By Dan Watson
Signal Staff Writer
For some, the study of geography might seem as dry as a Santa Clarita Valley summer.
But “Backyard Geographer” Professor Jeremy Patrich tries to liven things up for his students by incorporating his passions for geography, geology and Disney artifacts into YouTube videos that he hopes will help build interest and engagement in education.
Patrich, 36, grew up in the Santa Clarita Valley, attending Live Oak Elementary, Castaic Middle School and Valencia High.
He got the bug for collecting, during weekly family trips to the Saugus Swap Meet. And he really discovered his love for geography and geology on a field trip to the Eastern Sierra as a College of the Canyons student in 2003.
Now as a professor, Jeremy Patrich joined College of the Canyons in 2018, after teaching geology and geography in the Los Angeles area since 2012.
His three-day class field trips of up to 120 students to historical and geographically significant areas are legendary among his students, but COVID-19 put a stop to the in-person teaching, and forced Patrich to innovate his craft.
Fostering his interest online
“Geology and geography allow us to understand the world we live (in), especially as it pertains to cultures, natural resources and our climate … learn to look at the landscape (around you) through a different lens,” Patrich explained, while also discussing how he navigated his own way through the relatively uncharted landscape of mass online teaching.
“In the classroom, I think my personality was enough to keep things interesting,” Patrich said. Since classes went online, however, he had the option of teaching from stale educational videos created abroad, or creating his own videos, injecting his personality and passion into the educational lectures.
Patrich chose the latter route, producing his own video content his students really seem to enjoy in the new virtual classroom landscape.
Patrich has produced well over 100 videos since the COVID-19 pandemic closed in-person classes at College of the Canyons in March 2020
While the competition for views is a burgeoning industry, Patrich has created a growing online following for his videos, some students looking forward to the updates, and now other schools requesting to use his videos and lectures as teaching aids.
He’s also used it as a way to a sense of engagement with his online audience.
“I personally enjoy how engaging both the lectures and online videos are…” student Dean Leever, 19, of Castaic, commented on a post. “The videos make me feel less alone (during COVID-19) almost like I’m at the campus.”
Combining ‘junk’ and storytelling
In order to add to the entertainment value of his educational videos, Patrich decided to incorporate another one of his passions into his informational vlog, “Backyard Geographer — Out of the Collection.”
“I have lots of junk and each object has a story,” Patrich said.
However, the “junk” as he casually labels it, is actually a vast, eclectic collection of valuable pop culture collectibles, centering around one-of-a-kind Disney artifacts.
That’s because in addition to teaching at College of the Canyons, Patrich has been employed as a “cast member” at Disney stores for the past 15 years.
“When the first Disney Store opened in the Glendale Galleria in 1987, I was hooked,” Patrich said. “I knew then I wanted to be part of the Disney magic.”
Patrich recalled seeing display items at the Disney stores that were going into the trash and feeling a need to save them.
“Look at these,” he said, displaying two 16-inch “Lilo & Stitch” figurines wearing flower leis and grass skirts from the 2003 Disney animated feature. “And these,” he continued, holding up two other well-known characters. “This is Flower and Thumper from ‘Bambi.’”
“You can see these were crudely cut from a piece of scrap plywood, and then the fronts were hand-painted to promote the latest Disney movie release and then go into the trash,” Patrich said, describing the promotional items — but also the one person’s trash is another person’s trash philosophy that any real collector has to understand.
“I see these as one-of-kind, hand-painted works of art … just like hand-painted movie cells,” he said.
“I can’t say enough about Professor Patrich’s class,” said Kevin Johnson, 34, of Valencia. “His entertaining teaching style paired with the ability to revisit lectures has been critical to my success in his class — I’m looking forward to taking classes from him in the future.”
Professor Jeremy Patrich’s three-bedroom home in Santa Clarita is dripping with Disney collectibles, including 3-foot, fiberglass hand-painted statues of Minnie Mouse, Pluto and Goofy — all of which, Patrich notes, were destined to be smashed and trashed.
On one crowded shelf in a glass case are the original 12-inch wooden soldiers, photographed in-stop motion animation, for the “March of the Toy Soldiers” appearing in the 1961 Disney film “Babes in Toyland” — figures that also made a guest appearance in a past episode of “Backyard Geographer.”
Each three 5-minute episode of “Backyard Geographer — Out of the Collection” begins as Patrich enters his living room.
“Hey there, guys, it’s your favorite backyard geographer,”Patrich greets, donning a colorful, “episodically themed” T-shirt. “I was just looking in my garage and found something you might like.”
Then, out of a weathered, wooden, apple box, Patrich pulls out the featured artifact for the lesson plan, like the hand-painted Disney characters from his collection, and shares stories behind the items.
An episode that recently aired, focused on the history of the “Mickey Mouse Club TV Show,” from 1955–96.
Featured from Patrich’s collection was an original “Talent Roundup,” Mouseketeer cowboy hat worn by one the girls of the original cast in 1955 (possibly Annette Funicello).
Another recent episode of “Backyard Geographer” focused on the 43-year progression of the Disney Store, “cast member” uniforms housed in Patrich’s collection, a segment that received a few hundred views from around the world.
Technical production of “Backyard Geographer” is handled by recent California State University, Northridge graduate Nikki VanBroekhuizen.
VanBroekhuizen, 36, who studied cinema arts and TV, faced an extremely tough job market after graduation, thanks to a global pandemic, when she and Patrich teamed up in March 2020. “I’m interested in history, I’ll never have a collection like Jeremy’s and I love all the fun facts behind the objects,” she said, sharing what drew her to the collaboration.
“It all just came together,” she said.
Some of the local artifacts highlighted on “Backyard Geographer” from Patrich’s collection include: a commemorative plate and other items from the opening day of Magic Mountain in Valencia in 1971; an autographed photo of Newhall resident, silent film star William S. Hart; and a promotional paper mask displaying the face of an angry crow, which, if worn to a selected theater, afforded free admission to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 movie, “The Birds” — which also starred Tippi Hedren, a longtime Santa Clarita Valley resident.
Creating “Backyard Geographer” during the pandemic also has opened up new, exciting opportunities for Patrich, he said.
College of the Canyons and Friendly Valley started a collaboration titled “Fridays with the Professors,” that Patrich is expected to join, which produces educational segments for seniors to view online.
Patrich has also started a new vlog titled “Backyard Geographer — Out in the Field,” a virtual field trip of historic and geographical places, such as the Salton Sea mud pots and volcano domes and the San Andreas fault. Videos will be modeled in a style similar to KCET’s “California’s Gold” with Huell Howser.
Growing content library
There are currently dozens of episodes of “Backyard Geographer — Out of the Collection” viewable on YouTube right now, and more uploaded each week on Tuesday.
“Taco Tuesday,” Patrich notes in one, showing a lighter side of backyard geography, “’cause nothing quenches the soul like a crispy taco and a little piece of history.”
At the end of each episode, Patrich asks viewers to share more information about the items shown and make comments, hoping to add to the discussion in the comments.
Madeleine Guevara, 26, a YouTube viewer from Burbank, shared her appreciation in the comments online encouraging Patrich’s efforts: “I watch Jeremy the Backyard Geographer because he makes me smile and laugh with his charismatic ability … His genuine passion for preserving history, vast knowledge and genuine excitement for sharing his collection is inspiring. When Jeremy uploads a new video, I know it’s going to be a great day.”
To follow along with Patrich’s YouTube channel, visit bit.ly/ProfessorPatrich.