By KRISTEN HART
Dr. Michael Finch, a Lee University professor who teaches journalism and social media classes, stays busy balancing work, family and something most people would never want to face. Originally …
Dr. Michael Finch, a Lee University professor who teaches journalism and social media classes, stays busy balancing work, family and something most people would never want to face.
Originally from upstate New York, Finch grew up a pastor’s son and spent his time riding bikes with his friends and often visiting a local swamp on the weekends.
Finch attended Elim Bible Institute, a small Bible college located in upstate New York. While there, he thought he was being called to be a missionary and was focused on that goal. In his senior year, he felt a calling to become a writer and later found journalism.
“I’m a lifelong learner,” Finch said. “I love meeting new people and seeing new things. As a journalist, you constantly get to meet new people and learn new things. I loved that about the job.”
Finch went into a degree program in journalism at Regent University to earn his master’s. He later ended up at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit school for journalism located in St. Petersburg , Fla., and received many opportunities.
“After the Poynter Institute, I was pretty well set to go into a middle market newspaper,” Finch said. “I interviewed all over, even at the New York Times. I was privileged to be a part of it.”
While driving home from Poynter, Finch received a call from his father telling him that the youth program at their church was struggling after a youth pastor came in and “decimated the ministry,” Finch said.
Finch felt that he was meant to return to his hometown and help the ministry rebuild. He became the youth pastor there and stayed for just over four years. From the time he was there, the ministry grew from three kids to 75 kids visiting weekly.
Originally, Finch wanted to be a writer. In high school he even thought of being an English professor. He looked into his options for writing.
“I initially enrolled and was accepted into a program to be an English teacher, but it just didn’t feel right.”
He then found journalism, and with it his passion. He also learned quite a bit about how journalists must provide unbiased coverage — even if those being covered come from different backgrounds.
While at Poynter, the son of a Christian pastor was given an assignment to cover an LGBT pride parade. Finch was able to handle the situation professionally, and said he walked out learning from his experience.
“I’ve always been the kind of person that thinks every person is a human being,” Finch said. “I wanted to hear their stories and learn from them in any way that I could. I really felt like I grew a lot.”
After Finch’s time as a youth minister, he moved on to pursue a Ph.D. in communications, fulfilling “that ninth-grade desire to be an English teacher.” He was accepted into the program at Regent University.
The college eventually began looking for a teacher for a journalism class and gave Finch this first opportunity to teach a university class. In that class, he and his students created a magazine. These students later went on to create the university’s newspaper.
“It was really funny because that was the very first class that I taught, and it was really impactful at the university, and many of those students went on to become journalists,” Finch said.
Today, Finch is a Lee University journalism professor who also teaches classes about social media and helps to run Lee’s student newspaper, the Clarion.
Since teaching his first class, he said he's learned much from being a professor, including how to balance his time. He's teaching four different classes this semester.
“People think professors don’t have to work much,” Finch said. “Maybe others don’t have to work much, but for me, I work most Saturdays.”
In addition to teaching, Finch leads school trips across the world to places such as Ukraine and Australia. He also takes on other journalism projects.
Though his career is important to him, he is quick to stress there is another important priority in his life — his family.
He actually met his wife of 11 years, Paula, at his father’s church while he was in middle school.
“She was two years younger than I was. She was my younger brother’s age, and so we really weren’t in the same circles,” Finch said. “We talked about it after we were dating, and back when we were kids we did not like each other.”
As the two got older, they attended separate colleges, but later came back to their church — he as a youth pastor and she as a worship leader.
Later, the two went on a cruise with a group of friends. They were not dating at the time, but later became “inseparable” during the cruise.
They married on Jan. 7, 2006, and now have a son, Levi, who recently celebrated his fourth birthday. Paula now teaches piano here in Cleveland and has named her business Paula’s Piano.
Finch is a busy man who balances not only his work and family lives, but a chronic disease.
He lives with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, a disease which affects one’s central nervous system and can present a variety of challenges.
He was diagnosed with it in 1998, at the age of 19. For the first nine years or so, the disease was “very active.”
“I would have roughly two major relapses per year,” Finch said. “I went blind for a little while, lost the feeling and coordination in each leg at different times, had one hand with so much damage at one point that it curled up, and by God’s grace I have had a return to most functioning.”
He described the process of finding the right treatment as a "risky" one. One “experimental” medication he tried gave him “a 1 in 100 chance of a deadly brain infection,” according to his doctor. Later on, a “biotherapy” medication, which he described as being similar to chemotherapy, left him temporarily unable to walk without a cane.
“This past summer I went for my check-up, and the MRI showed that I have not had any new activity, so this treatment is working,” Finch said. “I may stay in remission forever after these treatments, or may have new MS activity really, at any time. ... I am very grateful for the new medication, and hope that it really is a cure!”
Though MS brings with it a great deal of uncertainty, Finch is taking advantage of this period of better health by making the most of his time with his family and the students he teaches.
His hobbies include playing with his son and the family dog, Bella, and taking part in indoor rock climbing. He is also a men’s group leader at Living Word Church.
“I see the world as an opportunity, so it’s always hard to turn down opportunities,” Finch said.
He said he plans to keep taking advantage of the opportunities that come and believes that he and his family will stay in Cleveland long term. Still, life has taught him that it is truly unpredictable.
“I really enjoy Cleveland and the community. ... The future — who knows what’s going to happen? The only constant in life is change.”
“I’m a lifelong learner. I love meeting new people and seeing new things. As a journalist, you constantly get to meet new people and learn new things. I loved that about the job.” — Dr. Michael Finch
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