A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Making the Leap from the Art of Film to the Art of Teaching

November 30, 2015

Christopher RamirezChristopher Ramirez didn’t plan on a teaching career; he had aspirations of being a filmmaker. The first-generation college student from Riverside — who had never picked up a camera before setting foot on the UC Santa Cruz campus — received a bachelor’s degree in film and video in 1998.

After working in the film industry for several years, Ramirez found himself at a turning point that led him to New Mexico. His first job in teaching began in 2002 at Western New Mexico University, where he developed film courses for the campus’s extension program.

Ramirez returned to UC Santa Cruz where he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2006 and continued to teach.

In 2007, he interviewed for a position at UC Merced, and enthusiastically joined the Merritt Writing Program in January 2008. Ramirez teaches Writing 10: Reading and Composition, Writing 112: Writing in the Arts, and Writing 125: Screenwriting.

“I wanted to work in an environment where I was most needed,” Ramirez said. “UC Merced’s location in the Central Valley was a perfect fit for me.”

In addition to teaching, Ramirez has been actively involved in the local community. He volunteers as a court-appointed special advocate for local foster youth. He served on the board of Building Healthy Communities and ran for a city council seat in November 2013.

Since 2012, he’s served on UC Merced’s Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion (CCCI), where he has been instrumental in helping to write the charter, updating the campus’s Principles of Community and focusing on non-Senate faculty issues around inclusion and diversity.

Ramirez’s journey has taught him that it isn’t where you start, but where you finish that defines you. He shared more of his story with Panorama.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

It’s the students that get me up every day! It is gratifying to be in a classroom as diverse as ours. Teaching primarily first-generation college students is an opportunity I find rewarding. Some of my students have even expressed interest in becoming professors, which is vital to increasing faculty diversity.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I am a film buff at heart. As a kid, I dreamed of being on a film set. When I transferred to Santa Cruz as a junior, I was accepted into the politics program. While reading Oliver Stone’s biography, I was motivated to petition the film major. The quality of work I produced there gave me confidence to go after bigger dreams.

After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I moved to the Big Apple. During the day, I worked for companies like Lehman Brothers, Chase and Citibank. In my spare time, I volunteered for a film company called Stratosphere to get my foot into the door. I got my big break when I moved back to Los Angeles. The most memorable moments included projects on the studio lots of Warner Bros. and Disney.

As a minority, I confronted rampant discrimination in Hollywood. One day it all came to a halt and I ended up in New Mexico, where I discovered my passion for teaching.

What lesson has your work life taught you?

It has taught me persistence and patience. Even though I am not working in the arts specifically, I see teaching as an art. I think you want to treat it as such because it’s process work. You don’t want to ever become static or too attached to one idea.

One of the most valuable insights I have gained is that I need to be flexible. Being able to go about things a different way and change it up is crucial, especially when working with our student demographic.

Is there anything you always wanted to do but haven’t?

I want to write a book. It will be a memoir about where I started and the adversities and conflict I overcame. Growing up, I was in an environment where I could have easily become a gang member. I came from a household where my father abandoned me, and my mother later abandoned me too. I witnessed domestic violence, and I had substance abuse issues. At the time, I would have never thought that this is where I’d be today.

My intention for writing a book would be to speak to those who feel down and out and might be experiencing similar things. They might be in an environment where they can’t see the potential to rise above their own conditioning and adversities.

What is the one thing you most want people to remember about you?

I’d like people to remember that I was able to leave an impression on the world. When you are working with people in the community, it’s hard work and you want to see change. You want to help people become empowered. Cornel West once said that he is a prisoner of hope. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am a prisoner of hope, but I definitely believe anything is possible.