Long commute provides creative opportunities for Oregon State doctoral students

A long commute can be onerous. Good company makes it better. For four college administrators enrolled in the College of Education’s Community College Leadership doctoral program at Oregon State University, sharing their commute from the Portland Airport is about more than good company. It’s a chance to exchange ideas, explore opportunities, and even, to write articles.

From left, Deanna Schultz, Teresa Holland, Jo Anna Downey and Stephen Strom all commute together in Holland's truck from the Portland Airport to their community college leadership doctoral classes at Silver Falls, as part of the Oregon State University's College of Education program. Downey flies in from California to take classes, and Schultz and Strom come from Alaska. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

The program is entering its 19th year, and has produced more than 100 graduates who work in college leadership programs throughout the country.

Teresa Holland, Vice President for Administrative Services with Yakima Valley Community College, provides the transportation for the group. Since she already commuted from Yakima to Silver Falls, Ore., where the program is based, and since she happened to have a ‘big truck,’ she was the logical choice to pick up her three classmates who arrive by plane.

“In the beginning it really seemed to be a logical choice since we all got along great and were interested in conserving resources,” Holland said. “Now I couldn’t imagine not picking everyone up. It has become one of the informal rituals that will help us succeed. Not to mention with all of us in the truck together the drive flies by.”

Her passengers include Jo Anna Downey, Dean of Fine Arts at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, Calif., Deanna Schultz, Assistant Professor of Career and Technical Education with the University of Alaska Anchorage, and Stephen Strom, Associate Dean of Technology for the Community and Technical College at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Holland says she chose the OSU Community College Leadership Program because of its exceptional national reputation, and despite the difficulties of juggling career, family and school, she said it’s been a very worthwhile experience.

“I have grown both personally and professionally. As a current community college administrator I have gained valuable resources and knowledge that I can apply daily to my job,” she said. “The program has also provided opportunities for me as a student to meet, learn from and interact with successful community college leaders.”

And the drive is such fun, Holland said, that she’s missed the exit off I-205 before after getting into a particularly intense conversation with her friends.

Students travel to the Silver Falls conference center at Silver Falls State Park on the first weekend of every month during the academic year. The exception is once a year when they travel to the Corvallis campus to attend the Carpenter Lecture, and in the summer when they are on campus for a week.

From left, Teresa Holland, Jo Anna Downey, Stephen Strom and Deanna Schultz rarely find themselves on the Oregon State Corvallis campus. They take classes once a month in Silver Falls and live out of state. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

“Last summer Deanna and I stayed on campus in the residence hall,” Holland said. “Talk about a fun time!”

Deanna Schultz agreed that although balance is sometimes difficult to achieve, spending time with her colleagues in the program has been very helpful.

“This is really difficult, especially because of the distance we travel and the need to leave a day before classes start each month. I spend many late nights the week prior to class in order to meet deadlines,” she said. “The best support of all, though, has been our cohort members.  I couldn’t have done it without them.”

She also appreciates the cohort model used in the program, which has really enhanced her experience.

“I have been a community college adjunct, staff person, and full-time faculty member, with limited leadership opportunities. This program is pushing me personally and professionally to find my voice as a leader and a researcher,” she said. “The cohort model allows us to get to know each other well so we feel comfortable challenging each other, pushing each other to consider different perspectives.”

Jo Anna Downey said having the chance to commute together has solidified strong friendships between the group.

“We have become friends and trusted colleagues which I think will continue long after the program ends. Having the time to drive together allows us to share personal issues, as well as solicit professional advice,” she said. “We all have different positions at our respective colleges (VP, Dean, Associate Dean and Department Chair) which has allowed us to see different viewpoints and provide context in which to make decisions.”

Those varied viewpoints also came into play when the group worked on writing an article together, which is now set for publication. The article, “Enhancing student learning: Collaborative partnerships between academic and student affairs,” came out of a group class project. It will be published in Community College Enterprise, Spring 2010 issue.

“The genesis of the article came from a group project in one of our classes on instructional leadership,” said Stephen Strom. “The four of us worked on a paper and presentation focused on enhancing student success through active collaboration between academic and student affairs organizations. The CCLP encourages its students to work at developing manuscripts for publication.”

Schultz said she’d recommend the Community College Leadership Program to others.

“The cohort model works.  Only those people who have gone through the process understand the challenges and the rewards,” she said. “And even though we have spent little time on campus, the faculty help us feel a part of the OSU family and I am proud to be a Beaver.”

~ Theresa Hogue

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