Being on campus in the middle of bustling downtown, we get used to being surrounded by distractions. It can seem impossible to find a place to focus and get work done. As a student, it is super important to study in an environment free of interruptions. With finals week coming up, we scoured campus to find the most productive study spots at PSU.
#6 Academic and Student Recreation Center: Yes, the gym is here, but this building has multiple spots on several floors to get work done. The first floor features plenty of chairs and tables for studying with a group. On a sunny day, you definitely need to visit the expansive 5th floor balcony to study; surrounded by jaw-dropping views of the city and a peekaboo from Mt. Hood.
#5 Karl Miller Center: This stylish building has plenty of solo or collaborative space on almost every floor. The modern design provides ample access to power outlets and natural lighting. CoCo Donuts and Best Baguette are on-premise for when you need a study snack break. Visit CoCo Donuts after 2pm for their stellar happy hour deal: just two dollars for a donut and coffee.
#4 Fariborz Maseeh Hall: Our newest campus building is artfully designed to make the most of natural light, has plenty of seating, tons of outlets, and secluded spots if you look for them. Case Study Coffee is located on the first floor.
#3 Smith Memorial Student Union: This building was designed with students in mind. There are study spaces throughout the entire space with comfy chairs and plenty of tables to spread your work out. Large windows overlooking the beautiful scenery on the Park Blocks provide a relaxing atmosphere to focus and get work done. The sky bridge between Smith and Cramer Hall fills up quickly but if you’re able to find a spot, it’s a good one for getting work done.
#2 Millar Library: If you’re working on a group project, the flexible study areas on the 3rd floor provide ample room with movable furniture and study booths. Students with children under 5 can even reserve a spot in the family study room, a space designed to accommodate kids with toys, books, and a large window. There are also silent study areas in the basement, and 4th and 5th floors for those who need silence to focus.
#1 Viking Pavilion: Our sports arena might seem like an unlikely place for getting work done. Turns out there are several hidden spots, perfect getting work done. There is seating and tables on multiple floors for solo or group study sessions. Versa Cafe on this first floor will keep you caffeinated and focused.
Homesickness can be one of the toughest, most unexpected challenges when you’re new in college. It can really happen to anyone, even if you’re just one city away from home.
Homesickness feels a lot like like anxiety or depression and usually happens when we feel disconnected from familiar people and places. There are lots of ways homesickness can present itself but the most common symptoms are comparing your old setting with the new one or wanting to call home frequently. You could also have trouble sleeping or eating, feel nauseous, excessively sad or sluggish.
It’s important to be able to enjoy your college experience! Not everyone’s process to overcome homesickness may be the same, but here are our best suggestions for dealing with these feelings:
Join a club to meet people.
PSU has your back with over 200 student clubs and groups! From a neuroscience club, to Greek life, to Acapella groups, you will definitely find a group of people with shared interests. The website also has links to volunteer and service opportunities if you want to go beyond campus. When you’re feeling down, it’s important to branch out and talk to new people! Even if it’s difficult, and especially if you don’t feel like it. The more you get out there, the more chances you’ll have to meet new friends.
All students enrolled in at least five credits can visit the Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC). Counseling Services offers brief individual and group counseling, crisis/emergency services, and workshops throughout the year to support your transition to PSU. Getting help is a really smart and brave thing to go. Actually a lot of students experience homesickness, so you are not alone.Definitely consider visiting SHAC for other health and wellness needs, too, from health and dental check ups, to acupuncture, to scheduling a time in theMind Spa, which features a massage chair, light therapy and biofeedback games to help you relax.
One of the best ways to get yourself out of a funk is to just focus on something else for a little while. Go to the library to study rather than your dorm room, or go for a walk, or check out a new coffee shop, or visit a thrift store. There are unlimited things going on in the city pretty much all the time, you just have to get out there. The 5th Avenue Cinema is a student-run cinema that shows FREE movies for PSU students. The PSU Farmers Market is every Saturday, rain or shine, right on campus at the park blocks. The more places you go, the more people you will meet, and the more chances you’ll have to make friends. Our Visitor Guide also has tons of student-recommended activities (a bunch of them free or discounted for PSU students), restaurants and other cool spots to visit.
