More than 3,300 OSU students gear up for commencement


CORVALLIS - More than 3,300 Oregon State University students - including some of the first graduates from two acclaimed programs - will receive degrees on Sunday, June 14, during OSU's annual commencement ceremony at Gill Coliseum.

Also honored will be Robert Bomengen, an OSU graduate and former recipient of national Family Doctor of the Year honors, who will receive the university's Distinguished Service Award.

The ceremony begins at 2 p.m. and will be broadcast live over Oregon Public Broadcasting. The telecast will also be shown on large screens at the adjacent LaSells Stewart Center to help accommodate the expected overflow crowd.

OSU President Paul Risser will help confer a total of 3,394 degrees to 3,318 students. The students will receive their actual diplomas during the ceremony, which is unusual for an institution the size of Oregon State, officials say.

"The logistics may seem like a nightmare, but we have a number of people with a great deal of experience who put a lot of hard work into making the ceremony a special occasion for our students," said Roy Arnold, OSU provost and executive vice president.

Among those receiving diplomas on Sunday will be Roberto Martinez, the first person to have gone through the Science and Math Investigative Learning Experience (SMILE) program and then graduate from a university. SMILE encourages rural minority and disadvantaged students in grades 4-12 to further their education, especially in math and science.

Growing up among the potato, onion and sugar beet fields of Nyssa, Ore., and spending his summers working the harvests, Martinez said he knew that there had to be life beyond the horizons of the Oregon-Idaho border country. But it wasn't until he enrolled in SMILE that he got his first real picture of higher education.

"I have six older brothers and sisters, but none of them have ever been to college," Martinez said. "I'm the first. So, SMILE was a help in introducing me to university life."

Martinez will receive a bachelor's degree in business.

Some of the first graduates to receive diplomas under the auspices of the OSU Statewide program will make a rare trip to campus Sunday to don a cap and gown. One of those graduates is Cheryl Shaw, a 45-year-old mother of four who thrived under the new opportunities in distance learning.

"I wanted to finish my undergraduate degree but we couldn't move from Bend because my husband's work is there," Shaw said. "The OSU officials were very flexible...and seemed to want me to succeed as much as I did."

What she especially liked about the OSU program, Shaw said, was that it allowed her to work toward a degree at her own pace while putting the needs of her family first. Those demands were considerable - she has a seven-year-old daughter at home and three older daughters who recently have attended college. And her husband, Bob, also worked on an OSU distance education degree program.

Although Shaw never made it to the OSU campus with any frequency in recent years, the whole family will be there to cheer for mom when she dons cap and gown on June 14.

"Everyone is pretty excited about that," Shaw said.

Many of the OSU graduates will be entering a strong job market, possibly none more so than the students who participated in MECOP. The Multiple Engineering Cooperative Program has been held up as a model internship concept, with few peers in the state, or the nation, said coordinator Gary Petersen.

"MECOP is a true collaboration between business and academia, in which we ask industry what they want and see if we can find students who help meet that need," Petersen said. "That close cooperation is what makes it so successful. And Oregon businesses have been overwhelmingly supportive, not just financially but also with the time and effort they contribute to make this happen."

Those efforts are paying off, says 22-year-old Robert Ayers, an OSU industrial and manufacturing engineering major from Bend, who will receive his diploma Sunday.

"At the end of my junior year I was actually offered a job by the company where I spent my first MECOP internship, " Ayers said. "They even offered to pay for my final year of college if I'd return to work for them. So I took them up on it, and in July I'll be starting a new career with Sentrol, Inc., a Tualatin electronics firm."

Other students graduating Sunday have different challenges ahead.

Zaven Ghazarian, for example, plans to pick up his forestry degree, celebrate with friends and family, then depart Monday for the wilds of Pakistan, where he and his wife, Heidi Howkins, and fellow OSU student Chris Bingelli, will attempt to climb K2, the second highest mountain in the world.

Also honored Sunday will be Dr. Robert Bomengen, the 1994 national Family Doctor of the Year, who has been called a family practitioner, a frontier doctor, and the quintessential rural physician. The 1965 OSU graduate, who works out of a clinic in Lakeview, was one of the first physicians on the scene at the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, where he had been visiting and lecturing medical students.

Of the 3,394 degrees to be conferred, 232 will be doctorates, 680 masters degrees, and the rest bachelor's degrees.