Success Stories


Mt. Hood Community College Programs Help Mother From India Become a Nurse


Rajdeep KaurWhen Rajdeep Kaur grew up in Punjab, India in a loving family that belonged to the Sikh faith, she had no idea she would end up a single mother in Portland, Oregon. After an arranged marriage turned violent, Kaur fled to a shelter. But her perseverance eventually brought her to Mt. Hood Community College, where she has found support in the Transitions program and is on her way to becoming a nurse.

In Punjab, Kaur was considered an unusual girl because she loved math and science and wanted to enter the medical field. Her family frowned on the idea. She was expected to stay home, attend a girls’ school, marry and have children. Kaur persisted and was finally allowed to attend college, where she studied medical science. Her studies were interrupted by an arranged marriage, a typical event in Kaur’s religious and ethnic community.

She was initially excited to marry a successful Sikh and move to the U.S., where she hoped to continue her studies. Unfortunately, Kaur’s husband turned out to be a controlling, abusive man. In the U.S. she was kept in the home among her husband’s extended family, unable to make friends or learn the language.

When he became violent, she escaped to a domestic violence shelter with her young son. She was single, alone and unable to communicate in English, she had no job skills or even a driver’s license. Though her reality was grim, Kaur was determined to create an independent life. Within a year she had developed English fluency, earned a driver’s license, completed job training, rented an apartment and was working in a nursing home.

She took English as a Second Language classes at MHCC and then enrolled in a Career Pathways training program to become a certified nursing assistant. This program is specially designed for non-native English speakers, immigrants and refugees.

“This is a really wonderful place, I have so many instructors who are so nice,” she said. “They always encourage me — that’s why I started taking more and more classes.”

After completing the nursing assistant training, Kaur discovered the Transitions program, which helps single parents, displaced homemakers or women who speak English as a second language develop a comprehensive career plan and learn how to be successful in college. It also provides emotional support and helps students make friends as they “transition” into college life.

“I wish everyone could attend that class,” said Kaur. “They are so helpful; they told me about so many scholarship programs.”

One of those scholarships was the Ford Opportunity Scholarship from Oregon’s Ford Family Foundation. A cheerful and academically successful student, Kaur earned the scholarship, which will help pay for school, childcare and other expenses while she pursues her goal of becoming a nurse.

While Kaur misses India, she plans to remain in the U.S. where she feels she will have more opportunities as a woman and single mother to achieve her goals.

“I am very grateful for my life in Oregon,” Kaur says. “I will put my scholarship to good use and work hard to serve my new chosen community.”

For more information about the Transitions program, call 503-491-7680 or visit www.mhcc.edu/transitions. For information about setting up a scholarship, contact the MHCC Foundation at 503-491-7204.


College Support Services Help Returning Mother Overcome Obstacles

Carolyn Boyce, soft-spoken mother of one, has transformed her negative life experiences into a colorful quilt of hope and inspiration. With help from Mt. Hood Community Colleges (MHCC) support services, shes now working toward a career helping other women trapped in the cycle of domestic abuse find the courage and fortitude to reshape their lives.

I love helping people, and it would be so fulfilling to turn the bad experiences I have had into something positive in other womens lives, she said.

A member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society, Boyce is an excellent student with a bright future as a victims advocate. She divides her time between her studies and activities with her 16-year-old son, including volunteering together at a local soup kitchen and attending East Hill Church in Gresham. Her life is full of exciting goals, college friends and supportive family. And it seems all the sweeter after her long, difficult journey.

As a teenager, Boyce experienced a traumatic event that left her shaken and made scholastic achievement seem futile. She dropped out of high school and dabbled with drugs and alcohol, which led to addiction. Violent boyfriends and the end of an unhappy marriage, coupled with her addictions, left Boyce feeling trapped in a desperate cycle. In her mid-40s and homeless, she found clarity: either she could make serious life changes or face eventual run-ins with the law or an early death. She chose life. The journey was not easy, but Boyce found the strength to do what seemed difficult: seek help.

Im not proud of my past, said Boyce. But I am extremely proud of where I am today and all I have done to get here.

She entered a drug rehabilitation program in 2005, graduating in January 2007. In the spring term of 2006, she enrolled in MHCCs Transitions program, which is designed for returning female students. This was her first time back in the classroom in more than 25 years. Program mentors helped her deal with many of the traumatic events that had influenced her life. They encouraged her to apply for TRiO Student Support Services, a program for students working toward a bachelors degree. This program made a huge impact on her future. Her TRiO adviser helped her make a long-term educational plan and encouraged her to apply for scholarships.

I am so thankful to be a part of TRiO, she said. The staff has helped me in so many ways to reach my goals.

Boyce also praises the instructors at MHCC, citing three in particular as incredibly helpful: Dave Favreault, Chris Gorsek and Brandy McKenzie, instructors of math, criminal justice and modern language, respectively.

