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Jon Yamashiro named "Effective Educator"

09/02/2009

Jon Yamashiro, associate professor of art at Miami University, working with his students on the Liberty project and was taken by Mihir Devare, a senior majoring in art and one of Yamashiro’s students.
Students in Jon Yamashiro’s beginning photography course started their second day of class sharing their favorite photos — a smiling baby cuddled by her proud parents, a close-up of an adored family dog, a silly shot of two preschool sisters hugging while sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor.

As they held up their treasured mementos, the students talked about the photos’ unseen significance. One woman, apologizing that the old black-and-white shot was too delicate to remove from its wooden frame, showed a rodeo cowboy in mid-air above a bucking bronco. The cowboy, her grandfather, fell in love with the photographer, her grandmother, married the Virginia beauty and took her out West.

To Yamashiro — the recipient of Miami University’s 2009-2010 Alumni Association Effective Educator Award — these photos demonstrated to the class how poignant photography can be. This assignment was also his first step in molding his class into an “ohana,” the Hawaiian word for family.

“I like to think that in photography, you’re part of this ohana, this family, and that’s how I treat you,” he said. “We’re all here together, we’re working it out, let’s take some chances and make some art.”

He considers it crucial that he build close relationships with students to help them develop their creativity.
“When you’re doing critiques in art, you need to build up enough confidence in them so that they are able to create something that is new and then have faith in it, enough to show it to other people. But then you also need to be able to criticize and talk about the things that could be better without crushing who they are.”

In his office, the associate professor in the School of Fine Arts surrounds himself with photography taken by his own teachers and mentors, both from Washington University in St. Louis, where he earned a bachelor of fine arts in photography in 1985, and from Indiana University, where he received a master’s in the same subject in 1991. A third-generation Okinawan American born and raised in Honolulu, he came to Miami in 1993.

A favorite class project of his takes his seniors to Liberty, Ind., where Yamashiro lives. Last year his seniors partnered with high-school students to create books that told photographic narratives about Liberty’s people and places. This year’s seniors have already started traveling to Liberty to prepare to take portraits of the high-school and middle-school staff.

“The Liberty project is a good one because it gets us out into the community, and it helps to bring the community together,” said Yamashiro, who combines his casual, soft-spoken demeanor with a passion for photography that is contagious.

A former student pulled in by that passion is Dan Long (Miami,'05), who nominated Yamashiro for the Effective Educator Award.

“I first met Jon while I was touring Miami as a prospective student,” wrote Long, who now lives in Jackson, Wyo. “The way that he openly engaged me about my work, the program and the greater state of photography were the deciding factors for me to choose his program over those of many other schools.

“In a time when several schools were eliminating their darkroom programs, Jon had just overseen the remodel of the darkroom labs and was actively researching how to institute a state-of-the-art digital imaging program and lab into the fine arts program. His program gave me the foundation to explore the traditional methods and the cutting-edge tools to learn digital photography at a time when the industry was still experiencing massive growing pains.”

Yamashiro, who asks his students to call him Jon, will be presented with the Effective Educator Award during the third-quarter break in the Miami-University of Kentucky football game at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium Saturday, Sept. 5.

To see some of Yamashiro’s photography and read his story in his own words, go to www.yamashirophoto.com.

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