Posted: June 28, 2014 by PJ Abode in General

Welcome to MindSpace!

MindSpace is a space committed to a meeting of minds through sharing, and by sharing we hope to form a strong sense of community that all can rely on for joy, support, and aspiration.

By Alice Meyering, , Program Coordinator of Community & Contract Education

Running a program like SMC Community Ed – a college-with-a-college – is both an art and a science. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

Take, for instance, our Glass Fusing classes. The course is so popular that faithful students will find out what the first day of registration is and stay up until midnight on that day so they can get a seat in the class the minute registration begins online. The result, year after year, has been a long wait list of prospective student who have grown frustrated at not getting into the class.

I added a second session, but the same thing happened. The level of demand and frustration just continued to grow.

And so, I came up last spring with what I believe is a creative solution that has been successful in accommodating prospective students who, year after year, have been left out.

I added a third session, but with a twist. It’s not listed on our website or in our class schedule. Instead, I send out emails to those who have been wait listed and extend an invitation to personally enroll them in the class. I go down the list until the class is full.

This takes up a good deal of time, but I do this because I believe strongly that we are here to serve our community as best we can. In other words, despite our limited resources, we at Community Ed try to be mindful of community needs and to find creative ways to meet those needs.

I encourage all of you to take a look at our fall class offerings and, if you haven’t yet, sign up for one or more of our courses. We have a wide variety of offerings for both personal enrichment and professional advancement. Thank you!

Most sports classes have a progressive structure – beginning, intermediate and advanced. But SMC Community Ed’s “Basketball For the Rest of Us” is unique in that it mixes players of all levels together.

In fact, one of its former students, Amin Sadeghpour, is legally blind and developmentally challenged. And the instructor at the time called him “the soul of the class.”

“Basketball For the Rest of Us” is now taught by Richard Hoffman, who has long had a passion for the sport, both as a player and spectator. “I started playing back in the 70’s with a group of college friends quite regularly,” he said.

Coach Richard Hoffman (top row, far right) has a passion for the unique class, “Basketball for the Rest of Us”

“I became more involved when I signed up for the class several years ago and became an assistant to the instructor,” he said.

Hoffman finds time to teach the class despite his hectic schedule as CEO of his own credit and collection company that involves commuting several times a week from his Beaumont home in Riverside County to Los Angeles.

“The biggest rewards are noticing and seeing the marked improvement in the students’ play and confidence levels week after week,” he said. “We do a weekly program called drills and skills in which students learn a new skill along with a drill. Through practice you become more proficient by applying your new skills. We do this by playing a half court and then proceed to a full court.”

Hoffman cites the example of a student who, on his first day of class, missed the basket on free throws every single time.

“Twelve weeks later on the last class this same student hit 19 out of 20 free throws,” he said. “This to me was truly a great and gratifying moment.”

Basketball For the Rest of Us” begins Sept. 9.

Pete Risi has been teaching Guitar at SMC Community Ed since 2014 and decided to offer Music Theory classes in June 2017. The Intro to Music Theory, which will be offered again this fall, is scheduled roughly twice a year at SMC Community Ed. There are roughly 10 to 15 students per class.

Pete Risi

Risi has been playing the guitar for more than 35 years and has a Bachelor’s degree in music from Mercy College in New York. He’s also a professional musician with writing, performing, teaching, and recording experience. You can hear some of Pete’s original music at Reverbnation or on iTunes.

Why did you decide to offer Music Theory classes?

It seemed that there was quite a demand for people wanting to know more about the how and why of music beyond just playing the basics. Being that the guitar classes were already packed with guitar playing, techniques, etc., the best way to incorporate deeper music knowledge was to add a music theory class, and it has proven to be very successful for students to apply to any instrument.

Music Theory sounds like a hard-core class for music majors, rather than those seeking pleasure from learning an instrument. Is that true?

It’s not super hardcore. Knowing some music theory helps to understand the connection with what people are playing on their instruments and to also compose at a higher level. Even people who are interested in understanding the basic construction of musical elements can benefit from the Intro to Music Theory class.

Pete Risi believes Music Theory classes helps musicians understand the connection with what people are playing on their instruments and to also compose at a higher level.

What kinds of students do you get in your class?

There have been all type of instrument players including pianists, guitarists, violinists, woodwinds, horns, bassists, and composers who have been taking the class. The awesome thing about understanding music theory is that it applies to all types and styles of music – we all speak the same language: Music!