Boyce has earned eight scholarships to date, including a Soroptimist Womens Opportunity Award and an Oregon State Sheriffs Award. Shell graduate this June with her Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree and transfer to Portland State University to study criminal justice.

Shes excited to receive her diploma at the graduation ceremony and encourages other women to attend college. Dont be afraid, take that first step and follow your dream.

At MHCC, theres plenty of help to be found, from the first time a student walks in the door to the final steps toward a diploma, for those courageous enough to ask.


The TRIO Student Support Services program provides academic and other support to students who are seeking a bachelors or advanced degree. Low-income students, first generation college students and students with disabilities are invited to apply; for more information, visit www.mhcc.edu/trio or call 503-491-7688.

The Transitions program helps single parents and displaced homemakers who want to make changes in their life but don't know where to start. The program helps qualified individuals transition to college to gain job skills that will lead to financial security and independence. For more information, visit www.mhcc.edu/transitions or call 503-491-7680.


Mt. Hood grad triumphs over past difficulties
Former meth user becomes 4.0 student

By Rob Cullivan
The Gresham Outlook, Jun 17, 2008

Corrine Hoffard remembers the last time she was arrested, for possession of a controlled substance, back in 2005.

High on crystal methamphetamine, she was wandering a Northeast Portland neighborhood when someone called the police.

I guess because I was looking mighty suspicious, she says with a chuckle.

She even says she was calling friends on her cell phone at the time, begging them to pick her up because she felt she was going crazy and might do something stupid. But the cops got her first, and as she tells it now, thats a good thing.


                                 Jim Clark / The Outlook

Corrine Hoffard prepares to graduate from Mt. Hood Community College with an associates degree in applied science in mental health and human services.

Its insanity, she says of doing meth. One of my friends calls it The Monster. He said: Sounds like The Monster got a hold of you.

Hoffard, 29, who now lives in Southeast Portland, has slain The Monster, and chuckles a lot about her past, which is a checkerboard of drug abuse, homelessness, recovery and relapse, crime and punishment. But she may laugh so easily now because her future has become so much brighter.

Following her 2005 arrest, she also was convicted of first-degree burglary, and sentenced to three years probation. But this story has a happy ending. The former self-described pot-smoker, crack cocaine dealer and meth user has been sober for three years, and hopes to attend Concordia University in the fall to study social work.

Friday the 13th last week may have been unlucky for some, but not for Hoffard, a mother of four who was awarded an associates degree in Applied Science in Mental Health and Human Services from Mt. Hood Community College that day during its 2008 commencement ceremony. She earned a 4.0 average and was named one of her class valedictorians.

The same day she graduated Mt. Hood, her probation on the 2005 burglary conviction ended. Hoffard used her time wisely, setting her path straight and benefiting from treatment programs as well as housing and educational opportunities she was given through a variety of area agencies as well as Mt. Hood.

Probation is easy when you do what youre supposed to do, Hoffard says with a chuckle.

Hoffards Multnomah County probation officer, Javelin Hardy, was in the audience at Mt. Hood to watch her client walk across the stage and accept her diploma.

Hardy says it was particularly moving event because officers like her can get discouraged by those clients who seem to be forever caught in the criminal justice system through their own bad choices. Hoffard, however, is one of those clients who make all the hard work worthwhile.

Im basically here to speak to somebodys life and tell them theres something better to do than committing illegal acts and leading a criminal life, Hardy says. She has moved on. Its just so good to see somebody in that place in their life.

Hardy says that when she first met Hoffard, she noted that the young, pregnant woman was calmly dealing with her three small children.

She handled a chaotic situation as if it were nothing, Hardy says, adding that she sensed this mother had a strength that would help her overcome her past mistakes.

She was just about in a place in her life where she was open to growth and change.

Hoffard, in turn, credits Hardy for having faith in her.

Shes great. I know she wants whats best for me and her other clients.

Unlike many folks whove fallen into this or that ditch in life, Hoffard is remarkably shorn of both self-pity as well as the desire to blame others for what happened to her. When asked why she began selling crack cocaine in high school, she has a simple answer: Money.

I never did that drug. I figured I could sell what I dont do.

She got pregnant when she was 17, and the father of her first child was murdered three years later. The case has never been solved, she says.

Yet, despite her sometimes tragic past, Hoffard says she now realizes that shes always been gifted with tremendous energy, she just needed to use it for the good.

Im sure I was a good criminal, she says with a laugh. But Ill go a whole lot farther doing something positive.

She adds that shes grateful to the numerous people whove helped her along the way, from officials with the countys Family Services Unit as well as friends and family and other supporters.

I just want to thank them for believing in me and supporting me with my choices and goals.

