entire thing folding out in real-time. From the very first, from the first plane hit one of the towers, and at that time Katy Couric and [Pennel Roker?] were reporting on it as if it were just an accident, like, yknow, they said that "We're getting reports that a plane has hit a skyscraper in the south side of Manhattan, and we're trying to figure out what's going on", and so it was sort of a, everybody just thought it was an accident, and then they moved on. This was sort of the first, like, live TV moment that really, like, struck everyone, at least within my generation. And so they got the cameras down into Manhattan, and I'm sitting there in my bed in Fletcher hall wondering what's going on, and just sort of, because it happened very early in the morning, I was just waking up, and then that's when the second plane hit, and it became clear "wow, this is 26:00something, this is something else". So, yknow, people start, room doors opened, and people were up and down the hallway, like "are you watching this? Are you seeing this?" it was just really eerie, and quiet, and I remember calling home cause just to, I had no real effect to it, any real connection to New York, but I just remember calling home and being like, and saying, and asking my parents were they seeing what was happening, and I went to class that afternoon and I don't even remember what the class was. All I remember is that that was the only topic that we talked about. I don't know if it was a class that, it didn't matter at that point if it was a math class, or a science class, or a journalism class, every class-- that was the topic at the time. The one sort of interesting anecdote that I do remember at that time was that my third year on campus, I did 27:00have a car on campus, parked out in the Scott hall lot, and I remember that night myself and all the folks in my hall who had cars driving over to gas stations cause there were rumors at the time that because the ties to bin Laden and the Middle East that there were gas stations around the country that were jacking up their prices, and we didn't know if that was happening in Oshkosh or if there was going to be a run on gasoline, so I just remember certainly everybody running to gas stations to fill up their cars with gas. Not that anybody needed gas in their car, but it was much more of a we just wanted to do something because we, because everybody was just numb at that point and didn't know what to do.

AW: Which makes sense. Thinking about it, that-- it makes sense that there was that fear of gas prices going way up, especially because of all the ties to the 28:00Middle East, but looking at it not with that knowledge, that's kind of a quirky thing to do. Like, "oh, this happened, let's go fill up our gas tanks". That's nothing against you or anyone who did that, it's just an observation of mine. Does that make sense?

EE: Yeah, uh-huh, absolutely. Yknow, and for me the one connection to 9/11 that had a sort of lasting effect at a personal level for me was that my still best friend to this day had, was also a CA at Fletcher Hall, had signed up to be in the Air Force National Guard earlier that year. And very quickly after September 11, got up, got called to overseas duty and did 2 or 3 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was in and out of school for the next couple of years because 29:00of those tours, and I remember him getting back from training the next year late, so he had missed CA training our senior year, and so having someone that close to me involved in the, then, in the conflict that resulted after the fact was the closest tie I had to the after effects of September 11, and made it much more real to me as someone who at that point in my life had never been to anywhere near New York, and didn't have any close ties to anyone in New York, it suddenly became real to me through my friends who was involved in the subsequent wars and I think that was a similar situation that a lot of folks on campus had, especially with as many people from Wisconsin who were then quickly called into service.

30:00

AW: That actually was one of my other questions, what was the reaction like, military-wise? Was there an increased presence- I totally forgot the word for a minute- was there an increased presence of recruiters on campus for the days and weeks following the attacks? Would you say that more people signed up for the military than there had before the attacks? Like, do you know-

EE: See, I don't know, I don't remember an increase in recruiters on campus, and I don't, I can't speak to whether or not more people, I know there were people, not just in Oshkosh but around the country who felt that call to duty. I know in the case of my buddy, he had signed up prior to September 11 and was then called up, so I think that for me the experience was much more just seeing people from Wisconsin and Oshkosh specifically, and in this case one of my closest friends, 31:00being called into duty because up until that point, the Gulf War had happened in the early 90s and I was 11, 12 years old at the time so I didn't have any peers who were called over, although I remember going to yknow "welcome back troops" troops who were coming back to Racine with my dad who had served in Vietnam. But I didn't have peers that obviously were, this was the first time in my experience that for people who I knew, who were my age, who were being called into duty because largely, between Vietnam and September 11, yknow military duty was not something that was actually conflict-based. War was something that was really foreign to all of us and all of a sudden it became very very real to people who were really close to us in our lives.

AW: I see. So, the 9/11 attacks really made war a presence, like a very real 32:00presence in your lives. Your friend-

EE: Yeah, yeah, and as we know, I mean we're now, what, yknow, 18 years, er, 15, 16 years on, and that's still a reality.

