State of the College: Community Partnership Creates Penguin Promise
Clark finds new funding sources as state contribution dips
By Jacques Von Lunen
The Columbian Newspaper
Clark College has done more with less in recent years, mostly due to private-public partnerships, said college President Bob Knight during his annual State of the College address in January.
The college at this point can hardly be called “state-funded” anymore, Knight said. It’s merely “state-assisted” now, he said.
Knight spent much of his speech at the Gaiser Student Center highlighting new programs or facilities on campus that were made possible by contributions from businesses and individuals. Shortly before Knight took the Gaiser stage, he signed on to the latest such partnership.
In a small room above the student center Thursday morning, Knight and representatives from the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest Washington signed an agreement establishing a scholarship program called Penguin Promise.
Basically, it pays for certain students to go to Clark for up to three years if they follow a strict regimen during their earlier schooling from eighth grade on.
The program will not use any current college dollars. Instead, the Clark College Foundation and the Boys and Girls Club will be looking for donations to set up an endowment, Ara Serjoie, vice president of the foundation, told The Columbian.
The program will start enlisting its first middle and high school students this fall. The students will sign a pledge in eighth grade — joining the program later reduces their scholarship — to play by a list of rules for the remainder of their school career.
Candidates must be Clark County residents who attend the Boys and Girls Club, Knight said.
They must take math and English classes, and must have an average attendance rate above 90 percent during all four years of high school.
They must enter Clark within two years of getting their high school diploma and maintain a grade-point average of at least 2.0 there.
The students will have mentors available at the Boys and Girls Club and the college. The program mainly targets at-risk populations and first-generation college students, but there will not be a set income limit to apply, Serjoie said.
The scholarship is meant as a “top-off” fund, meaning it kicks in after other grants or scholarships are exhausted, he said. Students in the program will be expected to apply for at least two other sources of college money. They will not be expected to take out loans, Serjoie said.
The first group of students — up to 25 will be accepted each year — would enter Clark in 2016, Knight said.
If the program and the fundraising are successful, Penguin Promise would be expanded communitywide, Knight said.
Other recent private-public projects at Clark include a program that trains PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center workers to become state-certified nursing assistants, an early-learning center made possible by the Oliva family, and a new dental hygiene lab mostly paid for by the Roy and Virginia Andersen Endowment Fund, Knight said.
Those partnerships and donations have somewhat softened the blow of repeated state budget cuts. A few years ago, the state paid about 60 percent of Clark’s operating expenses, Knight said. By the end of this year — after the next anticipated round of cuts — the state is expected to cover less than 40 percent, he said.
In the same period, students saw their tuition rise nearly 30 percent. Tuition will rise by another 12 percent next year, Knight said. That increase is set at the state level, not by the college. More and more students take out loans to cover rising expenses, Knight said.
A recommendation by Gov. Chris Gregoire to slash higher education payments by 13 percent to help balance the state budget would take $3 million from Clark, Knight said. About $1 million would be recouped by the tuition increase.
“These are tough times and we’re not asking for a budget increase,” Knight said.
But further cuts would slow the training of workers and hurt the economic recovery, he said. Gregoire also suggested to temporarily raise the state sales tax by one-half cent and have that revenue go to education.
Knight called that proposed increase a “wise investment in our state.”
This story was originally published in The Columbian newspaper on January 19, 2012. Photo by Steven Lane.
Ready for Liftoff
Clark shoots for the moon in NASA contest
One afternoon in early December, in a lab room in Anna Pechanec Hall, Keane Diffenbaugh rubbed his face wearily.
The Clark sophomore had been up until 7 a.m. working on a draft of the presentation he and his teammates would be giving later that month as part of their entry into the NASA University Student Launch Initiative (USLI), a national competition that challenges university-level students to design, build and launch a reusable rocket capable of delivering a scientific or engineering payload (which they also design and build) to as close to one mile above ground level as possible.
Diffenbaugh clicked through his PowerPoint slides with their breakdowns of payloads and timelines. Occasionally his teammates peppered him with questions, prompting a tired sigh. “This presentation is supposed to be no more than 20 minutes,” he said. “It’s just an overview.”
But CADD Professor Keith Stansbury, who has served as the team’s academic advisor, continued to push for clarifications. “What you need to do is to bone up on your numbers, so if they ask you questions [during the presentation], you’re not confused,” he told Diffenbaugh, who nodded quietly.
This is the first year that Clark has entered the contest. Only one other community college has entered this year; the other 40 schools include institutions like MIT, Purdue University, and Virginia Tech University. “We’re basically an underdog on the list,” said Diffenbaugh.
Diffenbaugh admitted that there were disadvantages to competing as a two-year school—for instance, most university teams would be composed of juniors and seniors. Nor does Clark have the research facilities or budget of, say, Vanderbilt University.
On the other hand, these students have something most of their competitors won’t have: life experience. Diffenbaugh, 27, spent more than seven years in the U.S. Marine Corps; his teammate Robert Mitchum has been building rockets as a hobby since he was a kid. Most of the team’s 10 members are in their 20s, if not older.
The competition has proven to be a valuable educational tool. “There’s the technical side, but more than that, the huge learning point is that one person is not going to do that alone,” said Stansbury. “They need to work collaboratively, just like they would in a real engineering firm.”
Also, simulating an on-the-job approach, the men need to do more than just design, build, and launch a rocket: They need to figure out how to pay for it and prepare travel arrangements to Huntsville, Ala., in April to participate in the competition. USLI also requires each team to spend time doing educational outreach to increase interest in the study of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
In early January, a much more rested Diffenbaugh sounded upbeat about the work to come. The presentation to NASA had gone well and he was already looking forward to the Alabama competition.
“It’ll be a great experience just to be there and see all this,” he said. “Of course, we’re always hoping for the win, but the sheer fact that we’re going to a NASA facility to launch this—who else can claim that?”
Pictured above: Keane Diffenbaugh, center front, has been leading the team. Professor Keith Stansbury, far back, is the team’s academic advisor for the contest.
A Promising Penquin Future
Clark partners with local nonprofit to help disadvantaged youth to go to college
Shortly before the State of the College address on January 19, community members gathered in a small room upstairs in the Penguin Union Building to witness the signing of a new scholarship program called the Penguin Promise.
A partnership between Clark College, Clark College Foundation and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington, Penguin Promise provides a path for members of the Boys and Girls Clubs to enter and complete their education at Clark College.
Under the program, which will be financially supported by the community, students will enter in the eighth grade and continue through the 12th grade.
If they complete the program and are accepted to Clark College, they will receive a scholarship for tuition, fees and books.
Youth enrolled in the program receive mentoring, college preparation, and regular exposure to the college environment through field trips to institutions of higher learning, including Clark College’s main campus.
“We want to get these kids on campus, make them feel comfortable, so that when the time comes for them to go to college, they’re ready,” said President Knight during the signing.
Elise Menashe, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington, called Penguin Promise “an important part of our college prep program.”
She noted the importance of such efforts, pointing to a recent study that found that 68 out of 100 ninth-graders graduate from high school in Washington state and only 15 finish college.
Up to 25 students will be accepted during the first year of the Penguin Promise. If the program is successful, more than 25 students could be added to the program each year.
Pictured above: Clark Trustee Rhona Sen Hoss, President Bob Knight, Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington Executive Director Elise Menashe, and Boys and Girls Clubs of Southwest Washington Board Chair Carol Opatrny.