When you’re feeling bad, it can sound really tempting to loaf under a blanket and dig into a massive tub of ice cream, but this will likely only make you feel worse. To combat this, get some exercise to get those endorphins flowing, our body’s natural feel-good hormones. I always remind myself that the hardest part about going to the gym is just getting dressed and heading out the door. The Rec Center also makes it super easy and convenient to get a sweat going, with all kinds of fitness options, including an Olympic size pool, a hot tub, cardio and weight rooms, and a rock-climbing wall! They also offer a wide range of group fitness classes, including yoga, cycling, and Zumba. If you want to get started but are not sure how, there are also educational classes like lifting and rock climbing for all skill levels. Exercise is so good for our well-being. It has been shown to improve sleep, build confidence, tone muscle, and help with anxiety and depression.
Do you also like getting exercise outdoors? Spending time in nature reduces anxiety and depression and it can be fun to go on an adventure. Our Outdoor Program offers guided hikes throughout the state with a 50% discount for students.
Talk with friends and family back home.
This is an important step. Talking with your loved ones can help you feel more connected and loved. They will want to hear all about your new adventure here. And this is a great time to ask for a care package including anything from home that would make you feel more comfortable, like photos or blankets, or even a stuffed animal (hey, no judgement here).
However, just keep in mind that it’s important to not over-rely on your family and avoid your new world. If you notice that you’re spending more of your time talking with people back home than exploring your new environment, you will only prolong these bad feelings. You should set up a weekly time to call or FaceTime back home. This will help you create the space you need during the rest of the week to connect with your life at PSU and gives you something to look forward to.
BONUS tip: Talk to a Professor or Staff Member.
PSU faculty and staff are sympathetic and they want to see you do well here! Do you feel particularly fond of one of your professors, or another staff member like a Resident Assistant? These people are good to reach out to and are here to help you. For so many things, the stress that comes with big changes can be managed by simply talking to someone about what is on your mind. There is a good chance they have also experienced some kind of homesickness at one point and can give you some tips to get adjusted, or even just an open ear to hear you out.
Remember that it’s normal and common to feel homesick during your college experience and that it’s okay to miss home. These feelings normally pass on their own over time, but if they don’t pass or even get worse, there are resources here for when you need the help. Who knows, maybe when you return home you’ll be homesick for Portland!
Nam Le is a PSU student working toward his bachelor’s in business, with a concentration in marketing. Nam is originally from Saigon, Vietnam. He came to Portland State as a freshman student. Here’s his story:
“I first found out about PSU by signing up for a campus tour with my high school. At first, I didn’t know anything about PSU, and I wasn’t considering applying here. But then I learned about PSU’s history and amazing programs. I was attracted to the business program because I learned about how PSU alumni Carolyn Davidson invented the Nike swoosh. I finally made the decision to go into PSU’s business program because it’s the best in Oregon. As a first-generation college student, and someone who is new to American culture, it was important for me to choose a college that has everything a student like me needs, including affordable tuition and a great location in downtown Portland.
I’ve already learned a lot. My favorite classes have been Professional Selling and Business Communication. I learned how to write professional emails and communicate effectively within a team.
I got a lot of support from my professors. Dean Erica Wagner was not as strict and hard on us students as I expected. She was actually really caring and became like a second mother. Professor Daniel Wong was also a mentor to me. He’s a great role model for first-generation college students.
I love all the food places around campus. Phat Cart has the best orange chicken bento, and there are lots of Thai places with delicious Pad Thai. I decompress by getting food from the food carts and reading in the rooftop terraces around the Urban Center. When I want to study, I go to the International Lounge, which is part of the International Student Services.
I lived in campus housing for my first three years so I could be close to the unique community on PSU’s campus. Living on campus helped me grow my connections and adapt to American culture. It also gave me easy access to unlimited on-campus events.
Through all the challenges, I’ve been developing into the person I strove to become. My plan after graduation is to work in the sales and marketing field in Portland. I have one piece of advice for students applying for college: College is an investment. Invest in yourself.”
When most people picture the typical college student, they think of someone fresh out of high school, living in a dorm and working a part-time job. But for many students, the journey to earning a college degree isn’t that straightforward. Sometimes, the path takes many years, and it’s never too late to go to college.
For Bridie Cawthorne, her path to earning her degree was complex. Now 38 years old, she’s about to graduate from PSU with her bachelor’s degree in biology, with a focus in molecular and cellular biology. And what’s next for Bridie? She plans on earning her Ph.D. and doing industry research.
Becoming a doctor was not her plan right out of high school. In fact, Bridie never graduated from high school. “Studying was hard for me. I was a terrible student when I was young.”
