College mourns death of Jim Mitchem

By Ariana Portalatin, Editor-In-Chief

Jim Mitchem, former associate professor in the radio program, passed away Dec. 18.

According to a Jan. 14 email from School of Media Arts Dean Eric Freedman, Mitchem graduated from the college in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast communications. Mitchem went on to work in the radio industry before coming back to Columbia in 1992 as a professor.

Before leaving the college in 2018 to pursue a master’s degree in education at Augsburg University, Mitchem helped develop the college’s radio program, was one of the first supervisors of the WCRX radio station and became the faculty advisor of the Columbia College Chicago DJ Club.

Becky Craig, a 2008 radio alumna, had Mitchem as a professor for two courses and also spent time working with him as a teaching assistant. She said Mitchem was a professor who always encouraged students to excel.

“He was by far one of the best educators I’ve ever had,” Craig said. “I’ve done an absurd amount of schooling, and I can still say that. He was always so welcoming, so helpful. He knew his stuff, and he wanted you to do your best job.”

CaSera Heining, a 2017 radio alumna, said Mitchem continued to help her with booking gigs and connecting her with others in the industry after she graduated.

“His criticism was very helpful. It wasn’t harsh, but he would let you know, ‘This is not it, and I know you can do better,’” Heining said. “He would help you rebuild faith in yourself [if] you ever lost it because he always [had] faith in his students’ capabilities.”

Heining said one thing people should know about Mitchem was that his sarcasm was used to connect with people he cared about, including his students.

Associate Professor in the Communication Department David Berner said Mitchem’s ability to understand students was partially a result of him being an alumnus himself. In addition to his connection with students, Berner said Mitchem always remembered faculty at Columbia even after moving to Minnesota.

“Jim never missed giving gifts at Christmas time to his colleagues,”Berner said. It was terribly coincidental that just a few days before I had heard of him passing, his gift was sitting on my desk. I was very touched by that—the fact that he had already left Columbia, but he still remembered all his colleagues back here and was gracious enough to send me little holiday gift.”

Matt Cunningham, an assistant professor of instruction in the Communication Department and current supervisor of WCRX, said the radio station is heavily influenced by Mitchem’s love for house music.

Cunningham said he got to know more about Mitchem after becoming the radio station’s supervisor in 2010, including his advocacy for students.

“He wasn’t always the easiest person to work with, but once you realized you’re both in it for the student—once he realized you have the same end goal—he was a person who would be a champion of you, as well,” Cunningham said. “He came in because he went to school here. He worked in the industry for years, and then he came and wanted to teach the next generation of radio students. He did that for almost 30 years.”

Mitchem is survived by two brothers and two sisters.