Difference Makers: Tamara Zellars Buck finds joy in helping, teaching next generation of journalists

Dr. Tamara Zellars Buck
Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer

Editor's Note: The B Magazine Difference Makers series is sponsored by Executive Property Management and your local Edward Jones Financial Advisors. Read more stories at www.semissourian.com/DifferenceMakers.

“This is not a labor of love. This is just love, and I get to do it every day and share it with people who love it as much as I do,” Tamara Zellars Buck said.

Zellars Buck has been teaching journalism at Southeast Missouri State University for the past 20 years and serves as chair of the Department of Mass Media.

Zellars Buck said she had wanted to become a journalist since she was 10 years old, so she never saw herself becoming a teacher or working in higher education.

Little did she know, her love of learning, teaching and storytelling would eventually lead to her “dream job,” where she’s able to share that love with budding journalists and help them find their place in the mass communications industry.

“I love this job — that is absolutely the truth, and I’m so grateful for this job because I get to talk about stuff that I love every day. And not a lot of people get to say that,” Zellars Buck said. “Teaching is like a gift I get to open every day because I get to talk about what’s happening in journalism now, and that changes every day. So it’s exciting.”

Zellars Buck said possibly the most exciting part of her job, however, is watching students find that same love of storytelling she found many years ago.

“Watching students find their joy as they find their place in this industry is the most meaningful thing to me,” Zellars Buck said. “Students don’t always know what they want to do when they come to this department, and I love watching them get that moment when they find that dream job and feel that true joy in what they’re doing.”

Zellars Buck also serves as the Multimedia Journalism (MMJ) coordinator for the Department of Mass Media in which she’s responsible for coordinating the curriculum and providing academic advising to students. She’s also the faculty adviser to the Southeast Arrow, the university’s award-winning student-run newspaper and digital platform.

In addition to her work with young journalists, Zellars Buck is also involved in a number of community organizations ranging from her church to serving as chairwoman of the PORCH Initiative, an effort to revitalize the south side of Cape Girardeau.

Zellars Buck said her switch into higher education was “God’s plan,” but she also had several teachers throughout her lifetime who left an impact on her by supporting and believing in her.

She said she tries to do the same for her students as she trains future journalists and storytellers by maintaining a “tough but fair” reputation and offering a “realistic and, at times, rigorous” program.

“I don’t want to sell something that isn’t true to my students, and journalism is hard, and it’s all-consuming and you have to be a chief multitasker in the midst of chaos in order to do it professionally. So, [the program] has a very realistic environment — it competes with your personal relationships, jobs, other classes, because that’s the reality of what journalists live in,” Zellars Buck said. “So I try to be harsh but fair and loving, and my students know I will always listen, and I’m their biggest cheerleader. I try to be all of these different people to my students so they are ready when they go out in the real world.”

Zellars Buck credits some of her teachers for guiding her career path, and she similarly hopes she can help other students along their way.

“I have the perfect job for me, and it doesn’t feel like work, most of the time,” Zellars Buck said. “That’s what I want for my students — they’re here grinding every day, racking up student loans. ... At the end of this journey, they should at least be able to do something every day that makes them feel the same way I do.”