Bridie was born and raised in Portland, but she ended up moving a few times and working odd jobs. After volunteering for a veterinary hospital, she landed a job at an emergency veterinary clinic. She finally moved back to Portland and continued working as a veterinary technician.
“I spent 15 years doing that,” says Bridie, “and I felt like I had hit my glass ceiling. I was burnt out. I loved that job, but I couldn’t emotionally handle caring for sick animals anymore.”
A friend of Bridie’s was thinking about going back to school, and she encouraged her to do the same.
“I struggled like many other older students with the decision to go to college, especially because I didn’t graduate from high school. Not graduating is a hurdle many people think they can’t overcome and go back to school. Anyone can do it, and it’s totally worth it!”
Bridie started taking classes at Portland Community College. She originally went back to school for nursing. That changed when she took a cell biology class.
“That class made me feel like things made sense. My professor’s lectures were amazing, and I felt supported in my learning process.”
She began doing research in the lab through BUILD EXITO, an undergraduate research training program that supports students on their pathway to become scientific researchers. Students at PSU and partnering community colleges and universities, like Portland Community College, get hands-on research experience at every stage of their undergraduate education. Students are matched with faculty advisors and peer mentors, participate in enrichment workshops and receive financial benefits, including monthly stipends and/or tuition remission. The goal of the program is to attract more diverse people into the biomedical and social sciences.
Through BUILD EXITO, Bridie was paired with faculty advisors who teach at Portland State, Dr. Mike Bartlett and Dr. Jeff Singer. “Without their help and the support from BUILD EXITO, I wouldn’t have made it into the lab. I got so much guidance.”
When Bridie started college, she was afraid she’d still be a terrible student. But she excelled and made it on the Dean’s List, an award that recognizes academic achievement. She earned her Associate of Science in two years at Portland Community College.
Transferring to Portland State was the perfect next step because she could continue with the BUILD EXITO program and keep working with her advisors. “All my professors and advisors have made themselves available, which helped shape my academic experience at PSU. They helped me get jobs and figure out what classes would be a good fit for me. Every student at PSU should take advantage of the faculty and staff who are there to help them succeed.”
Bridie does “wet lab” bench work in the molecular/cellular lab, which includes cloning and maintaining cell cultures, among other tasks. The research looks at proteins that play a role in regulating the cell cycle.
Because of all her hands-on lab experience, she knew working in a lab was the career she wanted. “PSU helped open doors for me. Getting to work in a real lab added so much value to my education. I took what I learned in my classes and was able to apply them to a lab environment,” says Bridie.
In her senior year, Bridie served as a classroom learning assistant. A few classes a term, she facilitated discussion in Principles of Biology, 200-level general biology classes. She helped students understand how to interpret peer-reviewed research.
At the end of 2018, Bridie went to the American Society of Cell Biology conference, which was held in San Diego. BUILD EXITO covered her travel funds. At the conference, Bridie presented a poster, showing professionals in the scientific community her research.
She faced some personal hardships along her path. “I had two miscarriages while I was a student. I was struggling with grief,” says Bridie. “I saw a therapist through SHAC. There can be a lot of stigmas associated with miscarriages, but I was able to get the help I needed.” Students taking more than five credits pay a Student Health fee, which covers most services through PSU’s Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC).
Bridie has a little more winding path to travel—she’s currently six months pregnant with her first child. After graduating from PSU, Bridie plans on taking a year off to focus on her husband and baby. Then, she hopes to get a Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at OHSU.
“When I first started taking college classes, I was self-conscious because I was the oldest person in the classroom. But I realized it doesn’t matter what age you are when you go to school. I was welcomed by a diverse group of students at Portland State. I feel supported here.”
Portland State’s urban campus is a big departure from home for many students. Growing up in a small town of about 5,000 in Georgia, Dustin Rozier never imagined he’d end up in Portland, let alone go to college.
“Where I grew up, I didn’t know anyone who went to college. No one in my family went to college, and very few graduated from high school. The idea of college didn’t seem like a feasible option,” says Dustin. And now, he’s making the most out of being a student at PSU, following his interests across many programs. He couldn’t settle on just one! Dustin is a senior finishing his bachelor’s in English and Creative Writing in fiction, with minors in French and Philosophy and a Comics Studies certificate.
