UW-River Falls Adjunct Journalism Professor Meseret Chekol Reta, 55, died of liver cancer on Saturday, Nov. 17.
Reta had a story unique to other UWRF professors in the fact that he was native to Ethiopia, an African country located on Sudan’s southeast border. While he lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during the 1980s, he worked in radio news as a producer and host.
When he came to the United States in the 1990s he studied at the University of Minnesota and graduated with two masters, one in political science and one in mass communication. Later in 1998, he completed his doctorate.
After teaching at colleges in Ohio and Michigan, Reta began teaching for the UWRF Journalism Department in the spring of 2007. A couple of years later in 2009 he became the first journalism professor with whom I had a class.
Reta was a small man with a catchy smile that was always shining. He provided me with constructive feedback on papers that I had never received before from any teachers or professors. He was extremely personable and made every effort possible to connect with students.
Jonathan Reid was a student of his last spring and noticed the same effort by Reta to connect with each student.
“He really wanted to know the individuals, which sometimes that’s hard to do in a freshman class because they don’t open up a lot, but he made as much of an effort as he could to know the names,” said Reid.
Reta was also legally blind. When I first met Reta I was confused as to how he would still be able to be an effective professor. That first response to him was completely wrong.
He made the effort to know my name and keep me accountable to participating in class, which is more than I could have said about some of the other professors I had that first semester of classes.
He shared parts of his life story in his lectures like about how he had worked in Ethiopian radio news and later on had moved to the United States.
For a Wisconsin native who had never left the country, this seemed incredible to me. Later, I learned that he had completed his education after moving to the United States as well.
Reid shared the same aw of Reta’s accomplishments and he got to know him as well.
“So this guy came from Ethiopia from this tough location, overcoming all these struggles, and now he’s got his doctorate, and writing books and all this stuff. I went in there thinking I had to help him along and it was like no you don’t – he’s got this under control. It was good for me to be humbled in that way,” said Reid.
Reta was a professor who had a lot of memorable qualities about him, but one of the most memorable for Reid was that, “some times teachers can be really interested in the topics and in the class, but he wanted us to know him and he wanted to know us.”
His wife and daughter held a memorial for him on Saturday, Nov. 24.