“I was incredibly fortunate to be able to ‘follow my bliss.’”
That is the sentiment Dr. L-Jay Fine, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Recreation Administration, expressed when asked about his nearly three decade-long career teaching at Fresno State.
Fine’s journey as a professor at Fresno State has taken him to new heights and even to the great outdoors. He began teaching at the University in the fall of 1990 and has been in the Valley ever since. As he gears up for retirement next month, Fine says he looks forward to the next chapter in his life.
The rich community spirit and welcoming environment of Fresno State has made his time at the University all the more fulfilling. Fine, whose teaching style incorporates elements of collaboration and service-learning with adventure recreation, took many of his students beyond the regular four walls of a classroom – and into the outdoors, among the best of what nature has to offer.
“I find many of my most memorable times teaching emanating from the adventures I had with students,” Fine said. “I led hundreds of field trips over the course of my career, including sleeping in the snow caves we built, kayaking and snorkeling in the Channel Islands, rock climbing, mountain biking, caving and so many other adventures. These experiences connected me at a deeper level with my students – something the classroom never could.”
In 1995, Fine pioneered the campus Experientially Designed Group Effort (E.D.G.E.) program. The program, which uses a rope course to foster teamwork, leadership, self-esteem, and personal awareness, has helped countless Fresno State organizations and community members become more self-aware through the process of direct feedback and positive reinforcement.
“I’m certainly proud of what the E.D.G.E. program has done for the campus and community at large,” Fine said. “Knowing that I’ve indirectly had an impact on tens of thousands of participants gaining personal insight into their team and leadership skills is very gratifying. When I started at Fresno State, there was some resistance to experiential education with a sentiment that this was not academic or serious. Through the E.D.G.E. program, there has been an evolution of acceptance and the support I have received from key players on campus has been greatly appreciated.”
The E.D.G.E. program continues today through the Department of Recreation Administration and sees an estimated 5,000 individuals on an annual basis.
Fine’s dedication to academia has not gone unnoticed. In 2005, he received the Provost Award in Teaching Excellence – a recognition reserved for faculty who are committed to outstanding teaching, research and service. As a recipient of the Provost’s Award, Fine was honored as a faculty member who set new standards of excellence that represented the heart of the University.
Fine said receiving the Provost’s Award was a special moment in his career that gave him expanded opportunities to delve into faculty development and coaching fellow professors in their teaching journey.
Another project special to Fine is the College of Health and Human Services’ Honors Program in Collaborative Leadership, which he taught since its inception. In fact, Fine was one of the key faculty involved in the development and implementation of the program, which began in the fall of 2014.
The Honors Program strives to provide an enhanced educational experience for high-performing students, through advanced study and interdisciplinary engagement with their peers. The two-semester program allows students to develop leadership skills in collaborative team environment.
“Having the opportunity to work with faculty across campus was probably the best thing I did for my professional growth,” said Fine. “The college Honors Program became an offshoot of this and was spearheaded by Dean Hironaka-Juteau. This was a comfortable fit after so many years in team-building and leadership development.”
Come late May, when Fine completes his last semester, he plans to continue his passion project – playing with his band, Slide Creek, as the lead singer and guitarist. He performs alongside his wife, Kelly, who plays the cajon., Vern Johnson, who plays electric guitar and vocals, and Bob Heitman on bass guitar.
Slide Creek is a regular in the local music scene, having played many familiar venues including Ducey’s in Bass Lake, Starving Artist Bistro in Fresno, Hideout Saloon in Mariposa and in Oakhurst at Queen’s Inn, Yosemite Gateway Restaurant and Wine Tails. They have also played on campus in the University Student Union, as part of its Coffeehouse Series.
Fine and his guitar have also been seen (and heard) at a variety of events put on by the Department of Recreation Administration, including their senior celebration last year.
The parallels between teaching and singing have been a blast for Fine.
“I never dreamed I would be a lead singer in a band,” Fine said. “With performing, I have this sense of purpose on two levels. Music allows for a creative outlet. If we had a regular gig in a bar or restaurant, I think that would be completely fulfilling. If you ever see me playing, even if not a soul is listening, I’m where I want to be.”
With retirement on the horizon, Fine strives to enjoy his time of rest with purpose and determination. He plans to travel with his wife, Kelly, visit his daughter, Jessica, who is finishing up college at Chico State, and also continue to raise funds through his band’s ‘Play It Forward’ initiative.
The band donates to a variety of organizations including high school drama departments, cross-country and basketball teams, as well as to veteran’s groups. They also support organizations that purchase musical instruments for kids who can’t afford them, saying the chance to give back to worthy causes gives them great satisfaction.
“I’ve had a great career and know that retirement is simply a reset,” Fine said. “Studying leisure has given me the necessary insight to know that the most important criteria for a successful retirement is to have a sense of purpose and good relationships.”
Fine said that although his teaching adventure is coming to a close, he has sage advice for fellow and new, incoming faculty.
“Love what you do. I can honestly say that I never showed up to work wishing the day would end. Balance your passion for your subject matter with your appreciation for your students. I found out early on that when you truly care about your students, the job is so much more gratifying.”
Catch L-Jay Fine and his band, Slide Creek, this Thursday, April 19 playing at the University Student Union at Fresno State. You can also keep up with their future gigs by following them on Facebook.
-Written by CHHS communication student assistant, Rebeca Flores