Risi’s Intro to Music Theory class begins Sept. 4.

By Alice Meyering, Coordinator of Community & Contract Education

Every once in a while, I like to ask instructors questions that are pertinent to their disciplines and classes. This month, I asked two of our music instructors: Why is music important?

Heather Lyle

Heather Lyle, Contemporary Singing Techniques & Vocal Yoga

It is now proven that singing releases endorphins and other chemicals that give you energy and mood enhancement but it has also been shown that singing in a group creates community and a sense of belonging. We know that the deep breathing and physical vibration of tone stimulates the heart, oxygen flow in the body and the organs as well, and with the onset of polyvagal theory (a theory about the nervous system) when we are all jamming and looking into each other’s faces there are connections made that create an energy of wellbeing that is contagious.

Every person can experience the joy of music making, whether taking a singing class or joining a drum circle. It just makes you feel good. You don’t have to be born under a special star to be able to make music. You just need to jump in and SMC Community Ed offers you safe environments to do so.

Pete Risi

Pete Risi, Guitar & Music Theory

Here is what I have come up with in observing student reactions: Students have described playing the guitar as exciting, relaxing, a creative outlet, fun and fulfilling. I see the immediate effect on people with those types of experiences as soon as they pick up an instrument. It’s very gratifying!

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Betzi Richardson teaches two very different disciplines – Meditation and Poetry – at SMC Community Ed, but the main similarity is that she is passionate about both and she has been active in both for long periods of time.

Betzi Richardson teaches poetry classes & meditation classes

“I’m also passing on methods I’ve learned from my excellent mentors and teachers in both fields,” she says. “I also give out a lot of handouts for both classes.”

She adds, “For the poetry class, I emphasize reading poetry. Lots of people want to write their own poems and that’s understandably exciting and motivating, so the fact that I also bring in poems from a wide range of established poets that we discuss in class seems to help give people a broader perspective and greater depth for their own writing. From the poems I bring, I’ll make a suggested ‘homework assignment.’ It’s entirely optional—no one has to do it or follow my suggestion too closely. We read everyone’s homework first thing in class, and over the six weeks of the class we give everyone who wants one an in-depth workshop of one of their poems, as if we’re editors for a small press literary journal, to provide insight into publishing and what’s expected if you want to publish your poems.

“For the meditation class, the most important part of it is that I strive for us to meditate for an hour each class, broken up into five separate 12-minute meditations,” she says. “It’s very easy to think about and talk a lot about meditation, but it’s much better to actually do it! To have the experience! I provide a smorgasbord of techniques, starting with basic breath and various body meditations on the first night and then each class builds on the next. I cover all the basics, from breath to walking and eating meditations and a lot more.”

Betzi Richardson with students

Richardson has studied Mindfulness Meditation with Shinzen Young since 1995. She has also studied meditation with other outstanding teachers such as Trudy Goodman, Jason Siff, Jim Finley and Leigh Brasington. She has been a Mindfulness Meditation Facilitator for Shinzen Young since 2001, and has taught numerous daylong meditation classes.

She is a poet published in notable journals such as The Antioch Review, and has studied poetry with prominent poets including Eavan Boland, Edward Hirsch, Stephen Yenser and David St. John. She has been teaching poetry since 2000 at Beyond Baroque and since 2003 at SMC Community Ed.

She has a Masters in English with a Creative Writing emphasis from Loyola Marymount University, and is a member of the honor society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She has published a beautifully designed, handmade chapbook, This Desert Inclination, through a Los Angeles small press, Conflux Press.

Richardson is also a “Janeite,” a devoted fan of Jane Austen. (The photo of her in white was taken in Lyme Regis, England, the location of an important scene in her last complete novel, Persuasion. I was on a JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) tour, which takes fans to important locations in her novels and life. “Lyme Regis is a stunningly beautiful site, never even remotely captured by the film versions of the novel,” Richardson says.)

Betzi Richardson talks to a prospective student about poetry

What do you like about teaching Meditation and Poetry at SMC Community Education?

The students! I am continually delighted with the wonderful people who take my classes.

What kinds of students do you get at SMC Community Ed?

A tremendous variety! Intelligent, fascinating people from Santa Monica natives to people from all over the world. I truly am humbled by many of the people I have met through the classes and honored to be able to facilitate their educational interests and explorations.

Who are some of your favorite poets?