Dustin’s path to PSU was not simple. Right out of high school, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. “At that time, we were at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I thought I had this duty to serve, but it was also a way for me to get out of my small town. I left when I was 18, then spent six and a half years in the Marines.” Joining the Marines and seeing many parts of the world exposed Dustin to people from diverse backgrounds. His mind was opened to new ideas. It got him thinking about going to college.
“I had never lived in a city outside of the military. While I was on leave, I visited Portland and really liked the Pacific Northwest. I identify more with the social and political environment here. I’m vegan, for example.” Dustin initially planned on working security jobs. He knew he would get money for college from GI Bill Benefits, so he decided to take the plunge and apply to PSU.
Dustin got involved with the community of veterans at PSU by working in the Veterans Resource Center. The VRC provides a comfortable and supportive environment for veterans, including a student lounge, computer space, leadership opportunities, student employment and programs.
Like many students, Dustin wasn’t sure what major he wanted. He tried the Anthropology program and enjoyed it. But when he took College Writing (an introductory writing class), he found the right fit for him. He was always a big reader and did some writing. His professor helped him connect with the English department and suggested he meet with his advisor. PSU has Advising Pathways that groups similar majors together, so students can stay with their advisor, even if they switch majors. “I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without the support from my advisor, Roxanne James, and the amazing faculty in the English department.” Says Dustin, “They helped me figure out what topics I was interested in and pushed me to pursue them.”
Dustin’s passions moved from wanting to help veterans through social work to helping them deal with trauma through his writing and scholarly work. “I’m interested in trauma theory and ecocriticism,” says Dustin, “like looking at how comics can display personal and environmental trauma, and how that helps people cope.” He decided to study Creative Writing and Comics Studies, in addition to English, so he could both learn about comics and write them.
He even joined the University Honors College, so he could connect with other dedicated students. Honors students work one-on-one with faculty on research projects, internships and a senior thesis.
His dreams just kept getting bigger. “When I first started, I had no idea I would even get a degree. Then it slowly formed into the idea of getting a PhD in English Literature. I decided I wanted to teach in a university.”
When Dustin found out about the Peer Mentor program, he thought it was the perfect opportunity to gain teaching experience and get more involved with PSU students. Peer Mentors are part of PSU’s unique University Studies program. University Studies is a nationally recognized approach to education that gives students an integrated learning experience, critical job skills and lifelong connections. Students choose a theme-based class and work on a project that addresses a real problem in the Portland community. Peer Mentors work with professors to design lesson plans and lead small group sessions with students outside of the main class. These group sessions help students get more individualized feedback and build community.
“I worked with one professor on a class with the theme ‘Portland,’ then another with the theme ‘The Work of Art.’” Says Dustin, “Being a Peer Mentor helped me learn how I could transfer a lot of my skills I developed in the military, like leading people, public speaking and problem solving, to the educational environment at PSU.”
When Dustin decided to apply for grad school, he knew Portland State was the only place he wanted to go. He felt supported by the faculty and staff at PSU, but he also knew he would be still be challenged in the English program. And he was accepted! Next fall, Dustin will be starting his master’s degree in English and teaching at PSU as a Graduate Assistant.
“I’m not in the same demographic as most undergrads,” says Dustin, “being a veteran and a first-generation college student. Going to PSU and living in Portland has helped me look back on my past in a different way. It helped me realize how I can use my background and interests to teach others.”
Dustin is excited he gets to stay at PSU and explore the Pacific Northwest more. When he’s not busy with classwork, Dustin is a part of the motorcycle culture in Oregon. He builds motorcycles and rides them around the state, taking in Oregon’s natural beauty.
Your hobby just might turn into your career—and PSU could be the next step to get you there. Engineering started as a hobby for Jennifer Jordan, and now she’s a student at Portland State double majoring in Electrical Engineering and Physics with a minor in Mathematics.
Jennifer is from Astoria, a small town off the Oregon coast, and also happens to be the setting for the 1980s cult classic, “The Goonies.” At first, she didn’t want to go to college far from home, so she started close by at Clatsop Community College. That’s where her interest in engineering blossomed into her future career. “I was a leader of the ROV (remotely operated vehicles) team on campus. We built a robot named Lazarus and took it to an international robotics competition. It was a cool event, and it was the first time I was really exposed to the world of engineering and met people in the industry.”