AW: Yeah, like I said, my generation hasn't really known a time, at least we can't remember a time before there was a war on terror or just in general. I know personally both my brothers have enlisted in the military. They're both out now, and my dad tried to enlist in the military as well when he was younger.

EE: Mhm.

AW: So, military presence has always been very relevant in my life.

EE: Mhm.

AW: And just thinking about the fact that there was a time before all of that was normalized, it's just bonkers to me.

EE: Yeah, it was a pretty, I think that was the effect that was most stark to 33:00me. Especially in the Midwest, where we didn't have, the attack was our country obviously but it wasn't on the Midwest. But so much of, yknow it's a national military, so once that attack on New York and Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania happened, then it became real to us that once our friends and neighbors and family members were suddenly called overseas into service. Where for a number of years before that, joining the Reserves or the National Guard was just a thing that you would do because you wanted the, yknow, you were interested, absolutely serving the country, but the likelyhood of being called into active duty was a lot slimmer, and so you were, a lot of folks were signing up for the benefits that came with it-- yknow, scholarships and other benefits.

AW: I see. Did you ever consider in enlisting after 9/11 happened?

34:00

EE: I didn't, no. That's not in my nature.

AW: I feel that. I feel that on a personal level. What was campus like the day of the attacks and when the news broke? I know you had mentioned that the class you went to that afternoon, that was the only thing that was talked about regardless of whatever class that even was. Would you say that there was a pretty hefty cloud, for lack of a better word, on campus in regards to the fact that our nation had just been attacked and so many people had died?

EE: Yeah, I think it was just an eerie, an eerie experience. People didn't know what was happening. By the evening, all of the planes had been, by the afternoon all of the planes had been grounded. But, yknow-- I'm actually thankful that social media wasn't a thing yet at the time. Because even, just to my story 35:00about potential gas price hikes, that turned out to be, there were isolated cases of that, and then that became a rumor fueled by television news. Which is nothing like how television news is today, yknow, it was the networks and CNN essentially. And so, but to think that a rumor like that was able to spread just via television news, I can only imagine how awful the rumors and the effects would have been had we had that persuasiveness and virality of social media had in that day. I think it was actually probably better that social media wasn't a thing yet.

AW: I can believe it. Because, I know there have been studies done to show the correlation between social media usage and mental health problems, because humans aren't meant to absorb and digest so much negative information and 36:00negative news stories. And social media allows us to do that, and it makes everything look incredibly grim. So I completely understand where you're coming from about not having the social media, and being thankful for that, if that makes sense.

EE: Mhm, yeah, and so I think that the, yknow, that was sort of the mood then. I know, and I might be remembering incorrectly, but I seem to remember various vigils that happened, and this wasn't just an Oshkosh thing, people needed to get together and feel like they were doing something, so there were various groups that were, that held vigils or gatherings to talk about it at both campus locations and the various faith-based things around there. And then like I said, very quickly we shot into war and that became a, much more of a, much more of our reality.

37:00

AW: What was campus' reaction to the U.S. getting boots on the ground in the Middle East in reaction to the attacks? Again, going back to how university students-- not necessarily Oshkosh, but Oshkosh included-- are, have always been known to protest if they don't like things that are happening in national and global news. How did campus react to that? Were there any people who were deadset against going into the Middle East and fighting back? Or was there more general support of it? How did people react?

EE: It's interesting, yknow I don't remember any specifics. I know that there are various, were various student groups on campuses that would respond in the way you'd expect them to respond. Groups focused on peace, and other groups. My 38:00own personal experience, which is all I can speak to, was that I was really impressed with the support that was given to the people who were members of the military on campus, both by students and by administration as far as making sure they received the necessary accommodations that they would need to continue their schooling, or to make the best of any interruptions that were involved with the military service that suddenly became a reality to so many of our students who were members of Reserves or National Guard, who were all of a sudden now missing semesters at a time, or up to a year or more at a time, and the support networks that were created within Residence Life to support veterans 39:00within the university, to support veterans and that was always just really really impressive to me. That perspective that regardless of what an individual thinks about the people or the administration that puts you into a conflict, or whether our conflict is valid or not, realizing that that is a completely separate issue from supporting the individuals who were part of the military. We had come a long way by that time, I was just really proud of the support that the military and that the subsequent veterans received on campus.