My favorite contemporary poet is Kaveh Akbar, an Iranian-American poet who writes brilliantly about being Muslim and his struggles with and recovery from alcoholism.

My favorite post-WWII American poets are Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashbery, and Lucille Clifton; from Britain, Stevie Smith.

The best twentieth-century international poets, especially for lyricism, are the Spanish-speaking poets Federico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, and Jorge Luis Borges; also, WislawaSzymborska, the Polish poet who in 1995 was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for poetry. She is the most brilliant twentieth-century poet intellectually.

Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are the Yin and Yang of American poetry. I find both to be thrilling in their completely opposite ways.

My top four best English-speaking poets of all time, in chronological order, are Chaucer, Shakespeare, John Keats, and William Butler Yeats.

In my current class, I’m bringing in a lot of poems by Mary Oliver, as a tribute to her — a popular and distinguished American poet who just passed away this year in January. Oliver wrote extensively about her love of and her experiences with the natural world. Her style is deceptively simple and accessible, but very strong and deep. As we seem to be living through an era that is coming to be known as the “Sixth-Extinction,” her Nature poems will form an indispensable record.

I have many, many more “favorite” poets, but these are my current “best of the best.”

What is your idea of a perfect day?

I don’t know about perfect, but some of my most happy days have been spent in meditation retreats, primarily at the Mary and Joseph Retreat Center in Palos Verdes. Spending days meditating with friends in a beautiful setting with a grassy lawn, lovely trees and gardens, many flowers, especially roses, a labyrinth to walk, with great stretches of time in silence, with views of the city of Los Angeles, a galaxy on earth of lights at night, and Catalina around the corner, well, that’s approaching perfection, as far as I’m concerned. And having delicious meals prepared is a big plus as well!

What is one of the best compliments you ever received?

Recently one of my students thanked me for being “a Light!” That made me feel very good, as I hope to share happiness with all, and I think we need to stay focused on the positive as much as possible these days.

That’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

Rock-climbing on Half-Dome with my brother in Yosemite! My older brother got me to take the Outward Bound wilderness survival camps when I was 19, and they teach you to do some very basis rock-climbing, like 300 feet. So a few years later when I met my brother Rob and his friend Tony in Yosemite, he suckered me good. He offered one night to take me on a “real easy” climb the next day, so I imagined that very doable 300 feet, and agreed. It sounded like fun. We left at the crack of dawn and hiked for eight miles (!) to the base of the climb, the snake dike on the back side of Half Dome (just Google it!) I burst into tears as I gazed up at the rock face. Rob had no mercy. He said if I wanted to quit I could walk back to camp by myself, but he and Tony were not going to waste a climbing day. Eight miles! I was afraid there was no way I could do that on my own without getting hopelessly lost. So I had no choice, and somehow I did the climb. Yes, truly it was thrilling at the top, but then there was climbing down the cables and getting back to camp, 13 hours total. Plus Rob had forgotten to bring enough water, so we had to ration it, drinking our water in sips like communion wine.

What books are on your nightstand?

I have a bad habit of reading five or six books simultaneously – in different categories: poetry and meditation of course, but I also like history, science, general interest, art history, and novels. For poetry, I mentioned already I’m reading a lot of Mary Oliver; for meditation: lots of Thich Nhat Hahn, and Looking at MindfulnessTwenty-five Ways to Live in the Moment Through Art, by Christophe André; for art history: A Generous Vision, the Creative Life of Elaine de Kooning, by Cathy Curtis, a biography of an excellent and underappreciated woman painter in the New York School, overshadowed by her husband Willem de Kooning; for history: The Half Has Never Been Told, Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward E. Baptist. Next up for me in general interest: How We Got to Now, Stephen Johnson; in science: Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy, Robert Jourdain; in history again: The Snakehead, An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream, by Patrick Radden Keefe; next novel: The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy.

Is there anything you would like to add?

I’m an artist, primarily in painting, and my website is www.betzirichardson.com.

By Alice Meyering, Program Coordinator of Community & Contract Education

Summer is just around the corner, and there is no better time to take advantage of the lineup of cool classes we have scheduled than the warm months of Santa Monica!

Our Summer Session starts June 17 and you can register online now for many classes! We continually offer the most popular classes to our community, and summer is the best time to try out new classes or continue with courses that meet your needs. (You can view classes online or download the PDF of our Summer Class Schedule.)