Getting her degree wasn’t an easy road, though. “My mom died when I was pretty young,” says Jennifer, “so I didn’t have a safety net. I went to three different high schools and lived on my own for a while. I ran into financial issues when I was going to community college. I was working two jobs and going to school full time, and it just wasn’t feasible to balance everything.”
After a year and a half, Jennifer dropped out of community college to work full time. She got a job in the medical industry, which she did for five years before deciding she needed to go back to college. “Working in the medical industry helped me deal with my mom’s death, so it was helpful for me emotionally. But there was a point where I wasn’t being challenged. That pushed me to get more involved in different hobbies, like robotics, and go back to school.”
She found herself exploring the PSU website. She knew she wanted to study physics, but the Maseeh College of Engineering caught her attention. “Growing up, I always liked math and science, but I was living in a small town without opportunities in STEM. It seemed just out of reach,” says Jennifer. But Portland State’s excellent engineering programs and its affordability compared to other Oregon universities made it a real possibility. In the end, she decided to do both: physics and engineering.
“The first time I was on PSU’s campus was when I made an appointment to meet with an advisor in the Maseeh College Student Services office. Coming from a hobby background in engineering, I didn’t really know the difference between mechanical, electrical and civil engineering. They helped me find the best fit and told me about different scholarships.” Current and prospective undergraduate engineering and computer science students can schedule an appointment with a Maseeh College advisor or stop by during designated drop-in hours. Advisors do more than assist with admission and scholarships—they will help students transition into a career by connecting them with jobs and internships.
It didn’t take long for Jennifer to find her place. “When I first joined the Maseeh College, I was nervous about being a girl in engineering. In my Electrical Engineering 101 class, there were about 50 guys and 6 girls. It was really intimidating. But then I joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and got involved with people in the community.” SWE is an organization made up of students and women working in the engineering industry, and their mission is to provide professional development opportunities and engage in K-12 outreach.
After immersing herself in the engineering community and proving herself in classes, she was offered a managerial position in the Electronics Prototyping Lab (EPL). “The EPL is a lab through the Electrical Engineering department, but it’s open to ALL students, regardless of major. We’ve had English majors, art majors, all kinds of people. It’s just such a creative and inclusive environment.”
The EPL is just one of many labs in the Engineering Building. Maseeh College Student Ambassadors, like Jennifer, lead tours of the Engineering Building frequently. What’s one of Jennifer’s favorite thing about the Engineering Building? “There are so many things, but one cool feature is the Dryden Drop Tower. It’s a 102-foot tall metal tower, which you can see by the stairs when you enter the building. It simulates the micro-gravity that occurs on spacecraft.”
Jennifer is also involved with the Portland State Aerospace Society (PSAS), a student aerospace engineering project working on building Oregon’s first satellite (which will be launched by NASA) and a rocket that would allow PSAS to launch their own satellites in the future. With the funding and resources made possible through the Beta Project, Jennifer helped design and build what she refers to as “the cage.” Jennifer explains, “the cage is going to test the satellite. It creates a magnetic field strong enough to cancel out the earth’s magnetic field or amplify it in any direction. So when we have the prototype of the satellite built, the cage is going to test the satellite’s ability to orient itself.”
For the rocket project, Jennifer is working on the Argus Module, a 360° camera device. “It has six cameras that are oriented so we can stitch together the video from all the cameras and put it in an Oculus Rift (a virtual reality headset). When the rocket gets launched, you’ll be able to look around as if you’re on the rocket.” Watch a 360° interactive video of one of their rocket launches.
Jennifer relied on the student loans she got through FAFSA for her first year at Portland State. After she gained confidence and experience through her involvement with different engineering projects and groups, she applied for scholarships. She was awarded the Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation scholarship (SMART) through the Department of Defense. The goal of the scholarship is to support and recruit some of the brightest STEM students in the nation. “They’re paying for my schooling, including my tuition, books and housing” says Jennifer, “and after I graduate, I’ll be doing a summer internship in Georgia and working for them for a few years after I graduate.”
And after working for the Department of Defense, Jennifer wants to work in the aerospace industry. If you had asked Jennifer years ago what she saw on her horizon, she would not have pictured this. “I don’t come from a family where I had a lot of financial or academic support. I never thought I could do anything like what I’m doing now. I’ve definitely put in a lot of hard work, but I could not have done it without the community and support here at PSU.”
When students start thinking about college, it can be hard to visualize what they’ll accomplish after graduating—they may not even know what they want to study, let alone what career they’ll have.
