Returning Student’s Winding Journey to PSU

Bridie Cawthorne

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!”

It’s a common misconception that students need to have a high school diploma or GED to get into a four-year college. PSU has a few options for students with non-standard high school backgrounds, including enrolling as a non-degree student or transferring from a community college.

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.”

See if PSU’s biology program is the right fit for your journey.

Bridie working in the molecular/cellular lab.

Homelessness Didn’t Stop This Future Doctor

Katrina Dejeu

Going to college can be especially challenging for first-generation college students, and even more difficult for students from low-income or single-parent homes. Katrina Dejeu didn’t let those challenges deter her from achieving her ultimate goal—becoming an intensive care unit doctor.

Katrina is graduating from Portland State University in Fall, 2019, with a bachelor’s degree in health studies: health sciences and she’s in the pre-medicine advising track.

She has always been interested in healthcare. Since she was young, she thought she would go into nursing. Even though money was tight, she knew going to college was the first step to achieving her goals. She applied to PSU because it was close to home and more affordable than other universities. And she knew PSU offered resources to help her be a successful college student. “TRIO is one of the main reasons I decided to go to PSU. I got an email from TRIO, and they suggested I take the Summer Bridge class. It helped me adjust to college and learn about PSU’s resources.”

TRIO is a program that helps students overcome class, social and cultural barriers to higher education. TRIO students are first-generation, low-income and/or from culturally diverse backgrounds. They get an advisor, who works with them throughout their time at PSU. TRIO hosts workshops to set students up for success. They even provide TRIO students a computer lab and resource rentals, including books, laptops and calculators. Katrina even became a Peer Outreach Mentor for TRIO when she was a junior.

Katrina started at PSU in the pre-nursing track. Her classes were going well, but she faced some challenges during her freshman year that made her worried she’d have to quit college. She is the second oldest of four children, and her mom is a single parent. Katrina works so she can help support her family and pay rent. Due to difficult personal circumstances, Katrina and her family became homeless.

“We didn’t have any immediate family we could rely on. We stayed at motels with whatever money we had, and sometimes we stayed in our cars. When you’re homeless, you don’t want to do anything. I remember working a job and going to school, but I had no motivation to do anything else. It was scary. The stress made me not want to go to school anymore.”

The first person Katrina went to for help was her TRIO advisor, Linda Liu. “I just cried to her,” says Katrina, “and she listened and referred me to other PSU resources that could help. She even helped me write emails to my professors explaining what was going on and how they could help work around my situation.”

Katrina reached out to PSU’s Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC). “Being homeless was a stressful time for me, and I just needed someone to talk to. It was comforting talking to a counselor because they don’t pass judgment.” SHAC even connected Katrina with resources in the Portland community that could help her family find shelter. “We were able to find an apartment because of the resources I was given,” says Katrina.

PSU students taking five or more credits are charged a Student Health Fee, which covers most medical and counseling services at SHAC. The counseling services at SHAC include individual counseling, group counseling and more. Schedule a consultation with a counselor.

Katrina overcame that stressful time and even got scholarships and grants to help her pay for college, including the Ignite Scholarship. Ignite is a program that supports pre-health students so they can reach their healthcare career goals. The Ignite Scholarship is a one-time $5,000 award for pre-health students. As part of the scholarship, these students serve as Ignite Mentors, where they connect with incoming pre-health students and help them develop strategies for dealing personal and academic issues. “I really like mentoring others. It’s rewarding to meet students from all walks of life and help them achieve their goals.”

Her healthcare knowledge and leadership experience came in handy when she started volunteering and working in the healthcare field. She gives back by volunteering as a lab assistant at Outside In, a clinic dedicated to providing medical services to homeless youth and other marginalized people. At Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU), Katrina works as a student lab assistant for a stem cell research lab. Katrina’s TRIO advisor helped her get a job as a scribe for Adventist Health in the emergency department; she assists physicians by taking notes and completing medical documentation.

It was the thrill of working as a scribe that made Katrina think that becoming a doctor might be a better fit. She learned in her PSU classes that her interest in analyzing lab results and making decisions about patient treatments aligned with doctors. But becoming a doctor felt out of reach. “I thought because my family is low-income and my mom is a single parent that I wouldn’t be able to afford to go to medical school, and it takes many years to complete.”

All she needed was a little push to start her down her dream path. “My supervising doctor at Adventist told me he saw me as more of a doctor than a nurse, because my personality would be best in a leadership role,” says Katrina. “I was surprised to hear that, and it made me believe I could actually become a doctor. I kept talking to my mom about it, and one day she told me, ‘Just do it!’ That convinced me. I wouldn’t let my fears of not being able to afford medical school or being a good enough student get in my way.”

