Department of Communications

Portable typewriter leads to 35-year journalism career

Michael Mahi

By Alexie Aguayo

Many who attended a college know the struggle of signing up for a favorite course. Entering the classroom, the students take up all the seats while others start coming in. More students are standing towards the side of the class. Many more are waiting to ask the professor if they can jump off the waitlist and join the class.

For Mr. Michael Mahi, it was no different. Mahi is the Director of Online/Social Media Engagement at California State University, Fullerton. He graduated from CSUF in 1983 with a degree in Communications with an emphasis in news editorials. Signing up for an in-demand course at Cal State Fullerton let to a journalism career for the next 35 years.

Mahi entered Cal State Fullerton in 1978. “Strangest thing, I was a biochemistry major, and I thought I wanted to be a doctor,” Mahi said in an interview. “I tried really hard for the first year, but it just kind of wasn't for me.” Mahi thought to himself of other interests he may want to pursue. He noticed one thing about himself.

“I love to write,” he said.

After speaking with a few of his friends he believed joining the student-run newspaper, the Daily Titan, at Cal State Fullerton would be a great start. But nobody could join the Daily Titan right away; experience was needed. After asking some his friends who were in the Daily Titan about joining, Mahi recalled one of his friends telling him, “well, you gotta take this class and Gary Granville, he is our advisor.” That class was COMM 201. It was an in-demand class that couldn’t fit a vast amount of students.

“And I guess you had to start off in COMM 101 before 201 but hey, might as well shoot for the stars,” Mahi says. He waitlisted for COMM 201 the following semester, and on the first day of class, the classroom had students in every seat. “I signed up for the class, and I went to it and apparently it was full. Something happened, and it was full, so I was sitting in the back,” he remembers. The professor of the class, Gary Granville, went up to Mahi, “this class gets pretty packed up. I can't have too many kids in this class.” Mahi replies, “okay, well what's the problem? Why can’t you do it?” Granville would tell Mahi that the class has a certain amount of typewriters. There were not enough typewriters for every student in the class. It was a lab class that required the use of typewriters.

There wasn’t an available typewriter for Mahi to use in the class. Instead of giving up and leaving the course, Mahi said to Professor Granville, “‘Well, what if I bring my own typewriter?’ He goes, ‘well, I guess you could do that,’” Mahi remembers. The following week, Mahi brought his portable, Smith typewriter to class.

“Long behold, I came back next week. I had my own typewriter; I sat in the back. [Granville] never kicked me out of that class, he let me stay in it, and that was the changing point for me,” Mahi says.

Bringing his own typewriter to class, this was Mahi’s introduction to journalism. Over the next 35 years, Mahi would work at newspapers such as the: Orange County Register, Knight Ridder group, Buena Park News, Anaheim Bulletin, and many more before settling as the Director of Online/Social Media Engagement with Cal State Fullerton.

“It’s sort of a model I carried with me throughout my life is just, if you really want something, do everything you can to make that happen,” Mahi advises, “I tell that story about the typewriter all the time just to let people know, don't let anybody ever discourage you from the thing that you really really want to do or want to find out if you're any good at it.”

Mahi has delivered his advice to all his interns and student assistants. “Mahi has this mantra in his office; it is a whiteboard. On it, the board says, ‘we have permission to fail.’ Because without failing, you never grow,” Mary Santos says. Santos is a 4th-year COMM major with an emphasis in public relations. She is serving as one of Mahi’s social media interns this semester for COMM credit. “Overall, it is refreshing to be working under someone who will guide you, when needed,” she continued.

“He is like that crazy uncle that everyone has, but he is such a good boss. Mahi really cares about us; he knows that we are students first,” Hailey Siedentopp say. Siedentopp is a student assistant under Michael Mahi and has been working for him for two semesters.

Mahi has moved from journalism to social media at Cal State Fullerton. He still credits all his work back to his typewriter story.

“If [Gary Granville] hadn't let me [join the class], I would have never known that I was going to have a 35-year career in journalism. That I was going to win several awards and that I was going to mentor and teach young people how to write a great story. It all started with that typewriter story.”