This was certainly true for Lauren Krueger, Portland State University alumni who graduated in 2013, with a degree in Electrical Engineering. At first, Lauren wasn’t sure what she wanted to study, but she knew PSU was a good option.
Now she’s an Electrical Engineer at Interface Engineering.
Initially, Lauren was drawn to PSU because it was familiar and close to home—she is a third-generation PSU student. PSU’s proximity to Portland and surrounding communities meant she could commute and reduce the cost of attending college. She ultimately decided PSU was the right choice because of its abundance of science and engineering opportunities in the Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Sciences.
“Growing up I was never naturally inclined toward math or science,” admits Lauren. But despite the challenges, she studied what interested her. “During my first two years of school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in, but I knew that calculus, physics and women’s studies were my favorite subjects, and that I wanted to be in a field where I could help create pathways for and elevate women and underrepresented minorities.”
“Lauren never settles for the conventional,” says Dr. Robert Bass, Lauren’s former undergraduate professor and academic advisor. “She will pursue the path that she knows is best for her, regardless of the obstacles or perceived conventions.”
She took advantage of the resources available to PSU students, including the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), a program dedicated to supporting the success of underrepresented STEM majors. When she met some Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) students in the LSAMP program, she found her calling. Because she struggled with STEM subjects, she says “it took a lot of perseverance to pursue an Electrical Engineering degree.”
Lauren served on the LSAMP Student Leadership Board for three years. “She was always committed to making it smoother for students who struggled to earn a STEM degree. She used her own experiences to inspire others,” says Dr. Lorna Tran, former LSAMP Director and current Community College Liaison.
Lauren also acted as a role model for future students when she was a Student Ambassador in PSU’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions. She spoke with people visiting campus, led campus tours and was source of information for students. Not only did it equip Lauren with the networking skills and self-confidence she would find invaluable in her professional career, but it showed her how she could make a real impact on other students’ lives.
Dr. Renjeng Su, professor and former Dean of Maseeh College, says, “Even more impressive than Lauren’s outstanding academic performance was her effort to reach out to and help her peers. Lauren plays a valuable role in making the engineering field welcoming to women.”
She continues to give back to Portland State students today. Lauren serves on PSU’s ECE Industrial Advisory Board, where she works to draw more women into the Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science. She was a panelist in a series of events for the department’s Women in ECE Night. Lauren states the goal of these events is to boost the number of women in ECE by connecting students with professional women engineers, “Being in a room of women who all are pursuing, or have completed, degrees in Electrical and Computer Engineering where we could discuss our common experiences was cathartic and encouraging, and reinvigorated the inspiration that led me towards STEM in the first place.” She looks forward to representing PSU as a panelist at the LSAMP Conference at University of Washington in winter, 2019.
She has been working in the electrical engineering field since graduating and recently took her professional engineering (PE) exam. “I had to put in a lot of time and energy to pass the exam and was really proud to have passed it. It was the culmination of a decade of hard work.” Lauren’s continued perseverance illustrates there are opportunities for women and underrepresented people in STEM, and it is her goal to be a resource and role model for anyone ready to start forging their own path.
For many people, getting a degree can seem just out of reach. This can be especially true for low-income, immigrant and first-generation college students.
Nabin Dhimal fits all of these descriptions. Despite many challenges, he graduated from Portland State in 2018, with a degree in Social Science and a double minor in Sociology and Psychology. But that wasn’t enough for Nabin—he’s currently pursuing a Master’s at PSU in Educational Leadership and Policy through the College of Education.
Nabin was just one of more than 100,000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese living in refugee camps in Nepal. The “One Nation, One People” policy in Bhutan forced the Nepali-speaking Lhotshampas to dress, speak and act like the majority Drukpas culture. Lhotshampas who protested this ethnic cleansing were imprisoned and tortured. Eventually, the majority of Lhotshampas were forced out of Bhutan into Nepal, and Nabin’s family was part of that group.
“My family lived in Bhutan for six generations,” says Nabin. “The government would select Lhotshampas to leave, accusing them, saying they weren’t Bhutanese, in order to split up families. My father was selected. If you refused to leave, they would attack or imprison you, sometimes even burn your house down. My whole family fled together.”
The Nepali government refused to integrate the Lhotshampas and allow them to work, so they were stuck living in a refugee camp for 18 years. Nabin was born in that camp. “I was fortunate because we were not bombed or shot at in the refugee camp, but there were very few resources to go around. We had no documents to work and no money. At six, I started working as a cashier in a food truck to make enough money to buy my own school supplies and watch DVDs on a small battery-powered TV.”
