Written by Matt Cunningham
Photo by Ezra Ekman
From being a weatherman on Denver7 News to being a public speaking instructor at FRCC, Richard Ortner has had numerous jobs and life experiences that he enjoys bringing to each class that he teaches. Ortner is a Colorado native and has been teaching public speaking for about 10 years. He has a master’s degree in both journalism and broadcast meteorology. Ortner also recently won the Teaching Excellence Award at FRCC.
“At other colleges, I’ve taught weather reporting, broadcasting, video editing, advanced television production, broadcast writing, social media for news, electronic media, and much more,” said Ortner.
This wealth of experience is what Ortner says helps him bring “Real-life experience to [his] classes to make them relevant for students.”
He used his broadcasting degree to get a job at Denver7 News as a television editor. This was his first job at a broadcasting outlet. His career there lasted for 10 years before he moved on to FOX31 Denver news for two years.
“My favorite personal interview was interviewing [the actor] John Leguizamo,” said Ortner. “It was a fall-down funny interview, and it was so on the edge, that I thought I might be fired when it aired.”
Some notable stories that Ortner has covered include the 2008 Democratic Convention, several weather disasters, and interviews with various scientists. These were all during his job as a multimedia journalist. Ortner moved on from that and ended up becoming a broadcast meteorologist.
“I did this because I thought I had found my passion in life.” said Ortner
“The most rewarding part of that job was bringing science to people,” said Ortner. “I think we have a science problem in this country, and bringing science to them felt extremely important.”
Ortner’s favorite story that he covered while being a broadcast meteorologist involved two women in an avalanche.
“There were two young ladies that got caught in an avalanche,” said Ortner. “Just based on watching a show on Discovery Channel, they built a fort to weather the storm with just ChapStick and snow to survive on.”
Ortner’s most memorable from being a meteorologist at the news station was his experience with the Overview Effect, a cognitive shift that astronauts experience when looking back at the Earth in outer space. When Ortner viewed the satellite images, he said it was “fascinating to see how small we are compared to the world.”
Ortner’s wealth of experience in the workforce and in life has created philosophies on life that he believed would help students in his public speaking class.
“I try to bring real-life experience, as well as academics, to my class,” said Ortner. “I think we can teach students how to bring these skills to life. If you can bring public speaking skills to everyday life, you will be much better off.”
The fear of public speaking tends to hold quite a bit of people back, but mastering those skills can be essential, according to Ortner. He has spoken in front of large crowds of up to a couple thousand people.
“The first time you walk into a room with a large crowd to speak, it’s an O.M.G. moment,” said Ortner.
His hilosophies on ‘the big picture’ have formed from his previous experiences as well.
“At any given moment, anyone you meet is probably going through some [emotional] stuff, whether it’s minor or major,” said Ortner. “We need to keep in mind that we are in this together.”
“When I was 23, my mom died. It hit me hard, and the outside world doesn’t necessarily see that. When I was 29, my daughter died. I put on a happy face for people, but I was truly hurting deep down. We have to remember to stay true to yourself, and chill out, and treat each other with respect.”
Ortner discussed the lessons he learned in college and why he feels it is so important. While Ortner claimed he has lost a lot of what he learned in college, he had one project stick with him. The project involved a heavy emphasis on using teamwork.
“My group was the one that was supposed to cooperate,” said Ortner. “We were the most diverse group, whereas other groups were homogeneous. Our group out-performed every other group, because we had the best sense of cooperation. Through our diversity we bring out our biggest strengths.”
Ortner has had a variety of jobs and has a wealth of advice to give to aspiring students in all fields. He attempts to make his classes as relevant as possible, as he frequently said; “You have to practice what you preach.”
Ortner’s path to becoming an instructor at a community college may be unconventional, but he has used it for benefit in both his professional and personal life; he hopes to continue to use his variety of career experience in the classroom to benefit his students.