Our new classes include Stress Relief Techniques, Legal Aspects of Business, and Blockchain courses (see Michelle King column in this issue of Sound Bites). Although Blockchain might sound complicated, it’s a hot new technology for business that can help your enterprise immeasurably. Read the descriptions of these specialized courses to get greater insight into Blockchain.

A new class this summer is Stress Reducation. Photo by marcobergonzi1994, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Other returning courses worth highlighting include Fashion Tech Pack I, a one-of-a-kind workshop that introduces designers to the nitty-gritty details of the fashion industry and the skills it requires; Sewing Machine Bootcamp — with machines provided in class — which teaches sewing basics that will pave the way for more challenging future classes to complete your sewing repertoire; QuickBooks Certificate Series (QuickBooks I & II), which have been expanded into full-day workshops to teach you more; and our unique AVID Media Composer Exam Prep Workshop, which includes hands-on practice for the exam. (AVID is the industry standard when it comes to professional editing of feature films, documentaries, and all forms of broadcast or streaming digital media.)

For those interested in jumpstarting their language skills, we have French Pronunciation Workshop, our very popular Beginning Spanish Level I & Level II, and Italian for Continuing Students as well as Italian for Travelers, which will get you ready for survival Italian in four compact Thursday classes.

And all of these wonderful classes are just a sampler of what we have on tap in summer.

Remember, you can browse our classes and register online or download the PDF of our Summer Class Schedule. You can also call (310) 434-3400 or email us at commed@smc.edu for questions or more information.

We look forward to seeing you this summer!

Lee Broda has many voices – as an actor, film and television writer, film producer, songwriter and poet. And she has honed her skill and artistry as a poet in SMC Community Ed poetry instructor Betzi Richard’s classes – which helped her shape her just released book of verse, “Whispers from the Moon.”

Lee Broda reads from her newly published book of verse, “Whispers from the Moon.”

Even The Walls Cry Your Name

even the walls cry your name 
at night—
they miss you.

they miss the pictures I hid, 
the ones that told our story,
shoved into a drawer 
with all our memories
that are still alive,
breathing inside of me,
clinging to every cell, 
every room still smells of you,
refusing to fade.

this house was once our home,
now it is a stranger—
cold, unfamiliar and distant,
just like you. 

A native of Israel, she moved to the U.S. after her military service in 2006, having already performed as a dancer and actor in her home country. In Los Angeles she danced professionally, paying her way through L.A. City College’s Theater Academy.

That led to a career in acting, writing, casting and producing, and in 2015 she founded her own film production company, LB Entertainment, which specializes in developing, financing, and producing independent films. LB Entertainment has produced more than 30 feature films, including Michael Almereyda’s Experimenter (starring Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder); The Trust (Nicolas Cage, Elijah Wood); and The Forgiven (Forest Whitaker, Eric Bana) and Matthew Heineman’s A Private War, which was nominated for two Golden Globes Awards in 2019. LB Entertainment’s movies have premiered in the world’s top film festivals including Sundance, Venice, Toronto, Tribeca, SXSW, BFI, and New York Film Festival and have been distributed worldwide, garnering international recognition and many awards.

Lee Broda

The Santa Monica resident has been writing poetry since she was 12, but became more serious about it in her early 20s. About two years ago, she enrolled for the first time in Richardson’s poetry class, and is currently taking her fourth class.

“I had started working on a poetry book, and I felt I needed to step up my game,” she said. “The class keeps me on my toes. I get exposed to new poets and I work with Betzi privately outside the classroom to edit and refine my work.”

The classes have helped her develop her skills and gain confidence as a poet.

“I like that we get to workshop our poems in class and get feedback,” she said. “And our homework gets my creative juices flowing. And we get exposed to different poets. For example, I discovered Polish poet and Nobel Prize winner Wistawa Szymborska, and I probably never would have heard of her if not for Betzi’s class.”

“Whispers from the Moon,” published in December, includes about 100 poems, which she describes as “visceral prose touching on the inspiring quality of love and the sometime-ugliness of relationships that can break us to pieces. The book covers heartbreak, loss, insecurity, love, family, and explores a true relationship to self.”

