CET Spotlight: Mike Harper 20 Years at UVU

CET Spotlight: Mike Harper 20 Years at UVU

Digital Media professor Mike Harper reached his 20-year anniversary as a faculty member at Utah Valley University, and UVU could not be luckier to call him their own. Professor Harper has been a key part of the innovative Digital Media department since day one. He still remembers bringing in chairs and tables for the very first Media Communications Technology class back when UVU had just become UVSC. Tasked with starting the U-Expedition Program and flexible learning spaces on campus like the digital media sandbox and the UX design lab, he has inspired and continued to stretch the boundaries for UVU’s Digital Media Programs. He sees teaching as more of an apprenticeship, where he can mentor and give students the proper flexibility to experiment, explore, and find their calling in life. He loves teaching students that digital media can be applied everywhere and enjoys continually pushing to give them extraordinary opportunities to travel the world, apply their skills, and rub shoulders with industry professionals as he was given the opportunity to do during his studies. 


Mike Harper grew up in Riverside California and his teenage years were spent in Reno, Nevada. His grandparents signed him up for a National Geographic Magazine subscription at the age of five, which is why he describes himself as a ‘National Geographic hound’ and developed a photographic memory of mapping, locations, and visual landscapes. After serving a mission speaking Spanish in Venezuela after high school, he returned to Nevada where he met and married his wife. They attended Utah State University together, where Mike enrolled in business classes inspired by his time as manager of a ski store in Reno. But, after seeing a National Geographic article two weeks after the start of the semester about the need for geography education teachers, he knew that was what he wanted to do. 


In this degree, one of his first professors, Cliff B. Craig, became one of his greatest inspirations and the foundation for his successful and adventurous career path. Cliff was then starting the Utah Geographic Alliance associated with National Geographic at the time to help teachers and students learn new technologies. Mike took it upon himself to locate over $2000 worth of software to put into this lab, which compelled the professor to hire him. This is where Mike’s great love for technology came from, and they went on to build one of the best technology lending labs in the state and possibly the nation. Cliff also allowed Mike to craft his own graduate program, which enabled him to specialize in all these different types of new technologies (CDs, web, and even avatars).  


After Harper’s graduation came an ensemble of jobs such as: teaching Geography Education at USU in Latin American Studies, QuePasa.com (before it turned into the dating site he might add), freelancing and contract work, consulting, film, video, and then Tempe Union High School helping technology innovation with Apple computers. With all this experience under his belt though, he knew he wanted a full-time job that would give him the flexibility and opportunity to grow. At that time, Tom McFarland of Utah Valley State College was hiring professors for their new degree. After turning down many various and exciting job opportunities to his wife’s surprise, he felt that UVU was the place for him. 


Turns out, he was right! Mike says he stayed at UVU all these years because he gets to do what he loves: innovating and working with technology, making a positive difference in people’s lives, and giving them opportunities which he was also given as a student. When asked if he has a favorite memory from being at UVU he says, “I don’t!” If he must choose though, Mike would pick the U Expedition Program as his favorite experience, (and one he gets to continue doing each year) because he gets to see students shine outside of the classroom setting, gain confidence, and realize that they are good at what they do. His tenure at UVU has also taught him some important lessons as well, the biggest being that “There is a place for being a maverick.” While it might cause him to get into more trouble (which he admits does happen often), he adds, "always be aware of other people, and you have to do it the right way.” 


Overall, Mike is excited about the direction in which UVU’s Digital Media is going and is proud to announce the arrival of a new bachelor's degree for mixed reality starting this fall semester. This is perfect for Mike because he says if Hollywood were to make a movie about his life the perfect cast member would be a mix between Keanu Reeves and Harrison Ford, since he’ll now be working with the Matrix and has always been the Indiana Jones of his department.