If coming to college means mastering fears, students have a good guide in Stan Houghton, Polk Center Business Instructor and life-long fan of grizzly bears.
"I like the grizzly's strength," said Houghton, who grew up in Alaska. "They add pizzazz to being in the woods." You just have to know how to handle them, he said; if you see one, "Quietly back off and don’t make eye contact."
Houghton is similarly well-suited to help students learn to handle the wilds of college - and business. Known for his easy-going nature and approachability among students and staff, Houghton can be a welcome presence in college. "I like to have clear rules and then a laid-back atmosphere in my courses," he said.
Having run a busy computer repair business, he knows the pitfalls and keys to success that can help future managers.
And when returning college students walk into his classroom, they find an instructor with empathy for their situation because he was once in their shoes.
"I know what it's like to walk into a classroom after 15 or 20 years out of college," he said. "You think to yourself, 'Can I do this?'"
Houghton went back to school in 1992 after working 17 years as a minister in Alaska and Oregon. He was in his 30s when he decided to earn a bachelor's degree in Management and Organizational Leadership, and then an MBA, while also working full time and supporting a family.
He began teaching business at George Fox University, and
started at Chemeketa five years ago.
He enjoys the creativity that teaching allows him, and the "light bulb moment" that students experience in his classes when concepts suddenly become clear. He splits his full time position between Dallas and Woodburn, teaching courses such as Personal Effectiveness and Business Management Principles, as well as computer courses.
When he is not teaching, Houghton enjoys both hunting and reading, as well as spending time with his wife and his four daughters and their families.
But he spends much of his time constructing classes and working with students. Figuring out how to best handle the challenges of teaching so he can best help students is completely engaging to him, he says: "I get a great deal of satisfaction out of helping people succeed."
Saydi Plummer's passion for baking and cooking not only keeps her in Mom’s good graces while she attends Chemeketa Polk and lives at home, it is also a path to her future.
Plummer, 18, discovered Chemeketa's one-year Food Management Certificate program this spring when she was exploring possible careers in her Counseling and Guidance class.
"It's perfect for me," said Plummer, who dreams of going into catering or restaurant management.
She’s well on her way to entering that field with a college degree.
Plummer is one of over 300 Dallas High School students since 2005 who have used the Extended Campus Program to attend Chemeketa. It funds up to two years at the community college, including tuition, books and mileage to attend classes on other campuses.
A joint effort by the school district and Chemeketa, the program seeks to move teens seamlessly from high school to college, and to replace enrichment opportunities Dallas High School lost in budget cuts over the last decade.
One of the first in her family to go to college, Plummer said her mom encouraged her to try out the program. Her older sister earned a psychology degree from Brigham Young University. She is still paying back her college loans, whereas Plummer will leave the Extended Campus program next June with no debt and enough credits for an Associates Degree in General Studies.
Plummer has found that although they are across the parking lot from one another, high school and college in Dallas are different worlds. In high school, teachers keep track of students and their progress. In college, work and effort is up to the student.
"There's a whole lot of freedom," Plummer said; at the same time, instructors bend over backwards to help any student who asks.
She has really enjoyed Chemeketa Polk, where she has taken all her courses, because classes are small and all her instructors know her. "I'm not just a number here," she said.
When she's not in school or the kitchen, Plummer trains her three dogs, two Yorkshire terriers and a poodle. They all live at home with Mom, who is also now enrolled at Polk Chemeketa. "My mother has been very kind to me," Plummer said. “We help each other.”
Janet Spaeth used to greet customers with her trademark smile, like she's about to tell you a joke, when she managed The Salon Café in Dallas.
Now she greets students and staff the same way at Chemeketa Polk Center, where she is a full time student earning a Medical Administrative Assistant Associate of Applied Science degree.
"When the café closed in 2011, there were not a lot of jobs,” Spaeth said. “I wanted a good part-time job or job share that would allow me to work with people, so I figured I needed to go to college to get a job like that."
She'd attended some college over the years, but had not completed a degree. Chemeketa Polk Center’s dean Reine Thomas, a regular Salon Deli customer, suggested she look into earning one in Dallas.
Work source helped her figure out what field would be compatible with her interests and goals, and health services seemed a good fit. A college adviser helped her choose a degree path.
The hardest part about going back to college? "That first day. It was intimidating," she said. She expected to stand out as an older student, but she quickly realized she was just one of the crowd: "There's a big variety of ages. I’ve met people older than me too."
Spaeth is one of several Chemeketa Polk students attending college alongside their own children. Her oldest son attended Chemeketa Polk and now her youngest does too. They have not had classes together, but she has had classes with some of her son's friends. "Psychology," she said with a grin. "That was interesting." She has been able to take most of her classes in Dallas, but has taken a few classes at Chemeketa's Yamhill Valley campus as well. "It's a pretty drive," she said.
Spaeth is one year away from finishing her degree. She initially planned to earn a one-year certificate, but she changed her mind once she got started. "I decided I might as well go for a degree," she said. She looks forward to the day when she will go through the graduation ceremony with her class next June.
But for now, she's taking a break for the summer. "It's been a long haul," she said, "I'm anxious to get in my garden."