Hoffard says that people in similar situations, whether homeless, addicted or trying to escape the criminal life, should look to her life as an example of what can happen if you replace despair with hope.

I know more things are possible. Thats what I want other people to know.


Outstanding Student Scholar Award winner encourages women
to pursue engineering careers


Nallely Gonzalez receives
Outstanding Student Scholar Award
from Oregon's Governor:  April, 2008

She never wanted to be ordinary. Even while growing up in a poor village outside Colima, Mexico, Nallely Gonzalez knew she wouldn’t follow tradition and be a stay-at-home wife and mother. Gonzalez wanted something most women in her culture are discouraged from pursuing—college and a career.

She did get married and start a family, but after she and her husband immigrated to the U.S. ten years ago, Gonzalez was determined to attend school.

At first, all she wanted was to learn English, and she threw herself into the task. She signed up for English classes at Mt. Hood Community College and spent hours studying the language by listening to television and radio and talking to people to improve her skills.

“Learning English was my only goal at the time,” Gonzalez said. “But I have a passion for education, and I wanted to keep learning.”
She enrolled in the Transitions program where she was encouraged to work toward an associate’s degree. Gonzalez’s biggest surprise was discovering an aptitude for mathematics.

She started with one of  the most basic math classes offered, (Math 20), and has now progressed to the highest class offered at MHCC, Math 256, “Differential Equations.”

“I’ve had very few students in my 31-year career who exhibit so much joy in the learning process,” said Dave Favreault, math instructor. “She truly grasps the beauty and elegance of mathematics.”

There have been times when the demands of school and managing a household that includes her husband and three children has been overwhelming.

Staying up late to study or getting up early to finish homework, Gonzalez seems the perfect example of time-management success.

"I have so many people who help keep me going,” Gonzalez said. “My husband has always been supportive, and the people in Transitions are like a second family to me. There are times when I get down and wonder why I’m doing all this, but there is always someone at MHCC I can talk to, and they help me get through the tough times.”

It’s a good thing too since Gonzalez has big plans for her future in the engineering field.

“Women, and especially Latino women, can bring a lot to the math, science and engineering fields,” Gonzalez said. “They have a different view and perspective on things and as more women come into those fields I think there will be a transformation. They will bring a whole new way of working and learning that isn’t there right now.”

“I didn’t really enjoy math until I had a teacher who liked to make jokes and always looked for fun ways to present the information but also stressed the exactness and perfect structure of math,” Gonzalez said. “The easy-going approach taught me not to be afraid of math and the perfection of it appealed to my sense of organization.”

One day, Gonzalez hopes to bring that same kind of teaching technique to a classroom of her own, but only after she’s worked in the engineering field for awhile. She wants to make math less of a barrier to women because of the many lucrative opportunities in engineering.

Not content to put those plans on hold until after graduation, Gonzalez has worked as a mentor to new Transitions students and spent time tutoring middle school Latino students in mathematics.
Gonzalez plans to transfer in 2009 to Portland State University and will use the $1,000 OCCA scholarship money to study engineering there.

From humble beginnings in Mexico, to caring for her family and achieving academic success in engineering, Gonzalez has more than demonstrated she is no ordinary woman.


Once homeless, MHCC Outstanding Student Scholar
now has a brighter future helping others

Four years ago no one would believe Julie Mertes would one day be shaking hands with the governor or chosen as an outstanding community college scholar. That’s because four years ago Mertes was eating green beans in a vacant lot at Christmas. She was homeless and desperately wanted to shake her drug addiction but had no idea where to start. Today, Mertes is drug-free, has a job and will soon receive a Mental Health/Human Service degree from Mt. Hood Community College with a 4.0 G.P.A.
Being chosen as one of this year’s Outstanding Student Scholars by the Oregon Community College Association (OCCA) is a special honor as only two students from each Oregon community college are chosen to receive the award.

“The OCCA award tells me that with hope, support and a lot of hard work, I can make anything happen,” Mertes said.

Unfortunately, this dramatic turnaround in her life wasn’t easily achieved. Homeless, drug addicted and a domestic abuse victim, it seemed as if life couldn’t get much worse, but it did. Mertes was arrested after a high speed police chase. The judge who presided over her case believed in her sincerity to get off of drugs but had to sentence her to jail until treatment program space became available. After three months in jail she was accepted into a drug treatment program.

“Once I was clean and sober I found a job so I could pay off my court costs and fines,” Mertes said. “After I’d made full restitution, I wanted to make a clean start. I knew I needed a whole new environment and network of friends if I was going to do something with my life.” 

After giving it serious thought, Mertes entered the Transitions program at MHCC, a program designed to help displaced homemakers and single parents transition to college.

“When I first started at MHCC, my self-esteem was so low, I wanted a solitary career, one that wouldn’t require me to deal with people,” Mertes said. Mertes describes her journey as a series of “baby steps,” and the first one was learning to trust others and accept their support.