During her junior year, she officially switched to the pre-medicine advising track after talking with her pre-health advisor. Katrina and her advisor looked over the classes she needed and discussed when she should apply for medical school.

After she graduates, Katrina plans to get her doctor of medicine in internal medicine. She wants to get a critical care fellowship, so she can work in an ICU. “I like the adrenaline rush of working in the ICU. Those doctors have to perform under pressure. I want to be able to save people’s lives in emergency situations. That would be such a great honor for me.”

Check out how financial aid can help you pay for college, so you can achieve your dream career.

Katrina working as a scribe
Katrina’s typical day as a scribe involves following a provider and charting patient information in the electronic medical record.

Veteran Explores Trauma in Writing and Comics

Dustin Rozier

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.

Students who think they qualify for benefits should connect with Veterans Services. In addition to the VRC, PSU’s Veterans Services includes the Veterans Certification office, which can help you process and certify your Veterans Affairs (VA) or Department of Defense (DoD) benefits, including the GI Bill. There are several different GI Bill programs with different eligibility under the VA Education Benefits. Keep in mind that before you can apply to use VA Education Benefits, you must apply to PSU and contact the Veterans Certification office.

Visit the Veterans Services website for information about how to start getting benefits.

Dustin lives in an apartment on campus with his dog, Bear.

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.

Check out PSU’s Advising Pathways, so you can start figuring out what major is your right fit.

Dustin poses with his motorcycle against the Oregon landscape.
Dustin on a writing research trip during wildfire season in Southern Oregon.

From Robotics Hobbyist to Aerospace Engineer

Engineering student, Jennifer Jordan

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.”  

See how Portland State can help you with your next step.

Sign up for a campus tour and visit the Engineering Building.

Jennifer Engineering Project
Jennifer in one of the engineering labs showing off “the cage.”

Making Art…Into a Career

Katie sits in the Park Blocks drawing in her sketchbook.

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.

Check out how you can take the leap and transfer to PSU.

Photo of Katie at Be Honest, the PSU Graphic Design student portfolio showcase, standing behind her work.
Photo of Katie at Be Honest, the PSU Graphic Design student portfolio showcase. Check out Katie’s work!

“The grass was literally greener”

“I wanted something completely different, to embrace change rather than run from it.”

Jasmin Landa, a senior Business and Management Leadership major from Reno, Nevada, saw in Portland State something exotic.

“It was just so different than anything I had ever experienced. The people are nice, the perspectives more diverse, and, I mean, the grass was literally greener. I can’t see myself living anywhere else anymore.”

Jasmin hit the ground running, spending almost her entire freshman year exploring campus and getting involved.

“I spent so little time in my dorm room. I wanted to see everything, to really get close to the community here. I spent a lot of time at Campus Rec and at the Smith Student Union just talking to people and finding out everything campus had to offer.”

She found quite a lot. Jasmin seems to have a part of almost every aspect of campus life. She plays club-level volleyball for PSU, works for both Portland State University Communications and PSU’s Center Student Health and Counseling (SHAC), is a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, and sits on the student-run Organization Budget Council, which helps facilitate student clubs and events.   

Jasmin is also the recipient of a Diversity Scholarship and other financial aid. “I knew that my mom couldn’t support me, and that I would be on my own as far as paying for college.” Nearly 70% of PSU students are using some sort of financial aid.

“At first I was hesitant to apply for a Diversity Scholarship, but eventually I decided that I needed to own my story, to be true to myself and my experiences. I’m very self-motivated in that way.”

That motivation has allowed her to expand her learning outside of the classroom. Her work with SHAC has helped her gain skills that can extend far beyond graduation.

“I do a lot of work with the food security initiatives on campus, things like Harvest Share and the Food Pantry, two amazing resources for students who may not have good access to healthy, fresh food.”

“I also help advocate for SHAC, and how it’s not just a wellness center. We have specialists, everyone from dentists to doctors to therapists. Our goal is healthy students, however that is achieved.”

As someone who wants to one day start her own business, the interpersonal and organizational skills she has gained from all of her campus activities are preparing her for life after graduation.

“I am making really good connections through all of the things I’m involved with, and people are able to turn me on to a lot of amazing potential opportunities, especially since I want to stay in Portland.”

Jasmin’s advice to students coming to campus for the first time this Fall?

“I think it’s all about exploring campus. Go into every building, read every flyer, talk to everyone you meet. There are so many things to get involved in that I promise you will find something to be passionate about as long as you get out and discover it.”

Learn more about SHAC!

Learn more about Diversity Scholarships!

