The year 2017 marks Sarah Pollock’s 30th anniversary of teaching at Mills College. In addition to directing the undergraduate journalism program at Mills, she serves as advisor for the student newspaper The Campanil and also serves as professor in the graduate program in creative writing.
Pollock has had extensive professional experience with working in newsrooms as well as writing new stories. Among many of her positions, Pollock was editor-in-chief from 1989 to 1990 for Pacific Discovery, which was published by the California Academy of Sciences; deputy vice president of the Journalism and Women Symposium from 2011 to 2013; moderator and panelist for the 2011 Journalism and Women Symposium National Conference, the theme of which was “Engaging the Next Generation: How and Why to Teach New Journalists,” and from 2011 to 2013 she was a board member for the Julia Morgan School for Girls Board of Trustees. One of her most notable editorial positions was as senior editor of investigative and political magazine Mother Jones.
Her courses include vigorous study of journalism and writing techniques, as well as direct real-world application of the materials learned in class. Students are expected to think quickly, function proactively and work hard in an environment similar to a newsroom. As one of her students, I was given the opportunity to challenge myself and write more than I believed I was capable of in one semester.
Most of my pieces were published through The Campanil, and in order to be successful in her course, I was required to step out of my shell and talk to people. I was given the chance to prove my productivity and shamelessly ask strangers questions. I went to my first Oakland town hall meeting in order to cover a local story. I was encouraged to interview police workers at our local police station. Students were encouraged to interview professors, faculty, staff, and students at Mills College to provide credible sources to our news stories. In trying to complete one of my homework assignments, I interviewed a San Francisco Fire Department chief, a San Francisco Police Department chief, an Olympic athlete, an author, the director for the World WideWomen Girls’ Festival, a Mills alumni, a lawyer who works on University of California court cases, and a Lyft driver all in the same day. I learned how to fearlessly walk up to people and talk to them about anything, and I learned how to conduct interviews with legal consent of all parties being interviewed. Carrying around recording materials, holding on to a notebook, and maintaining a positive attitude were all I needed to be successful while working in the field as a journalist.
Being able to write for The Campanil and be coached by Professor Pollock in the process allowed me to mature as a whole person. I found out that everyone in the world has a story and that they may be waiting for someone to ask them about it. No matter what one’s socioeconomic status is, or what a person has accomplished, I can walk up to anyone and ask questions. I wanted to better understand strangers’ lives and where they’re going. I could find out what people were fighting for and make their voices heard. I could bring awareness to issues that were not regularly discussed on college campuses. Taking Pollock’s journalism course prepared me for the real world more than any other course has. I grew through learning how to be comfortable being uncomfortable, and learning how to not take rejection personally. I learned how to not jump to conclusions on any given topic until I had obtained all of the facts and information possible in order to make intelligent assumptions.
Alumni Jen Ramos, who uses they/them pronouns, credits Pollock for showing Mills students how to think critically instead of taking things at face value, along with instilling autonomy and a realization that everything should be questioned.
“She makes Mills students prepared for the real world,” Ramos said.
According to Ramos, Pollock prepared them for all areas of life. After Mills, Ramos went on to study at the USC graduate program for journalism and notes that Pollock’s classes prepared them for graduate school and for covering news stories on the field.
“With her guidance, I learned how to approach things ethically,” Ramos said. “To train college students to pursue the bigger picture but also get into the details is important.”
Ramos also credits Pollock for encouraging students to pursue majors outside of writing, such as the PLEA major, so that students can implement their writing skills into other fields.
“She looks at making students well-rounded,” Ramos said.
2011 alumna Bonnie Horgos credits Pollock for fostering her growth as a journalist and for her success in becoming a newspaper reporter shortly after graduation. She said Pollock has gone above and beyond in taking on a the role of being the official adviser for The Campanil, as well as fostering student interest in the paper. In Horgos’s opinion, The Campanil serves as an avenue for Pollock to teach students how to use their voices and ultimately make a statement.
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Adjunct Professor of Journalism Meredith May says Pollock has given her whole self to teaching young women how to be daring and bold, as well as hold governments accountable. She says that by teaching students about civic participation, self assurance, core values of democracy, and teaching them the law, it helps them write in a fair manner.
“Students need to be learning how to think critically about the world they live in, and Pollock is teaching students how to be quick on their feat,” May said.
Pollock, who was proposed to be laid off from Mills under the college’s earlier draft financial stabilization plan, has instead taken an early retirement. She will continue to teach at Mills and advise The Campanil until the end of 2017, and will teach no more classes at Mills starting in spring 2018.