One of Nabin’s biggest joys growing up was school. “When I was five, I followed my siblings to school. I wanted to go to school so bad. My uncle broke the law by telling the school I was a year older so I could go. I loved learning, but there were few resources or qualified teachers. There were 50-60 students in each class, and we only had outdated, used textbooks. There were no opportunities for you to pursue a higher education.”
To escape these circumstances, Nabin and his family emigrated in 2008 with the help of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the leading inter-governmental organization that helps migrants in need. IOM placed Nabin and his family in the United States, and they have lived in Oregon since. “Coming to the U.S. was hard at first. We didn’t know any Nepali people in Portland, and my extended family was placed in other states and countries. We used to be only five minutes away. Life is much easier for people who have an education, especially for people living in the United States—you can learn the language and get good jobs.”
“School is a privilege. I wanted to break the cycle of poverty and set an example for people in my community by earning a degree.”
In high school, Nabin started thinking about how he could make this happen, but finding the support he needed was difficult. “I think people expected me to go to community college because of negative perceptions of English language learners. I didn’t want to go far from home, so I could still support my family. My Speech and Debate coach, Patrick Gonzales, saw I had potential and encouraged me to apply to PSU.”
But paying for college was still a major concern for Nabin. He applied for the Diversity Scholarship, a program that promotes diversity and student participation at PSU. This scholarship awards a renewable tuition remission to students in financial need from diverse backgrounds. Not only did the scholarship help him afford to go to school full time but it got him involved with people from other cultures and marginalized communities.
Portland State offers many other Multicultural Retention Services for students like Nabin to help them achieve their goals. “TRIO reached out to me the summer before school started. They let me know about the programs and resources available. I took Summer Bridge, a class for TRIO students before the term starts. I learned how to find classrooms on campus, use the PSU Library and navigate D2L, PSU’s online learning platform,” says Nabin. TRIO is a program that provides educational opportunities to help students overcome barriers to higher education, like ethnic background or economic circumstance.
TRIO was the first place Nabin went when he was struggling with classes. “Andrea Griggs, my TRIO advisor, connected me to academic support on campus. But she totally changed my path when she helped me realize I needed to change my major. I wanted a major that would allow me to fight for equity and uplift others in underserved communities. I decided a degree in Social Sciences was the right path.”
Though he didn’t realize it at first, the challenging ideas he was exposed to in his Freshman Inquiry (FRINQ) class would change his career goals. “I took a race and social justice themed FRINQ class, and it ended up being my favorite class. It made me aware of a lot of systemic issues.” Freshman and Sophomore Inquiry classes are part of PSU’s unique University Studies program, which uses theme-based classes and an interdisciplinary approach to get students involved with peers and the larger Portland community.
It didn’t take long for Nabin to be a force for positive change.
Nabin began working as a Peer Mentor in the Diversity Scholarship program, serving as a resource for other students. He realized that if he was going to make getting an education more equitable, he needed to earn a graduate degree. With the support of TRIO, his advisor and faculty, Nabin applied to PSU’s Educational Leadership & Policy program. Now, he’s working toward his Master’s degree and is specializing in Leadership for Sustainability Education.
Nabin helps prospective international students in PSU’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions. He’s also a Career Coach for NW Promise at IRCO, a nonprofit immigrant and refugee organization dedicated helping underserved students earn college credit and get into high-paying careers.
Nabin’s next goal is to earn a Ph.D and work in an educational nonprofit, where he can challenge policies to be more equitable. “I want to be that lens, looking at the education system to see if it’s serving different populations of students as well as it should.”
Nabin has one important piece of advice for low-income, immigrant and first-generation students: “Find out what resources are available to you and use them. PSU has a diverse student body and wants to make getting a degree accessible to everyone. The more people from diverse backgrounds successfully completing college means more influence to make the policy changes that will better serve those populations.”
Finding the perfect college match can be as much about the city as the school. Fernando Gomez had his heart set on Oregon, someplace vastly different from his Arizona home, so he traveled around the state to check out different universities. But his love affair with Portland began when he toured Portland State’s campus.
A new transfer student in the School of Film, Fernando knew going to college in a city with a large art scene was a major factor in his decision.“I wanted a change, and Portland is a 180 degree difference from the Phoenix metro area. The weather is cool, the city is culturally diverse, and it’s cheaper than all the other big cities that would allow me to study film.”