The Vow

I promise to honor
the woman in me,
even when poison pours from her lips,
searing holes of insecurity
into her beautiful skin

I will embrace her deeply, 
even when regret
and past failures
on the walls of her mind

I will love her fully, 
even when her heart
shrinks in fear
and shuts me out

I promise to put her first,
heal her wounds of love,
the burn marks on her soul
from far too many disappointments

I will water her with light, 
feed her kindness,
kiss her scars,
bathe her with love,

until death do us part 

“As a poet, Lee Broda is a ‘natural,'” Richardson said. “She was already in tune with her own voice, connected to and speaking from the depth of her own experience, and aware of her contemporaries, other influential poets of the moment. Toward her own poetry Lee was strongly self-motivated; she worked hard; she sought out, listened to, and incorporated objective feedback—and the result is a beautiful first book of poems, potentially the beginning of a life-time of serious, evolving poetic accomplishment.”

Broda said she has also been inspired by themes of women’s empowerment, the MeToo movement, nature and travel.

She hopes to release her second book of poetry, “Facing North,” at the beginning of 2020.

“I write every day,” she said, “and life evolves and shifts, which influences my work and voice as an artist constantly. I want to see how this new year unfolds, before I’m ready to release the new book and share it with the world.”

Adrian Harewood has been in the finance field ever since receiving his bachelor’s degree in economics from UCLA. But now he is working toward a dramatic career shift into the nascent but growing commercial drone pilot industry.

Drone pilot Adrian Harewood (left) is doing his externship with Sky Ladder Drones. Owner Steven Katz is far right.

Harewood is among the 15 students in SMC Extension/Community Ed’s first Commercial Drone Pilot Training program, which was launched last fall. The program is taught in three modules: Preparation for the Federal Aviation Administration’s Remote Pilot in Command Exam; hands-on flight training; and a 120-hour externship at a commercial drone company. All 15 students passed the FAA exam and all are currently serving their externships.

(The next session of Commercial Drone Pilot Training begins March 9.)

“I’ve always had an interest in aeronautical engineering and I wanted to take a look at an infant but burgeoning field for a career change,” Harewood said. “I don’t want to be stuck behind a desk, and there’s a fun element to piloting drones.”

Harewood is right to say the opportunities for drone pilot careers are growing. The Federal Aviation Administration projects the commercial, small drone fleet is set to grow from 110,000-plus in 2017 to almost 452,000 in 2022. The number of commercial remote pilots is set to increase from 73,000-plus in 2017 to 301,000 in 2022.

Typical of a job opportunity was a recent listing on indeed.com for a drone pilot with 0 to 3 years experience paying $30 to $40 an hour as a contract worker. Barry Brennen, instructor of the course at SMC, said most drone pilot jobs work on a contract basis.

Brennan, owner of Redondo Beach-based Flying Lion, Inc., said his first class at SMC was diverse, ranging in age from 18 to 64, with one-third women and several couples.

“Students are motivated before they get to us,” Brennan said. “There’s a high level of interest so the class has worked out really well.”

Brennan believes one of the reasons the field is growing so fast is that the applications for drone use are increasing rapidly. Among those who use drones are law enforcement agencies, property developers, energy companies, nature preserves and environmentalists, cinema, agriculture and more. In Los Angeles, he said the demand for drones “has gone up dramatically in the past few months” related to the recent, devastating wildfires, particularly in the insurance industry.

Student Harewood has been doing his externship with Sky Ladder Drones in Torrance. Recently a group of externs went out with company owner Steven Katz on a building inspection job of a downtown Los Angeles building. Harewood was also part of a team that mapped the 100-acre Point Dume Club community of Malibu, which lost homes in the recent Woolsey Fire.

But Harewood, who runs his own financial consulting practice and who says he is not “quitting his day job yet,” hopes to turn his piloting skills into work with a nonprofit. He’s still not sure in which direction, but noted that environmental organizations and governments are using drones for biological research and preservation, anti-poaching activities in Africa, and more.

Brennan, meanwhile, has enjoyed not only running his business but also teaching drone piloting.

Commercial Drone Pilot Training instructor Barry Brennan shows a drone to student Lucie Hronek.

“I just love the teaching aspect of it – particularly the ah-ha moment when the students get it,” he said.

Katz, Sky Ladder owner, says the SMC externs working with him “are well trained, professional and excited to be learn in the field.”

Brennan sees another advantage to commercial drone pilot training.

“Drones are going to be the way to get people excited about aviation,” he said, noting that the industry is facing a shortage of trained commercial pilots. “It’s a great gateway to get into flying.”

Barry Brennan’s next Commercial Drone Pilot Training begins March 9. For more information, email commed@smc.edu.




