Chris Riseley wants to change people’s lives for the better
When Chris Riseley went to college to major in English, he had a simple, straightforward plan: write a New York Times best-seller, win the Nobel Prize for Literature and be set for life.
“We all have to set our bar somewhere, right?” he quipped.
Four books later and Riseley has found a new plan: Improve lives.
“I want to change people’s lives for the better and make them love and appreciate literature and writing,” he said. “That’s my niche.”
Riseley just reached the 10-year milestone working at Linn-Benton Community College, but it took him a few years to find his niche. Before setting out on his mission of changing lives, Riseley worked in television. After receiving his degree, he wrote a screenplay hoping he would earn an Academy of Motion Pictures Art and Sciences Nicholl’s Fellowship. The year he submitted White Room Night, his script came in eighth and only seven fellowships were available. His script generated enough industry buzz to get him an agent, an option with a production company, and a job at E! Entertainment Television where he worked on the “True Hollywood Stories” series.
“Working for E! was great, except for the expectation that the writers would do whatever they needed to do to get a story,” Riseley said. Apparently, this included telling a star that some intimate details would be left out of the show when the writers had no such intentions.
“I didn’t like myself for doing that,” Riseley reflected. And when he was asked to work on a show that might misrepresent Diana, Princess of Wales, he quit.
While Chris knew he could find another job in the industry, neither he, nor his wife Kory wanted to continue living or working in Los Angeles.
“We love people; we love changing lives,” he said.
In the spirit of changing people’s lives, Chris and Kory ultimately joined a teaching pool at Snow College, a community college in Utah, for the next eight years. When the opportunity came to apply to LBCC and return to the west coast, Riseley knew he had to take it.
“LBCC,” he said, “feels like home.”
During our pandemic quarantine, Riseley has become an expert at asynchronous and synchronous distanced-learning modalities. He’s also conducting a test pilot of his brand-new initiative called the Peer Empowerment Project (PEP) to help change students’ lives. PEP will invite students to come together to talk about self-care, self-advocacy, setting boundaries, critical thinking, seeking guidance, positive mental hygiene, candid self-appraisals and other conversations to help them help each other get through these tough times.
Right now, PEP is just for Riseley’s courses, but as he develops materials and trains other facilitators, he hopes to invite other instructors to get involved.
“Sometimes students just need space to discuss their lives authentically,” he noted.
While reflecting on what got him to start PEP, Riseley explained that a few years ago, he had a student who didn’t show up to class for a week. When the student finally returned, Riseley took him aside to ask where he’d been. The young man said he owed someone $5,000 and was afraid he’d be killed if he went anywhere he was known to go until he’d paid it back.
“I just looked across the table and said, ‘Hey, stop dealing drugs,’” Riseley recalled. “The student burst into tears. He said, ‘No one has ever said that to me. Not my parents, not my family … that’s why I’m here, to turn my life around.’”
The student stayed in school after that conversation, and at the end of the term, he proudly showed Riseley his pay stub from working at a local clothing store. The total was small in comparison to what he used to earn, he told Riseley, but he was far prouder of that money, and he credited Riseley and LBCC for helping him stay the course.
Riseley now harnesses his drive to empower students every day and hopes to continue his work of changing lives for the better as his time at LBCC continues.
Explore the English Program at Linn-Benton Community College.