Posted at 1:30 p.m., May 5, 2015
Schliske has served as an educator for Laramie County Community College for 39 years. She led Wingspan to be one of the most awarded community college papers in the nation.
Schilske retires after 39 years serving LCCC
Late at night and into the wee hours of the morning, Rosalind “Roz” Routt Schliske poured over the students’ stories plastering her desk.
In the newsroom across from her office, students’ furious fingers tapped a machine-gun tattoo on tired keyboards. Weary eyes checked notes as audio clips played and replayed.
An unspoken mantra hung in the air: Get the news first, but first get the news right.
For 39 years, Schliske spent her days, and often, her nights, helping Laramie County Community College’s student journalists give voice to the voiceless.
However, LCCC’s longest employed faculty member is ready to retire in May, she said.
Throughout nearly four decades, Schliske, 65, accumulated accolades not only as an instructor but also as a Wingspan adviser.
Under her tutelage, the newspaper became one of the most awarded community college publications in the nation.
A former student, Jillian Melchior, said, “I don’t think she’s slept since she started teaching.”
After spending four semesters working on Wingspan with Schliske, Melchior, 28, earned a bachelor’s in political science at Hillsdale College, Michigan, and now works as a reporter for the National Review in New York City.
Many of Schliske’s students pursued successful careers including an executive producer at NBC and a foreign correspondent covering the conflict in Ukraine as well as a who’s who list of Wyoming media.
A Fort Worth, Texas, native, Schliske said she was born into college life.
“Literally, I grew up on campus,” she said, explaining her father was a Texas Christian University (TCU) professor, her mother a TCU librarian.
Schliske was raised with a brother, who now works in outplacement in the financial sector in London.
Growing up on a college campus wasn’t always easy. At a young age, Schliske said she felt as if she had to compete with her father’s students.
“Dad would stay in his office with students long after everyone else went home,” she said, and added chuckling, “I was in high school before I figured out not everyone had international students over for Thanksgiving.”
Nonetheless, her father inspired her to pursue higher education and eventually follow in his footsteps, she said.
“I grew up around academia,” she recalled. “That was my life.”
After high school, Schliske attended TCU. She started as a double major in English and history but during the summer she enrolled in an introduction to mass media course.
“That was the one that changed my life,” she said. “I was like, ‘Wow, people get paid for this?’”
Absorbed in her discovery, she overlooked the fact she was the only female in her class.
“Stupidly, I did not get, then, that women were not in journalism,” she said. “I wasn’t raised to think I couldn’t do anything.”
But, she didn’t let that small factor stop her from pursuing her new passion. Shortly thereafter, she was editor of her campus newspaper, The Daily Skiff.
“I was always the teacher in the room,” she said, explaining her role as editor.
“After graduation, I came up (to Wyoming),” she said. “It was an adventure.”
Having never left Texas, Schliske said she was looking for something new and exciting. In 1972, Schliske found a home as assistant news editor at the Wyoming Eagle, now the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
Although she was the only female on her college newspaper, she was not prepared for the problems of the professional world.
“I had two things against me,” she said. “I was young, and I was a woman.”
Sexual harassment and pranks “a person would go to jail for today” prevailed in the male-dominated newsroom, she said.
Despite the trials, she was resolute in her position and did not bow to the oppressive atmosphere.
In time, she was promoted to news editor.
“I was the only one that really knew how to do everything at the paper,” she said.
But, a few years later, she found herself looking for a change of scenery.
“The money was terrible,” she said.
She received several offers through her contacts at the newspaper to work in public relations, but she was unconvinced it was the best route. “I couldn’t sell my soul like that,” she said.
Still, journalist’s wages weren’t getting any better. She continued to keep her eyes open when a friend suggested in 1976 that she apply for a recently opened public relations/journalism teaching position at LCCC.
“It was a new adventure,” she said. “I felt like I could sell education.”
“Right off the bat, it was the week of the Big Thompson Canyon flood,” she said.
While her friends were waist-deep in breaking news, she felt left out, she said.
“Not being in the know was the worst,” she lamented.
However, she settled in and soon found herself advising the school’s newspaper, The Crow Creek Gazette. Her auburn curls danced as she nodded her head and laughed recalling the name. Renaming the publication was priority No. 1.
Through advising the newspaper, planning events and managing the college’s public image, she discovered her new home was a good fit.
“I was in my element,” she said. “I was the face of LCCC for eight years.”
While working for the public relations department, she met Robert “Bob” Schliske, one of LCCC’s founders and first employees. In 1980, they married and spent 27 years together. Schliske, who served as dean of instruction, died in 2007.
Fall 2015 will be LCCC’s first semester without a Schliske employed since the college’s founding in 1968.
Also in 1980, Schliske earned her master’s in journalism at the University of Wyoming and joined the Wyoming Army National Guard.
As the company commander of the 197th Public Affairs Detachment, she found herself in another position traditionally filled by men.
“(Military service) was always something that women couldn’t do before,” she said.
