There are days when I really love my job. The life of a community college campus president has many demands. There are meetings to attend, relationships to maintain, decisions to be made. A million different concerns intrude every day — enrollment, funding, personnel matters — you name it.
But quite often, through it all, something happens that makes me remember why I got into this line of work, that reminds me why institutions like Cascade Campus are called "community" colleges.
Not long ago, a young woman came to see me in my office. She was concerned about whether she would be able to continue her studies at Cascade Campus, but not because of money, relationship troubles, work conflicts or any of the other typical reasons that might prompt a young person to leave college. Rather, she was worried that she might not be able to continue at Cascade because of the demands placed on her by caring for her mother, who suffers from a chronic debilitating disease.
She was exactly the kind of student of which a campus president can be proud — bright, articulate, ambitious and energetic; someone who can use her community college education as the first step on a long and successful journey. Seeing her dilemma, her conflict between caring for her mother and caring for her own future, brought the essence of community colleges home to me, right there in my office. She wanted — needed — the college to be flexible enough to accommodate both her duty to her mother and her duty to herself. And she deserved it.
What is a community college if it isn't responsive to the needs of the community? Where do extraordinary people like this young woman go to better themselves, if not to us? Is not the barometer of success for a learning institution its ability to meet the energy and dedication of its students with equal measures of its own?
Fortunately for this young woman — and for Cascade Campus — we were able to help her through a combination of evening classes and tutoring, and we helped put her in contact with resources in the community that can assist her with her caregiving duties. She remains an enthusiastic, successful college student.
Her need for flexibility and accommodation, however, was not lost on me or the Portland Community College district. In fact, Cascade Campus offers a program that makes community college even more accessible to busy people than it has ever been before. It's called Weekend College, and it works exactly the way it sounds — by offering a range of classes on weekends, from Friday evenings through Sunday afternoons. Now, working people, parents and others with demanding lives — like the young woman who visited me that day — can find the time to invest in themselves and their futures.
As it happened, on the very day that this bright young woman approached me with her concerns, Cascade Campus hosted the statewide kickoff of Oregon's new prescription drug coverage program. The room was full of people, young and old, celebrating the fact that their continuing good health had been placed within closer reach. During my remarks at the ceremony, I related the young woman's story, and it all came back to me again — a community college campus is so much more than the sum of its parts. It is the neighborhood's educational, social and economic hub, an institution that touches the community on so many levels. It is literally the symbol of a brighter future.
There are days — most days, actually — when I really love my job.
Dr. Algie Gatewood is campus president of the Portland Community College Cascade Campus.