Dr. Jennifer Sasser, human sciences chair and gerontology program director, is one of several experts who will lead Oregon Humanities' Talking About Dying Series starting in September 2015.
Susan Hess Logeais is a seeker, a lifelong learner. And she's made Marylhurst University the latest destination on her memorable journey through life.
Susan has been on the cover of Vogue, acted with stars such as Nicolas Cage and Alec Baldwin, and danced with the San Francisco Ballet. But now her focus is on completing her bachelor's degree and expanding her career in socially responsible filmmaking. She dreams of creating an adults' camp to use filmmaking to help people try different strategies to learn and heal, and of using a filmmaking environment to help children in foster care – particularly teenagers – learn how to tell their stories so they can move forward "without repeating the same dramas."
Susan knows from personal experience the drama life can become. Her life has taken many turns, all of them purposeful.
"I've always followed my heart," Susan said. "I've treated every experience as a chance to learn more."
From ballet to modeling to acting
Susan was initially drawn to ballet, and performed professionally before moving on to modeling.
"I've always had an interest in myth, mysticism, experiential spirituality," Susan explained. "I thought modeling would get me there. I did it for 12 years and the money was great, but it was damaging to the soul."
While still modeling, Susan began taking acting classes and pursuing film and television roles. She jokes that all of the "slut/hooker" roles seemed to come her way.
"I love acting, but the stereotypical portrayals of women took their toll on me," Susan recalled.
At 30, feeling unfulfilled and seeking change, she gave up her lucrative career in New York and moved to Grants Pass, Oregon, to study novel-writing. Today, Susan tells stories through filmmaking, which combines the writing, acting and editing that she loves.
"I've found in my life there are so many opportunities to learn more," Susan said. "You have to be willing to go with the flow so your perspective can grow."
College draws her back
Living in Portland since 2002, Susan had thought about going back to college for years, but there was always something getting in the way – kids too young or movies to make. Then she began a documentary project that involves a lot of different subjects. She needed to learn more deeply about those subjects, and she wanted to use that learning toward a degree at a school that would embrace her rich professional history.
"I've been professionally active for 30-plus years, and that had to count for something," Susan said. "I refused to start from scratch."
She enrolled in Marylhurst's Prior Learning Assessment program, which offers the opportunity to translate experience and knowledge into credits through a rigorous research and writing process. The PLA staff helped her identify her areas of expertise and connect them to related courses. To date, she has earned 45 PLA credits in a range of subjects, including public speaking, acting and filmmaking.
"For an adult student coming in with a lot of life experience, PLA provides the perfect opportunity to take advantage of that," Susan noted. "Going through the program helped me recognize all that I've really learned in my life. It also allowed me to save at least a year and a half of study and thousands of dollars in pursuing my degree."
An interdisciplinary approach to filmmaking
Susan has too many interests to fit into a typical degree track, so Marylhurst's interdisciplinary studies program is the perfect fit for her.
"I'm focusing on transformational entertainment, entertainment that serves as myth, as a way for humanity to find its way toward sustainable perspectives," Susan said. "I'm also exploring human consciousness, and all of the science that helps explain it – cosmology, physics, healing modalities and the concept of sexuality as a source of energy."
Both of these concentrations are important to Susan and her current and future role as a filmmaker.
"If I'm going to create something of value, I need to know what's in the way of information getting absorbed, such as cultural barriers," Susan explained. "Interdisciplinary studies allows you to combine a series of perspectives and see things others have missed. We also need to trust others who have come before us – learn from them, embrace their learning in order to move forward."
Susan writes on her website that she has "wisdom and compassion that only years of life can impart," and she notes her Marylhurst experience has added to the continuing transformation in her life and work.
"I have become so much better in my thinking process and in expressing myself," Susan reflected. "I'm just inspired by what I'm learning. It's made me stronger in so many ways."