“Once I’d learned to trust others, I began a journey toward self respect which is rapidly developing into a crusade,” Mertes said. “My past experiences give me an ability to help others through my insight and compassion. The flip side of that is in helping others who suffer from addiction and domestic violence, I have found a way to give value to my past experiences.”  

Through the Mental Health/Human Service program Mertes learned the skills to help others, skills she has used as a mentor in the Transitions program and at her internship at Cascadia Behavioral Health Care.

The OCCA recognition also comes with a $1000 scholarship which she will use when she transfers to Portland State University to major in Child and Family Studies. After that, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in Social Services.

“I simply can’t imagine my life without the Transitions and the Mental Health/Human Service instructors,” Mertes said. “I came to MHCC as a struggling student and will be leaving as a Mental Health professional.”


How one woman has changed her life through college

 

Felecia Wells-Thomas decided she needed a drastic career change. “I always told my son he could be whatever he wanted to be,” she said. “But I needed to show him myself, and I was bored with my job.” While she was researching elementary schools for him, now 12, she realized she needed to find a school for herself as well.

Her search led her to Mt. Hood Community College. A few years later, not only does she have her associate’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism, but she’s about to graduate with her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. But Wells-Thomas wouldn’t have gotten this far without the skills she learned at MHCC.

“I didn’t have the tools to succeed in a four-year learning environment,” she said. “But MHCC taught me to be confident and to sit in the front row.”
Wells-Thomas was drawn to MHCC because of the Transitions program, which offers special support and guidance to displaced homemakers, single parents and women who speak English as a second language. She was 40 years old and had the determination to finish school, but needed assistance discovering and achieving her specific goals.

“Transitions is a core group of women who were learning to focus on themselves and learning to speak openly,” she said. “I learned how to stand out and to ask for what I want and what I need.” Wells-Thomas needed help focusing her many interests into a career path. Thanks to guidance from her Transitions coursework, she decided to earn her associate’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism because it was a way to integrate her interests in history, people and culture.

Switching from full-time beautician to full-time student was a difficult adjustment for Wells-Thomas. MHCC’s classroom format helped her ease her academic insecurities. “The classes are small,” she said. “Instead of lectures, we had to interact with our classmates and the instructor. I felt like I could ask for help because of the partnership with my instructors.”

Succeeding academically at MHCC prepared Wells-Thomas for continuing her education. This year, she’ll graduate from Portland State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Business Administration. Wells-Thomas selected her major at PSU with similar criteria as her major at MHCC; she wanted a degree that covered a wide-variety of subjects. She liked how business administration incorporated research, forecasting and logistics. Her post-graduation hopes are to get involved with a developing company that’s interested in sustainability.

And she’s still a very involved parent to her son. “I try to expose him to culture,” she said. “I try to teach him about having good friends and being a good friend. And he’s so proud of me.”


A student’s tragedy changes the life of the one person who offers help

When a drunk driver hit one of her students, Teresa Blanshine’s life took a new direction. The student was in a coma for a month and his only relative in the country didn’t speak English. According to Blanshine, the hospital had him sign documents he couldn’t read and then forced the boy to leave the hospital before he was ready. When Blanshine, an instructional assistant, heard what happened, she was not only horrified, she arranged for the boy to enter a rehabilitation home, helped his parents travel to Oregon from Mexico and got them a lawyer.

Blanshine was deeply affected by this event. “Seeing the way he was treated because of the lack of language, I knew I could help people so much better than that!”

She understood the difficulty of not speaking English because she struggled to learn English herself. She was born the youngest of 12 children to parents who could not read or write. She was able to finish tenth grade in her tiny village in Mexico, before having to drop out. Her father believed school was not for women—Blanshine looked at her narrow world and felt dissatisfaction and frustration.

When her sister moved to the United States, she jumped at the opportunity for a new life. In Oregon, she enrolled in English classes at Mt. Hood Community College. She later earned her GED and went on to obtain an Educational Assistant certificate.

After her student’s accident, Blanshine decided to take her bilingual skills to the nursing field to ensure Spanish speakers received the level of healthcare enjoyed by English speakers.

Blanshine enrolled in the Health Care Access Program (HCAP), a nationally recognized MHCC program that helps non-native English speaking women prepare to enter a health care program. Through HCAP she’s received resources and support, attended workshops and has even observed open-heart surgery.

She will receive her Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree in June and is applying to enter a nursing program. Recently she was awarded the Soroptimist scholarship, her sixth scholarship to date.
Once in a while she runs into the student who first inspired her to become a nurse—he’s recovered from his injuries and takes classes at MHCC. Seeing him pursue his own education reinforces her resolve to seek a career helping others.

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 Last Modified: 10/2/2009 12:07:57 PM