Student’s Love of Extreme Photography Benefits USAO Students
USAO communication major Mike Friend has lived out many people’s dream – to travel the world. When it came time for his senior communication project, he wanted to help other people live out their dream – a college education.
As his senior project, Friend exhibited his photos from throughout the world and sold many of them in a silent auction to benefit USAO students. He raised more than $700.
Friend donated 60 percent of the silent auction proceeds to the travel fund for the USAO Vocal Jazz Ensemble and 40 percent to the Communication Scholarship. Both funds are held in the USAO Foundation, Inc.
“I am excited to be able to give something back to the school that gave me something that is priceless – my education. This school has been patient with me and has helped me succeed in finishing my degree,” Friend said.
The silent auction was a part of Friend’s senior project A Memoir of World Travels held Oct. 6. All communication majors at USAO must present a senior project before graduating.
“Several local sponsors helped with the show’s expenses – printing, framing, supplies. With the expenses covered, we were able to donate 100 percent of the silent auction proceeds to the Foundation,” Friend said. The show featured 50 photos from Friend’s travels to remote areas around the world. One of the photos from the show was purchased by the USAO Art Gallery and added to the permanent collection. Three of Friend’s photos were featured in the Children’s Zoo Art Exhibit in 2008.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to visit The Bahamas, Belize, Mexico (almost every inch), Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica, Columbia (only by sea), The Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands and other small Caribbean Islands. My interests are primarily the ruins of the Maya, Inca and Aztecs from South America to the tribes of Utah and Mesa Verde.”
To prepare himself for extreme travel, Friend received an EMT certification, white water guide license, swift water rescue certification and plans to obtain a certification from the National Outdoor Leadership School – the premier school for outdoor expedition and extreme environment training.
With all of his extreme travel, Friend says that he has been around ‘life-threatening’ situations. “I have two different ways I could define a life-threatening situation.
I am a certified river guide for rapid classes one through five and have guided expeditions down the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers. The year I was a guide, six people died on the same stretch of river we ran on a daily basis.
“Probably the most threatened I have ever felt was actually in the States while traveling on a cross-country backpacking/camping trip in Utah in 2007. I was sleeping at a secluded rest stop in the middle of nowhere when a guy started beating on my car at like three in the morning and didn't stop for what seemed like an hour (but it was really only a few minutes). There was another incident in Panama with a cab driver that left me feeling uneasy, but my life wasn't threatened -- but that is another story,” Friend said.
With all his travel experience, Friend has some simple advice for travelers. “While most advise not to get off the beaten path in foreign countries, some of my best experiences have come from doing just that. You need to explore -- don't vacation.”
Friend is a 1999 graduate of Chickasha High School. “I was close to graduating from college in 2004 when I moved to Colorado after accepting a position as an executive for the Target Corporation. I was tasked with building a $15 million store and hiring 300 plus employees in a small ski town in the Rockies.
“After my contract was up and the store was operational, I decided to pursue my life-long dreams of becoming a ‘mountain man/river rat.’ That didn’t pay the bills of course, so I came back to USAO to finish my degree in communication.”
When asked about why he chose USAO, Friend said “How dare you ask me why USAO – because this university is the best in the west – best in the universe! According to Mr. Meltzer, I am a college hopper and I should know a good college when I see one. I have four schools on my transcript.” Stuart Meltzer is a special adjunct in English and foreign language and is an emeriti faculty member at the college.
In addition to attending USAO, Friend is the assistant editor of The Express-Star newspaper and owner of Blue Tree Photography. Blue Tree specializes in photojournalism and extreme adventure photography. He holds insurance licenses in Oklahoma and Colorado.
“My ultimate dream would be to be featured in a major journal like National Geographic or have a column in Backpacker magazine.” Friend’s photos from the show are not on display, but he says that they will be at some point. “I have photos published in the Express-Star (of course) and I own a photography company based in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. With school, the company is on the back burner.”
Prior to USAO, he attended Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. Friend, his wife Sara and son Corbin live in Ninnekah. They are expecting their next child in February. Friend said they do not know if the baby is a boy or girl. “I want the excitement of not knowing – just like when you explore a new coast, river, mountain peak or forest.”