Oregon State University Extension Services has had a presence in the community for many decades, but OSU has decided to bring its Open Campus program to the Columbia Gorge as well.
Ann Harris, newly hired Open Campus coordinator, says the initiative is one that facilitates new ways the university can “reach out and partner with existing community organizations and educational institutions to work toward three main goals: college and career readiness, degree completion, and professional and economic development.”
“No one entity is going to make those things happen,” Harris said. “The purpose of Open Campus is to coordinate efforts to enable students to meet as many markers of educational success as they can.”
According to their website, the foundational principles behind Oregon State’s Open Campus are to provide programming based on “locally identified needs” and to “facilitate local access to learning, which is critical for place-bound and learners faced with limited resources.”
“The typical student isn’t the ‘just out of high school’ norm anymore,” Harris said. “It’s adults going back to school who have families and other commitments to keep them busy. We need to meet people where they are and provide them with what they need to meet those graduation requirements.”
Harris said her role in all of this boils down to connecting with the communities of The Dalles and Hood River to determine area needs. She is the first person to be named Open Campus coordinator in the Columbia Gorge, and so will be assisted by an educational council comprised of county leaders, who will help “identify key areas that will further the efforts of the program.”
“It’s all based on the concept of bringing the wealth of educational opportunities offered by the university and sharing them with the rest of the state. If you can’t come to Corvallis to benefit from OSU’s resources, then we’re making sure that a good portion of what’s offered at Corvallis can come to you, with staff like myself helping to coordinate everything so that it really works for you.”
Harris said this process involves a wide range of services, including helping students know what to take in order to get a transfer degree to OSU with the least amount of time and money spent.
“It’s really exciting to be a part of such an important program and I want the community to know that OSU has a real commitment to Open Campus as a means by which they can extend their outreach services to more people who could benefit from them.”
Although new to her position with OSU, Harris is by no means a stranger to the gorge or Columbia Gorge Community College.
After receiving a master’s degree in social work from UC Berkeley and returning to the workforce herself, Harris said she “saw a lot of people whose full potential just wasn’t being realized.” So, after going back to school and making the career switch to education, Harris dedicated seven years as a career and academic advisor for CGCC students to “helping people become aware of all the options they had to really realize it.”
Her experience as an advisor, she said, will definitely inform her thinking as she serves as coordinator for a program focused on helping students make the transition from high school to community college, and from there on to a four-year degree or whatever higher education path they choose.
Online bachelor’s degrees from OSU, Harris said, can potentially save a lot of money if a student chooses to attend a community college like CGCC for their first few terms before transferring to an online college or a four-year institution, while simultaneously allowing them to maintain their local connections and not be forced to relocate.
The Open Campus program will also have a hand in education geared toward older adults seeking to enhance their abilities to meet the needs of today’s employers with non-credit courses that focus on skill building and career management.
“It’s really key that people know that Open Campus efforts being conducted in Wasco County will probably look different than what’s being done in Hood River. Our work is designed to be region-specific in order to best serve each community’s needs.”
Harris said she welcomes input regarding the needs of the area and that she intends to conduct several community focus groups in order to generate ideas to this effect in the near future.
For more information about Open Campus and what OSU has to offer residents of the Columbia Gorge, contact her 541-386-3343, extension 228 or email ann.harris@ore