AW: That's really awesome. What support did your buddy get? You had mentioned he enlisted in the Air Force beforehand, and then after 9/11 happened, he was almost immediately called into service. And you had mentioned that he was a fellow CA. How did ResLife support him, and how did-

40:00

EE: Oh, completely. And we as CAs had, yknow, rallying around, like I said, the first year. I don't remember if it was active duty at that point, that he missed for the summer or if it was training that he was called into. But regardless, he wasn't able to make it back for the start of the semester, and I remember for a week or so into the start of the semester and we all rallied around to get his floor ready, to split up and make sure that his residents were welcomed and covered and supported, et cetera, while we waited for him to get back so there was no lapse in that and to make sure that he felt the welcome that he deserved when he was able to fold himself back into our crew. I can't speak to his experience on campus itself. I know that he did finish his time at Oshkosh and went on to get a masters degree here at UW Madison, and is doing great now. But 41:00for that individual support, was [helpable?] and was something I saw reflected for, at least, as an outsider I hope that that was the experience that other military members received support-wise when they came back to Oshkosh as well.

AW: That's awesome. I'm really glad to hear that your friend, his transition back into college civilian life, was made as seamless as possible. That makes me really happy to hear, actually. All right, so you had mentioned earlier that you managed to interview Fred Rogers about 9/11 and about how he talked about just being kind to each other. Can you elaborate more on that? Tell me more about how you secured that interview and what questions were asked, if you remember, and about how-

EE: Sure, and when I get home I can actually, I have a paper copy of it at home that I can take a picture and send to you as well.

42:00

AW: That would actually be perfect.

EE: The process was fascinating to me, I had grown up as many kids had watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and he had been such an important part of my life, that that my reaction to September 11, shortly, within days after September 11, he had been retired at that point for I wanna say about a year, maybe a little less than a year. But everyone was flailing about how to figure out how do we support each other in these moments, how do we make sure we support kids, who don't understand what's happening but are seeing really really scary images on television, and so a lot of the networks or news organizations actually turned to Fred Rogers for his advice. Yknow, because we were now, September 11 happened, and we were living in a world where there was no Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and he as he always did very eloquently talked about scary images 43:00on the news and how parents could talk through those issues with their kids, and how his mom had related the importance of looking in those situations like that to always look for the helpers, and see that there were people always wanting to help. Whether that's the police or the firemen or EMTs or any other public service people. That all happened on a national level, and I realized at the time because I had been doing a number of entertainment interviews with musicians and bands and things like that at the Advance-Titan, I was like yknow, yeah, kids absolutely need Mr. Rogers right now but we were at that point a generation of kids who had grown up with Mr. Rogers and I knew that we could benefit from that as college kids as well. So just on a lark, I reached out to his production company in Pittsburg and to inquire about whether he'd be willing to do an interview with me, and I talked to his PR person who at the time was a gentleman named David [Newl?], that name will mean nothing to you, except for 44:00David Newl who was his publicist was also the gentleman who played Mr. [McFeely?] the Speedy Delivery Guy on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood,-

AW: That was him??

EE:- so that was already a thrill to me that I had started an ongoing conversation, and it's a relationship that actually exists to today. I still communicate with him occasionally with my work here on public television with David Newl. So some 20 years later, which is really fun. So he said "absolutely, but Fred's a very busy man, so I don't know if this is, I can't guarantee when this is gonna happen, but you go ahead and we'll just, keep following up and we'll find a time that works", because he was still traveling quite a bit and doing speaking engagements and such. This was going to be one of those things I was going to be tenacious about, and wasn't gonna let it go, so I sort of became a pest to David Newl on an every other week basis for a number of months. It was probably 6 or 8 months or so that I pursued this interview. I could tell that he was getting a little tired of me calling, but he was always, because he worked 45:00for Fred Rogers, and he's a really wonderful gentleman himself, was always really gracious with me, and really wanted to make it happen, and I just remember calling one afternoon and saying "Hi Mr. Newl, I'm just calling up to see if there's any news on that potential interview with Fred Rogers", and he said "yknow what, if you're available right now, I know Fred's in the office and I think he has some time". And I went "oh my god. This is happening. Like right now". And two minutes later, he handed the phone to Fred Rogers, and Mr. Rogers says "well hello Erik, it's very nice to meet you". And like I said, for the first thirty minutes I didn't get a question in. It was like my own personal episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. He wanted to know about me, he wanted to know about my family, he wanted to know what I was studying in college, what I was hoping to do once college was done, and it was absolutely fascinating and one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. When I did get the chance to 46:00talk to him, I talked about those things, like, yknow, college students still needed his wisdom and advice and like I said, I'll share the article with you so that you can get the actual quotes and perspectives he had, but the result was a wonderful full page interview with him that I hope was really well received. My own personal thrill was that the copy I'll send you the picture of, I sent off to him and he returned to me with a really wonderful inscription and autograph on it, so it's something that I have at home and still really treasure to this day.

