Andris Straumanis - The impact of a professor, a mentor, and a friend
October 18, 2023
Impact is something difficult to measure and impossible to feel until an object is removed. It’s a force of nature that possesses a life of its own as situations evolve and time progresses. For students and faculty, both past and present, that force of nature was synonymous with the name of Andris Straumanis, who was an associate professor and director of the journalism program in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at UW-River Falls.
To his family, his friends, his students, and his coworkers, Andris was a momentous figure. He unexpectedly died on Sep. 11, 2023. He was 66 years old.
Born on March 8, 1957, in Long Island, New York, Andris Straumanis was a first-generation Latvian American, and much of his professional research reflected that crucial aspect of his life. At the time of his passing, he was working on a digital project titled “Latvian Baptists in America, 1890-1924.”
Andris is survived by his daughter Kaija Straumanis and her husband Chad Post, along with his grandson Aleksandrs.
Since 2005, Professor Straumanis was the cornerstone of the Journalism department, where he served as an advisor and professor for students, and the faculty advisor for the Student Voice. The gravity he emanated as all of those things cannot be understated.
“In my time at River Falls, he served as my professor, advisor, and mentor. He excelled in all three fields,” said former student, Sam Fristed, who is currently working as a journalist for WQOW, a TV station in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. “It was an honor to know Andris. He meant so much to the department, the field of journalism, and to me. He will be missed dearly.”
These sentiments resonated widely as the news of Andris’s death spread, touching everyone he had influenced.
“I learned leadership skills and what it means to be a journalist because of him,” former student and past editor of the Student Voice, Ashley Hanely, said. “He showed us the power of the pen, and how we can share and tell meaningful stories to make a difference in this world.”
Andris was the epitome of a silent professional. Humble and calculated, he would possess an almost wizard-like quality as he walked down the hallway to teach one of his courses.
“His dedication to his students was truly remarkable,” Souzeina Mushtaq, an Assistant Professor in the journalism program, said. “I wouldn’t exaggerate if I said his students were his priority. Andris’ passion for teaching and mentoring was evident in everything he did, from his advising sessions to his classroom lectures."
The rapport he built with his students inside and outside of the classroom was that of paternal care. He kindled the journalistic flame within a vast number of students during their time with him.
“Andris was first my teacher, but over time he also became a trusted friend. I think of him as someone I could laugh with, and always get advice from,” said recent graduate Brooke Shepherd.
Andris’s teachings had a profound impact on the students. Recent graduate Anna Gunderson, who served as the former General Manager of the Student Voice, said, “His teachings and his leadership have had a profound impact on shaping who I am today and how I see the world around me.”
Andris was also known for his quick-witted humor. An unexpected one-liner or dry comment from him would cause those around him to break a smile.
“Over the past 20 or so years, I very much enjoyed my time with Andris. His ‘Bob Newhart meets Fraser Crain’ sense of humor always put a smile on my face,” said David Bonko, an Associate Professor in the Marketing Communications program.
“Andris was a wonderful colleague,” said Professor Emerita Patricia Berg. “He was unflappable and was completely devoted to his students. I will miss the quiet, wry sense of humor that reflected his towering intellect.”
This towering intellect was matched by his immense passion for journalism and his students alike. Professor Straumanis would spend countless hours outside of his sanctioned office hours with his students. He would write recommendation letters, advise students on current story drafts, or search the web for possible story leads to give to them.
“My senior year of college I worked on an independent study with him,” said Izzy Forliti, another former Student Voice Editor. “I am eternally grateful for the one hour a week I got to spend in his office, equally learning new things and laughing and arguing about the different ways to pronounce the word 'bagel.'”
“I remember at the end of every semester Andris would always bring in cookies,” current student Michelle Stangler said. “He would always bring in a few oatmeal raisins, knowing not many of us would go for them so he could have a few. It was always a happy memory about enjoying the small things in life.”
“Andris was and will continue to be an inspiration to me for years to come. He was an amazing professor, advisor, mentor, and friend,” said current Assistant Editor of the Student Voice, Lexi Janzer. “I remember getting so excited to run my story ideas by him just to hear his feedback, and the dread that Friday morning layout critics would bring. He was a huge part of my support system being so far away from home and the reason I am where I am today. I am forever grateful for the short three years I had to learn from him.”
Andris paid meticulous attention to detail in his students’ work, challenging them to perfect their craft. Former student Natalie Torbert recalled, “Andris was tough but fair. He would push me and support me in everything that I did.”
“Andris was a brilliant man, and he never took shortcuts when it came to his students,” Charlie Swanson, a current journalism student and past Student Voice Assistant Editor stated. “What I originally deemed as a demand for perfection was simply a challenge from Andris to do things the right way.”
“Andris was that remarkable kind of teacher who inspired greatness in students,” 2012 graduate and former Student Voice member Mike Brun said. “It was a crushing feeling to fall short of his expectations, but a tremendous source of pride to earn his praise. He will forever be the voice in my head that questions whether I am using a word or phrase correctly.”
Prior to teaching and advising at UW-River Falls, Professor Straumanis received his bachelor’s in journalism from Southern Illinois University, a master’s degree in American studies from the University of Minnesota, and a graduate certificate in digital public humanities through George Mason University.
His professional work included a decade of writing, reporting, and editing in Illinois and Minnesota. He previously taught at UW-Eau Claire along with teaching courses at two universities in Latvia, splitting his time between River Falls and the Baltic State’s colleges.
There is a saying posted on the corkboard in the Student Voice office that states, “What would Andris do?” It is a saying that reaches beyond the scope of journalism and the Student Voice— one that drifts off the page and into everyday life.
“Andris was, in many ways, the heart and soul of the Student Voice,” the current Editor of the Student Voice, Jack Schindler Van Hoof said. “It won’t be the same without him, but we will do our best to honor his memory with the journalism that we do at the Voice. Andris is the reason why I and so many others love journalism.”
All of Andris’s care, wit, expertise, patience, and intellect garnered the respect and appreciation of anyone who had the pleasure to meet and interact with him. He was truly a steward of his profession, a mentor to a generation of journalists at River Falls, and a remarkable man. He will be missed dearly for years and years to come.
A further celebration of life will be held in the Communication and Media Studies main office in North Hall 310 on Nov. 30, from 1 - 3 p.m.