From Santa Monica to Singapore and from San Francisco to Switzerland, SMC Extension’s online courses are growing increasingly popular.

Offered through a partnership with Ed2Go, SMC Extension’s classes fall into two categories: creative/personal enrichment (called Fundamentals) and career training. In the former category, registrations grew from 186 in 2016 to 602 in 2018, a more than 200 percent increase over two years. Career training registrations went up from four in 2016 to 26 in 2018, a six-fold increase.

“As people get busier and as traffic, not just in Los Angeles but in areas throughout the world, becomes more congested, online courses offer people an efficient and flexible way of upgrading their skills or taking classes for enrichment,” said Michelle King, SMC’s Director of Career & Contract Education.

In the Fundamentals, or enrichment, category, each class can be completed in six weeks and usually contain 12 lessons representing 24 hours of instruction, King noted. The Career Training Program is open enrollment and self-paced, lasting three to six months. A number of the topics or programs are bundled to create a more comprehensive training program.

“Basically,” King said, “you can design your own curriculum.”

Students from all over the world take the online courses through SMC Extension. A hefty percentage is from the Los Angeles area, but include many other portions of the state, from San Diego to San Francisco.

“What gets interesting is we get 10 percent of our online students outside of California in places like New Jersey, Wyoming, Puerto Rico and Texas, and then further out we have students in such areas British Columbia, Canada; New Zealand; Switzerland; and the United Kingdom,” King noted.

The most popular courses represent a range of interests from creative to technical, from writing fiction to writing code. And there are some surprises on the popular class list, including A to Z Grant Writing, Accounting Fundamentals, Speed Spanish, Introduction to SQL (Structured Query Language, which is used in programming and designed for managing data), Medical Terminology Series, Human Anatomy and Physiology, Introduction to Interior Design, Introduction to Photoshop, and Beginning Writer’s Workshop.

Another surprise for its popularity is a class called “Singapore Math Strategies.” However, when looking at the data it became clearer why it was so popular – it seems a private California school had all their instructors sign up for the class.

King said that SMC Extension will continue to beef up its marketing efforts, which have already proven to increase online course registrations.

“We are always looking for the best ways to deliver career training and lifelong learning to our community, both in Santa Monica and the world,” she said. “Our successful partnership with Ed2Go is one of those ways and we will work hard to expand our reach.”

For information and registration for Fundamentals (enrichment) online courses, go to ed2go.com/smce. For Career Training, the link is careertraining.ed2go.com/smce.

If you’re already thinking about what you might get your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day this year, consider the story of Sean Gehrke and his wife Colleen McKinney.

Sean Gehrke and wife Colleen McKinney.

Sean wanted to surprise Colleen for her birthday last September and reached out to SMC Community Education to ask for a summer schedule of classes, whose cover is graced with a photo she had taken and entered into the annual Student Photo Contest. The image did not win the contest but Alice Meyering, SMC Program Coordinator of Community & Contract Education, liked it so much she used it for the summer catalog cover. Sean had it framed and presented to her for her birthday.

“I was so surprised, since it was not something I was expecting at all. He kept the secret very well!” Colleen said. “I thought it was a sweet gesture and very thoughtful. I know how hard it can be to come up with meaningful gifts.”

The framed cover of the SMC Community Ed class scheduled, graced with a photo by Colleen McKinney, was a gift from husband Sean Gehrke.

Sean and Colleen, currently Seattle residents, lived in Los Angeles from 2011 to 2015. She was getting a master’s in public policy at USC and he was working on his doctorate in education, also at USC. He is the director of the Office of Education Assessment at the University of Washington and she works for the nonprofit Center for Good Food Purchasing. They have a 1-year-old daughter Cora.

Sean Gehrke and Colleen McKinney with their daughter Cora.

Colleen said a few years ago she bought a DSLR camera and enrolled in Larry Jones’ photography class at SMC Community Ed to start learning more about the technical aspects of composition.

“I loved practicing what I was learning,” she said, “as I explored the wide variety of landscapes around Los Angeles, from Joshua Tree to the poppies in Lancaster to Malibu and the urban scenes around central L.A. where I lived and worked for four years.”

Beyond being a romantic gift, fitting for Valentine’s Day, what else did it demonstrate?

“Since I started teaching myself photography,” Colleen said, “Sean has been my biggest supporter and through this gift I could tell he was proud that someone else was excited about one of my photographs too.”