Meeting community needs
“We see the transformational power of community colleges that can turn lives around,” said Dr. Karin Edwards, president of Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus, who arrived two years ago from Norwich Community College in Connecticut. “Students are at the center of what we do, and we need to be nimble enough to accommodate community needs.”
With a student enrollment of 90,000, PCC is the largest institution of higher learning in Oregon. PCC-Cascade enrolls about 9,000 students, ranging from high-school graduates who are seeking two-year associate’s degrees or pursuing a trade, to those who want to brush up on their computer skills to become more competitive in the workplace.
“We strive to remain relevant to the community and meet their education needs,” said Edwards. “Our goal is to provide education sufficient to obtain family wage jobs.”
Accommodating special needs
In 2011, Rita Llewellyn learned about the dedication of the Margaret Carter Skill Center on PCC’s Cascade campus. Llewellyn’s son, Matt experienced autism and although he graduated from high school, she worried about viable job opportunities for him. After attending the skill center’s orientation and completing an assessment, Llewellyn enrolled Matt and accompanied him to classes at PCC-Cascade campus. Within two years, Matt completed all seven classes, often making the president’s list with high grades, and earned a certificate in principles of technology.
“Matt taught me that everyone can learn,” said Llewellyn, who cued him about appropriate ways to interact with teachers and fellow students. During their journey, which began at 6 a.m. on a MAX train to reach the Cascade campus for 8:30 a.m. classes, Matt honed his knowledge and skills in data entry, computers and math. Today, at age 25, Matt works full-time as a data imaging operator with PHC Northwest. She became an ambassador for other parents with special-needs children, introducing them to skill center programs and resources available to them at PCC-Cascade.
The skill center was established in 1989 in a rough North Portland neighborhood, according to Lorene Wilder, who was hired as a receptionist in 1994. She lobbied local leaders when the skill center was in danger of closing because she saw how it benefited the local community and students who didn’t fit anywhere else.
“We were the best thing that’s happened to this college,” said Wilder who, at age 79, continues working at the skill center as a community resource specialist.
In February 2016, Rhianna Johnson was appointed Director of Instructional Support Programs at the skill center. Growing up in North Portland, she attended PCC-Cascade and ultimately earned a master’s degree in sociology from Portland State University. At PCC-Cascade, Johnson supervises several programs, including the Computer Literacy Initiative, Writing Center and Student Learning Center. She’s passionate about the newest program under her purview: a prison-to-college pathway for formerly incarcerated individuals. As former education director at a prison outreach program in Washington state, she partners with a consortium of local groups including Highland Access, Re-entry and Recovery Program and a prison outreach team serving Coffee Creek Women’s Prison to provide resources to inmates preparing for re-entry by pursuing an education and obtaining job skills.
Johnson fosters relationships to build partnerships with local groups including Central City Concern and Bradley Angle House, to get students on campus to obtain college credits or certificates to get started on a career path. PCC recently signed a memorandum of agreement with Volunteers of America to cross-reference students and services. For more information, visit www.pcc.edu or call 971-722-5183.
Daniel Wenger, PCC-Cascade division dean of arts and professions, is in his fifth year at PCC. He supervises an array of multi-media programs, including videography and game arts, theater, art, music and sonic arts, business administration, computer applications and office systems, and the Swan Island Trade Center. In July 2016, PCC received a federally-funded three-year grant to provide re-entry support services to Oak Creek Correctional Facility, a youth center housing 77 sentenced female juveniles in Albany, Oregon. The Opening Doors program will provide PCC-Cascade instructors to teach music and sociology classes at Oak Creek and offer additional classes on-line.
Wenger has successfully implemented the Career Pathways program at the Swan Island Trade Center to provide “contextualized” education by providing students the basic skills needed to succeed in their chosen profession without getting bogged down by academic requirements. “In order to keep students motivated in their program, we address deficits in real time,” said Wenger.
In spring 2017, PCC-Cascade will launch the Swan Island Maritime Welding program developed with Vigor Industrial. The college’s Career Pathways department will provide recruitment, retention and job search support for students in the program to complement faculty instruction. Classrooms will be located on-site at Vigor shipyards, one of the largest dry docks in the country according to Wenger. Vigor will also synchronize student graduation from the welding program with their hiring needs. For more information: contact Mike Rasmussen, department chair for welding at Swan Island, at (503) 247-1724.