When Fernando decided to transfer from Scottsdale Community College, he considered schools in different states, but he was on the hunt for something in Oregon. It was only after he realized PSU checked everything off his must-haves list that he found out about the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), a resource that makes getting a degree more affordable for out-of-state students from participating states. “I found out about WUE after I was accepted to PSU. I got a call from one of the admissions counselors, who told me I qualified. I’ve always been a full-time student, so it’s necessary for me to find ways to pay for school. I knew I wanted to attend PSU, so WUE was just a bonus!” Qualifying students pay 150% of resident tuition—for the 2018-19 academic year, that’s $13,107 compared to $27,437 for out-of-state tuition.
Fernando keeps costs down by living on campus. He doesn’t need to worry about paying for gas, parking and upkeep on his car because everywhere he regularly goes is in walking distance from campus. He also likes how many opportunities there are in downtown Portland for people interested in film, like the 5th Avenue Cinema, a student-run cinema on campus that’s free for PSU students. “I’m always getting emails from the School of Film about internships, film festivals and film scholar talks. I was getting these emails long before I got here, so I already had an idea about the film culture in Portland.”
And the film program makes it easy for its students to get involved and get hands-on experience. “PSU has great equipment available for students.” Fernando frequently checks out equipment and treats the city as his subject, capturing video for class projects. “I go walking or running downtown to take video of things that interest me.”
Fernando likes that the film faculty have real-world experience—his faculty get him access to many people who work in the film industry. “My professors are very accredited, more than the ones I had back in Arizona.” Even though Fernando is older than the traditional college student, he has connected with people in his cohort too. “A couple guys came up to me early on, and we’ve been working together ever since. We have the same goals and mindset despite being different ages.”
Though this is Fernando’s first term at PSU, he’s already found his place. Portland is his education and inspiration.
It’s pretty common to hear people say that getting a humanities degree is pointless. Well, Katie Pearce, a transfer student in her senior year studying Graphic Design, is here to tell you that’s wrong.
In her hometown of Pendleton, Oregon, Katie felt there weren’t many opportunities to pursue an art career. “In high school, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t figure out how to make art into a career choice.” Katie decided to attend Blue Mountain Community College while she was figuring out what she wanted to study. But when it came time for her to transfer her credits to a university and finish her bachelor’s degree, she realized that PSU’s Graphic Design program was the perfect next step.
“When I was in community college, it felt like an extension of high school, but when I got to PSU it felt more like a professional environment that still allowed me to make art.”
So what prompted Katie to commit to studying graphic design? “For me, graphic design is such an important thing. It’s in everything that we do, and if we didn’t have it, we’d notice.”
Katie’s journey to a career in graphic design has been in the works since she was little. “I grew up using technology and am an aesthetically-minded person. I’ve been using Photoshop since I was nine years old, and I never really put it together that this is a skill.”
For Katie, graphic design is that perfect balance between the technical and the artistic. PSU is challenging her to apply those skills in her graphic design coursework. “The portfolio review is something all graphic design students have to pass to advance in the program. You compile eight to ten of your best projects. It’s a good assessment of your skills and forces you to learn to analyze your own work.”
It’s not just the coursework that makes PSU an excellent fit for Katie. “I love that campus is in downtown Portland. There are so many interesting people, and it’s such a lively campus.” The Portland Streetcar runs right through the center of campus, and it’s one of Katie’s favorite parts, “I need to say how much I love the streetcar. I recommend riding it all the way around to see what’s in Portland!” The Portland Streetcar is free to PSU students―just one of many transportation resources that make it cheap and easy to get around the city.
So what is Katie doing to get closer to making a career out of art? “Recently I started a graphic design internship at CD Baby Publishing, a music publisher here in Portland. I’m already getting to use skills I learned in school.”
Katie emphasizes that transferring to PSU was a great decision because, not only is she truly enjoying her coursework, but she has already made connections in her industry. PSU’s location in the heart of Portland gives students access to local companies and opportunities to learn from professionals in their field.
And Katie’s not alone—PSU enrolls around 1,800 transfer students every year! If you’re considering transferring to PSU from a college in Oregon, or even out of state, there are lots of resources available to make completing your degree easy. You may qualify for Transfers Finish Free, a program that covers standard tuition for Oregon residents.