Profile: How Jim Haendiges has embraced the new polytechnic mission at Utah Tech

Jim Haendiges, associate professor of English in his office participating in some of the things he loves. Annie Sorensen | Sun News Daily

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Jim Haendiges, associate professor of English at Utah Tech University, dives into his passions for music, writing and encouraging students through his own experiences.

Haendiges grew up in Whittier, California, and as a little kid, he discovered he enjoyed writing and storytelling. 

“I’m the youngest of four, and the youngest of any group gets a couple perks,” Haendiges said. “One of them is just low expectations.”

Haendiges said that while his older siblings faced pressures to succeed, he was left to accomplish anything he wanted. 

He started his college journey at California State University Long Beach where he tried out being a technical writer. 

“At the time I was pretty shy, so it was a great job for somebody who’s shy – just having your own cubicle, you do your writing, you come in, don’t bother anybody, do your work and then leave and get paid,” Haendiges said. “But over time, that soured just for various reasons; doors kind of closed and it didn’t work out.”

Haendiges said this led him to get his master’s degree at Washington State University. He said it was a happy accident that he ended up at WSU. 

WSU is where Haendiges started working at the writing center and discovered his love for helping others learn how to write well. He graduated from WSU with his master’s degree in rhetoric and composition.

“It’s kind of this tale [of] not really knowing what I was going to do and leaning on the things that I love,” Haendiges said.

From having a love of writing and completing school in English, storytelling is Haendiges’ favorite aspect of writing. 

Storytelling isn’t his only passion and interest. Haendiges along with Randy Jasmine, English professor, have a podcast called “Being Human” that is currently on its second year of production. Haendiges said the idea for the podcast was all Jasmine’s idea.

Jasmine said, “[Jim] is easy-going, but he also thinks deeply about the topics we cover and about the questions we ask our guests on the podcast.”

Haendiges committed to doing the podcast because he teaches a class called writing for interactive media – where his students are required to create a podcast. 

“I wanted to do the thing that my students are doing,” Haendiges said. “I think there is this sense that we need to make sure that humanities are relevant as this university sort of embraces a polytechnic model.”

Haendiges explains there is a fear that humanities “will be further in the shadows” of a STEM focused school. He said our school administration has made the extra effort to ensure humanities are just as important as the STEM sources. 

“There was this sense that we wanted to hop in there and say ‘how does technology impact our field?’” Haendiges said. “Our real motive behind it was just to kind of shed some light on what the humanities looks like in the future.”

He explains the English department is sometimes looked at as “a bunch of dusty old people and dusty old books,” and the podcast shows the English department and humanities is also advancing with technology as both fields are a part of the world of tech.

This thought is reflected through the podcast name – “Being Human.” Haendiges said the core of humanities is exploring what it means to be human. 

“We want to continue to look at the big issues here on the Utah Tech campus and nationwide as they relate to humanities and technology,” Jasmine explained. “It’s impossible to know what those issues might be. After all, we didn’t know about ChatGPT when we began the podcast, and at the moment, this is the topic that most people want to talk about.”

Not only does Haendiges have a podcast, he has been in a band playing the drums for six years that is composed of:

  • lead singer who works for Skywest
  • one guitarist who works in printing
  • another guitarist who is a lawyer
  • bassist who is a physician’s assistant
  • keyboardist who is a vascular surgeon

These “professional working people” as Haendiges said, make up the band Identity Crisis – a band that plays ‘80s rock and “rocked up” versions of pop songs. 

“In musical circles we’re looked down on because we don’t write our own stuff,” Haaendiges said. “We play what people expect to hear because if we played our own songs you’d be like ‘Sounds great Jim but I’ve never heard it before.’” 

Identity Crisis plays together on the weekends and does gigs for the Washington County Fair and in cities outside of St. George. Haendiges said St. George doesn’t have a “crazy music scene” which forces the band to get gigs outside the city. 

“I constantly reference it as just sort of a midlife crisis that’s very affordable,” Haendiges jokes. “[It] didn’t shake up my marriage, didn’t bankrupt my family, it’s just something that’s fun to do.” 

He said while playing the drums at Calvary Chapel Church he met fellow bandmate of Identity Crisis, the guitarist who is a lawyer. 

Haendiges said, “[The lawyer] was just like ‘man, it’s cool to play church songs, but I kind of want to play other stuff.’”

Playing the drums has been a part of Haendiges’s life since he was 13 years old. However, going through extensive years of schooling he explains he sort of “plateaued” through graduate school. After receiving his job at Utah Tech in 2010, he was able to dedicate more of his time to the drums. 

“It’s almost better to say I’ve been playing for ten years,” Haendiges said. “That’s where my skill level is at – you wouldn’t expect a whole lot more from me if I said I’d been playing for 30 years.”

Looking forward, as Haendiges is approaching his 13th year at Utah Tech, the dean has renewed the “Being Human” podcast for another two years. He also plans to continue to grow as a drummer in Identity Crisis. 

As far as his career, Haendiges received the ranking of full professor last year and explained that full professor is pretty much the top ranking. 

“It kind of feels like I’ve arrived at this level where this is where I’ve wanted to be for many years; I’m here now what do I do?” Haendiges said. “I’m nowhere near retirement. It’s just about doing the things I enjoy.”

Haendiges said the biggest lesson he’s learned in all his years of schooling is to “show up.” He said a lot of people feel that everything has to be meaningful, or something has to be applied to their professional goals for it to be worthwhile. He simply said “yes” to experiences and made the effort to show up to classes. 

“I feel like education rewards people who are constantly there, who are constantly trying to get better,” Haendiges said. “I feel fortunate because I was in the right places at the right time, but I was there because I chose to show up.”

He said even the way he ended up here at Utah Tech – replying to an email that was forwarded to him – shows that he chose to show up and take the opportunity. 

He wants his students to take away from his classes the ability to contribute to the world in a way that is meaningful to them. He explains he understands the pressures of choosing a path that pays well, but he finds it a “tragedy” when students work just because they need to work. 

“I think you’re in college because you want to pursue a major that you are interested in, that you find meaning in, and that you can share that meaning with other people,” Haendiges said.

As Haendiges continues his career at Utah Tech and continues to do the things he enjoys, he never stops encouraging students and helping them become the best versions of themselves.