AW: Aww, that's actually really really nice, and really heartwarming. Oh my gosh, that just made my day. I know I was, again, I watched reruns of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood when I was little, and I remember him always saying look for the helpers whenever something scary happens. And-

47:00

EE: [inaudible]

AW: Go ahead.

EE: It's really cool for me now, obviously because now I work in public television, I've got that story that I shared with you earlier that I do credit that moment of actually, and I never thought that I was going to work in public relations. I ended up in a job field where, yknow, newspapers were laying people off and closing, and there weren't any full time jobs to be had, and I ended up applying for this job on a lark and editing the program guide here at public television, and now I've been here for 14 years. I've moved my way up to being in charge of our promotion and social media and PR, but now I have a 5-year-old at home that watches Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, which is a direct connection to Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, still made by the same production company, and to watch him learn those same lessons that Mr. Rogers was teaching us in our house 48:00via this animated show is a really neat connection.

AW: I didn't know that there was a direct spinoff of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. That's really cool, actually.

EE: Yeah, so it's just been, it's just interesting that I, that was sort of the one thing I was most tenacious about in college, was that one year of my life that I pursued that interview with Mr. Rogers, not knowing that I would end up making a career in public television, so I'm hoping that I'm doing even an ounce, even one percent of the good that he did in promoting the importance of educational public media and to think back that it was connected, in some way, to that moment is always just really interesting to think about.

AW: Aww, that's awesome! I'm sorry, this part of the interview is just really cute and it's making me really happy. Thank you for sharing with me, and if you 49:00can get me a picture of the interview you did with Fred Rogers, that would be absolutely amazing.

EE: Yes, I will do that.

AW: I didn't know you had an interview with him, it wasn't on the information that you provided, and I couldn't find that information, so this is a wonderful surprise. Absolutely amazing.

EE: No, that's very cool. And I will do that. And I need to tell you that I'm going to have to check out for an 11 o'clock meeting, if you need to talk further we can, I just need you to know that I'm going to have to run off to a meeting at 11 o'clock, in a few minutes.

AW: No, that's actually perfect, because that's the end of my questions.

EE: Oh, cool.

AW: So I was just going to ask if you had anything else you wanted to add about anything we talked about, or anything else that happened in college, if you have any advice for people my age or younger who are in college or are about to go to college, stuff like that.

EE: I think the only advice I can add from my own experiences, go with what I started with, that obviously I'm very proud of the degree that I have from UW 50:00Oshkosh, that it's a wonderful university with wonderful professors, and really great programs. Not only the ones I experienced, we didn't talk about, I worked at the student radio station as part of a radio/TV/film minor that I had. The educational programs are fantastic. But in hindsight, it's not surprising to me that the lasting memories that I have from the experience are Residence Life, and the Advance-Titan, to external experiences that I had, which are the ones that, I, that's what, to me that's the most important part of college, that it's not just about sitting in a classroom and learning, it's about becoming and learning how to become part of a community while gaining your independence, and also taking advantage of those other opportunities outside of the classroom, 51:00which are the ones that now, yknow, as I look at the calendar 18 to 20 years later are the things that I remember the most. They're the things that, the lasting friendships are most closely tied to, my best friends in life are people not that I met in classes, but are people that I met through Residence Life or through the student newspaper. I met my wife through hall government, being part of the Nelson Hall community, I think that's just the real key, is that the college experience is not just one path, it's taking advantage. It's one opportunity you're gonna have in life to try a little bit of everything, and those little things that you try are gonna be the things you remember 20 years later.

AW: That's really awesome. All right, thank you so much for letting me interview you and for telling me everything that you did, I really appreciate it.

EE: Absolutely.

AW: Again, I will get you the deed of gift later today.

52:00

EE: Awesome, thank you, yeah, I will get you, I will send you that when I get home, if you have any follow up questions don't be shy to ask. Or if you need any clarification on anything.

AW: All right, thank you so much, again, for everything.

EE: Thank you!

AW: All right, have a nice day.

EE: Yep, buh-bye.

AW: Good bye.

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