Jasmin Landa

Journeys and Destinations

The circuitous route is sometimes the most enlightening.

“There were times when I had a lot of doubt, times when I thought I’d never get to the point where I could graduate. Looking back now everything looks so different.”

Franky Martin, a senior Graphic Design major from Salem, Oregon, will finally, after eleven years bouncing from college to college, job to job, walk the commencement stage and be rewarded with his Bachelor’s degree.

“Getting my bachelors was always at the back of my mind. It was always the goal,” but the route to that goal wasn’t always so clear.

Franky initially started at a private college in Oregon, but left after finding that it didn’t mesh well with his own personality. “It was small, rural, expensive— it just wasn’t for me. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity.”

Opportunity is something Franky finds at PSU in spades. “The engagement here, with PSU, with the city, is so amazing. The creative community is big and really receptive to student involvement.”

Portland’s urban environment was something that was always alluring to Franky. After leaving his first college, Franky started taking classes at Chemeketa Community College in his hometown of Salem, but all the while he was there the opportunities in Portland beckoned.

“At Chemeketa, all of my graphic design professors kept saying that the place to study in Oregon was PSU.” Before Franky transferred, he was able to speak with graphic design faculty at PSU, who helped him in the transition.

“Everyone here— the professors, faculty, even my peers— are so invested in my success. They really do care about my growth not only as a student but also as a person. Everyone seemed excited to help and get to know me.”

Franky’s professors have been able to put him in touch with graphic design professionals all over Portland who are helping him gain the skills and connections he needs to land a job after graduation.

“I helped with the design for Design Week in Portland this year, and there is no way I would have gotten that opportunity without my professors looking out for me.”

The professors in Franky’s program also bring in industry professionals nearly every week, and students have the opportunity to speak candidly with them about what is important to their growth and success in the industry.

“Looking at where I am now it’s hard to believe I ever thought I couldn’t get here. It’s kind of surreal.”

As surreal as it may seem, Franky’s success in the program (he was part of the winning Adobe Creative Jam this year, an event where PSU Graphic Design students have a limited time to create a unique piece of graphic art) is indicative of how easily PSU students are able to gain the skills the need to land a job post graduation.

“Oh yeah, I feel more than prepared. I’ve grown not just in my technical skill but as a person too. I’ve gained so much confidence, more than I’d ever thought I could have.”

Franky’s advice to new students?

“Really get to know the faculty in your department. They’re advocates for you, allies, and the people who can help you in good times and bad.”

Franky attributes a lot of his success to the mentorship of his professors. However, it is his own hard work that will shine brightest as he gets his diploma. When he does eventually leave campus to make his mark on the world, he isn’t seeing it as a door closing.

“It’s less of a journey ending for me as a whole new path opening up.”

Learn more about PSU graduates and student success!

See where alums are working now!

Franky Martin

PSU is a Place for Community

The comfort that comes from a welcoming and accessible campus can make all the difference. If certain campus resources are offered, like those that help students graduate, it can make the task of choosing a college much easier.

Such was the case for Grace Piper, a senior Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major from Hillsboro, OR.

Portland State was a really easy decision for me.” Grace had grown up around Portland and knew about the resources and opportunities PSU offers, but there was one thing in particular that helped them decide.

“What ultimately drove me to PSU was that it was listed in the top 25 most LGBT friendly college campuses when I was applying back in 2012/2013. This year I think we actually moved into the top 10, which is really cool and important!”

Once on campus, Grace found the Queer Resource Center, a support resource for students along the sexuality and gender spectra. “The QRC was on my radar early on.” QRC events helped Grace get acclimated to campus life and surrounded them with a community that understood where they were coming from.

“At first, I felt pretty shy and nervous. I remember coming into the QRC, looking around and quickly leaving. Eventually, though, I felt comfortable hanging out more and coming to events. I have made my best friends through the QRC.”

Now Grace helps to support the QRC by acting as their Marketing Coordinator. “I first got involved after helping plan Pride Month freshman year and have been working here since.” Grace also helps plan QRC events on campus that bring students who are feeling marginalized into a safe, welcoming environment.

“I helped plan the Queer Students of Color Conference this year. Pride Month, too, which happens throughout the month of May and leads us into the city’s celebration of Pride.” The Queer Students of Color Conference (QSOCC) especially represents the broad outreach that the QRC takes on, reaching out to student populations that may feel excluded or without representation.

All students, regardless of sexual or gender identity, can utilize the services of the QRC, which gets over 3,000 visits a year.

Grace’s university outreach doesn’t just extend to the QRC, they are also a University Studies Peer Mentor, leading the Health, Happiness, and Human Rights Freshman Inquiry course.

