Farewell to Special Lecturer Katherine Roff, Solutions Journalism extraordinaire

After almost four years at Oakland University, Special Lecturer Katherine Roff will leave OU at the end of the winter semester to return to her native home of Australia.

Growing up in the small town of Geraldton, Western Australia, Roff says her experience there was far different from living in America. As places were more accessible, Roff felt connected to the rest of her community.

“Things felt a lot smaller than they do in our big suburbs here in Detroit,” Roff said.

Roff first recognized her passion for journalism while attending Curtin University in Perth, Australia. Initially pursuing a degree in cultural studies, Roff added journalism to her major after working for Curtin’s student newspaper as an editor. 

After receiving her B.A. in Journalism and Cultural Studies, Roff hit the ground running. Crediting her experience as an exchange student in Thailand for her wanderlust, Roff began to work for publications worldwide, including in New Zealand.  

“I ended up doing some travel writing for the New Zealand Herald, which was fantastic,” Roff said. “It allowed [me] to travel to report on these fascinating places that I wanted to travel to anyway.” 

After receiving her M.A. in Political Science at the University of Canterbury, Roff helped develop Peace News with colleague Dr. Babak Bahador. Aiming to tell stories from the other side of war, Peace News hones in on those who take risks for peace. Roff says that her work with the publication was both humbling and eye-opening. 

“I learned a lot about conflict reporting and about peace journalism,” Roff said. “I got to connect with journalists in conflict zones all over the world, which was very rewarding.” 

Roff moved to Michigan with her family in 2016. As her husband grew up in the state, Roff wanted her children to experience life as Michiganders. 

After gaining experience as a tutor during her studies at the University of Canterbury, Roff began working at OU as a visiting assistant professor in 2019 and later as a special lecturer. 

“[Teaching is] a vocation,” Roff said. “I really wanted to get back into teaching, and [OU] was a perfect fit.” 

Roff says she’ll never forget the first class she taught at OU. Through the experiences she shared with her students, she remembers thinking, “the next generation is going to be okay.”

Senior Joe Popis is one of those students. After taking his first class with Roff, he knew he would enjoy her classes and what he would learn from them. 

“I learned to expand my writing abilities in various areas within journalism,” Popis said. “[Roff’s] assignments allowed us to tackle diverse writing projects and talk to many sources from all walks of life. I will miss the knowledge she has given me to improve as a writer.”

Of the courses she has taught, Roff believes she is most fond of the Solutions Journalism News Bureau. Rather than focusing on doom and gloom news reporting, Roff revitalizes students’ interest in journalism by teaching them to report news from a problem-solving perspective.

“I’ve really loved seeing the way that the students that we have respond to Solutions Journalism,” Roff said. “I can see this re-engagement with the news and this increased interest and love of reporting come back to a generation that I think is very disenchanted with their media consumption.”

Holly Gilbert, adjunct instructor and senior adviser for journalism and public relations, co-taught the Solutions Journalism course with Roff during the winter 2022 semester.

“I’ve been [at OU] almost 30 years, and that is my favorite teaching experience,” Gilbert said. “We had chemistry together. We knew intuitively what we were good at, and we gave each other space to do that.”

Roff is most excited to further establish Solutions Journalism in Australia upon returning. Though she will miss the supportive environment of OU, she is thankful she was allowed to grow and learn there.

“I’m going to miss the people at OU,” Roff said. “My department and program is amazing, and I’m not naive enough to think that I will find that anywhere else. I’m very grateful for the welcome that I had here.”