But, she didn’t let that stop her from fulfilling her sense of duty. She wanted to give something back to her country, and military service was how she decided to go about it, she said.
“Everything else had come easy to me,” she said. “Again, I looked around, and there were no women here. I just plowed on through.”
Schliske sought a challenge, and she found one. Juggling her military career and teaching at LCCC proved to be more difficult than she imagined.
“I really felt like I had two full-time jobs,” she said. “I’m really not sure I did both well.”
A few of her students were also her soldiers, and balancing those relationships in the right places at the right times weighed heavily on her.
Nevertheless, she decided to take on full-time teaching in 1984, which would free up her summers.
She deployed with her unit often, though seldom for more than two weeks at a time. As a public affairs detachment, her unit deployed all over the world including Germany during the fall of the Berlin wall, Korea, Panama and Honduras.
At the rank of major, Schliske retired from the WYARNG in 1993.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Schliske said that every year she would secretly selected a student for special attention, and she “lost” only one student throughout her time as an instructor.
Neither knew it at the time, but the student was later diagnosed with adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
“How could I compete with that?” she asked in a defeated tone.
Years later, the student returned and graduated. This time around, he was equipped with medication and the tools needed to help him focus.
“I failed him the first time around,” she explained. “But, I was here for him when he came back.”
Not every student is ready for college, she said. If a student’s heart isn’t in it, he is just wasting time and money.
“I used to tell them, ‘I’ll be here for you when you come back,’” she said, inhaling sharply. “I can’t do that anymore. That’s a tough one for me.”
In high school, Melchior heard Schliske’s name spoken with reverence often. So, after graduation, she decided to spend a few semesters at LCCC between 2004–2006 under Schliske’s wing before heading off to a university.
“I use the tools she taught us daily,” Melchior said.
Schliske encouraged Melchior to enter a nationwide Scripps journalism contest, Melchior said. Melchior refused to get her hopes up. Yet, despite heavy-hitting competition from four-year institutes, she won a fellowship.
Melchior said: “(Schliske) was there for us 100 percent. She’s one of the few people I knew I could call and wake up at 1 a.m. if I really needed something.”
Ask any mass media sophomore about the LCCC program and you most likely hear there are college-level courses, and there are Schliske-level courses.
Schliske explained her goal is to challenge students so they leave her course feeling proud of their accomplishments. She admitted this approach sometimes led to students feeling negatively about her as an instructor, but as long as they left with their chin in the air, it was worth it.
J.L. O’Brien, former Wingspan editor and now LCCC multimedia instructor, said he didn’t hate Schliske when he finished the mass media program in 1998, but he wasn’t so sure she liked him.
When the multimedia instructor position opened in 2004, he flirted with the idea of applying. “I knew I wanted to teach,” he said.
But, he was afraid if he applied for the position, he would find out what Schliske really thought of him. O’Brien said he wasn’t sure he could handle the pressure of knowing what the instructor who changed his life really thought of him.
Finally, he decided to brave the encounter and called Schliske to talk about applying for the position. Over the phone, he said Schliske sounded noncommittal.
But, “when I came out to talk to her, it was already a done deal,” O’Brien said with a huge grin.
For the first few years, the position was part-time. When a full-time position opened, O’Brien again faced mixed feelings. After discussing it with his wife, he decided to call Schliske again. He hadn’t earned his master’s yet, a requirement for the full-time position, nor was he sure Schliske wouldn’t want a more experienced instructor.
“She said, ‘I would be disappointed if you didn’t apply,’” O’Brien said, sighing with relief. “It was one of the biggest moments of my life.”
The new job proved to be more than O’Brien expected. After years of watching Schliske seemingly effortlessly roll through semester after semester, he gained a newfound respect for the woman who had played so many instrumental roles in his life.
“(Roz) has such incredible passion for teaching,” O’Brien said. “She lives, eats and breathes it.”
O’Brien wasn’t the only instructor Schliske influenced. In the fall of 1978, LCCC English instructor, Dave Zwonitzer, met Schliske for the first time. She struck him as an intelligent, educated and polite woman with an air of professionalism rivaled by few.
“I strongly suspect she has no idea how much she has helped me, and what she meant to me,” Zwonitzer, 62, said. “She’s been one of my main inspirations.”
From the first day he started teaching as an adjunct, Zwonitzer observed the passion Schliske’s students brought to his class. “She’s damn good at what she does,” he said.
Throughout his years teaching at LCCC, Zwonitzer, who will now become LCCC’s longest serving instructor, said he watched Schliske’s students transform while taking her classes. The physical changes in her student’s approach to learning filled him with awe, he said.
“She’s not just one of the best teacher’s this school has ever had or will ever see,” he said. “I think she’s one of the best teachers on the planet.”
Zwonitzer added Schliske’s knowledge and experience has been invaluable to LCCC. Her ability to see the big picture while still acknowledging the fine details contributed to the level of education she provided her students, he said.
“She is a guardian of this thing we call education,” he said. “I will miss having her at my side.”