“It has been a really cool opportunity for me. I want to go into education and advocacy work, so this position has given me a lot of experience in teaching and curriculum development.”

All of these experiences are helping Grace gain the skills they need for life after graduation. “If I can, I want to work somewhere focusing on queer and trans and/or communities of color, which pairs really well with my campus experiences.”

Grace’s advice to new students?

“Seek community. Being marginalized makes completing your degree harder, so exploring the resources available to you is really important for support and making friends. Put yourself out there to find where you feel comfortable.”

Learn more about the QRC and find more LGBTQ resources on campus.

Accessibility Meets Opportunity

The benefits of experience cannot be undervalued. Those who seek out the avenues to build their skillset are able to venture into the world prepared to make the biggest impact, a fact which Justin Orendorff, a junior Liberal Studies major from Canby, Oregon, understands.

“I want to learn as much as I can so that I can do something great after I graduate.” Justin aspires to be an author and to go onto graduate programs in creative writing, so it made perfect sense that he would get involved with Ooligan Press, the PSU student-run book publishing house on campus.

Couched within the Master of Fine Arts in Book Publishing program, Ooligan affords both undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to get hands-on professional experience with book publishing.

“I don’t think I could have gotten those kinds of experiences and skills at another university, not like this.” And Justin’s right. No other school in Oregon offers undergraduate students the chance to work on books that will actually go onto store shelves the way PSU does.

“It’s invaluable to see the process, especially since I want to be an author.” What’s more is that students participate with Ooligan as a class, so they get credits they can use towards graduation.

What’s especially unique about Ooligan Press, and PSU student groups at large, is that students don’t need to be in a specific major to participate.

“I’m a Liberal Studies major, so I take classes in sciences and education, but Ooligan, which I thought was only for English majors, was excited when I asked about joining. My major didn’t matter, they just wanted me to grow.”  

The ability for undergraduate students to get professional experiences while still in school is not only limited to Ooligan. Every major has ways for students to get involved with community or research projects, all of which are enhanced by the vibrant Portland geography.

Justin transferred to PSU from another Oregon university that was in a much smaller town.

“It definitely didn’t have the same resources and opportunities as Portland. Plus, I love that the campus is right downtown. It makes everything so accessible.”

That accessibility is playing into Justin’s project at Ooligan, where he is helping to organize the annual Write to Publish conference where authors can learn the ins and outs of getting published. “Since I want to be published one day it’s a perfect fit.”

Taking on community projects and hands-on skills during undergrad can have impacts that ripple out through a student’s life, and the staff and faculty at PSU are excited to facilitate students’ in their efforts serve Portland.

Learn about ways PSU undergraduates gain professional skills and interact with the city.

Surprise in the Unexpected

Sometimes a plan comes together in the shadow of uncertainty. For Hayley Pritchard, a first year School Health Education major from Nevada City, California, the decision to pursue college was never so clear. “College wasn’t really on my radar.”

It wasn’t until she visited Portland and learned that PSU had a degree that interested her, that college became a possibility in her mind. “I’ve been interested in health education ever since I started volunteering with health organizations in the seventh grade, so I was thrilled to learn that PSU had a School Health Education degree.”

Hayley is wasting no time in making her mark on campus. She is going to be an RA next year, and she sees a lot of potential to use what she is learning in her classes to help incoming students.

“What I’m learning in my Stress Management (PHE 275) and Community Health (PHE 446) classes I can apply to working with students living on my residence floor and help get them through their first year.”

Transitioning from living at home to living on campus in a big city can be a big change for some, but Hayley sees living in the heart of Portland to be an amazing chance to explore. “I love how connected all the student housing is with the city. It really allows you to explore and go everywhere. It’s unrestrictive.”

Hayley is exploring all that the city has to offer. “I feel like I’ve been all over Portland this year, tasting all the amazing food and experiencing all the amazing culture the city has to offer. I even found a place I can go blues dancing, a passion of mine.”

Getting around Portland from PSU is easy since the Max (light rail), streetcar, bus and BIKETOWN (bike share) all have a presence on campus. “You can even walk to most places you want to go.”

Don’t think that living downtown means you’ll be living in cramped spaces. PSU has a wide range of on-campus housing options, all of which, from the modern residence halls to the historic ones, include everything students need to thrive in their first year.

“Living in the dorms really helps create a community, too. You’ll get to meet a really diverse set of people.”

Hayley’s advice to students coming to campus this fall? “Make sure you are proactive. Not just in school, but to yourself as well. Make sure you take care of yourself and do what makes you comfortable. Surround yourself with everything you need to be successful, it makes all the difference.”

Learn more about Housing at PSU and sign-up to take a Housing tour!