My Path to College

by Beth Royston

I’m in my senior year at PSU and looking back on my idea of the college experience as a senior in high school was very different than how it turned out. I learned a valuable lesson — as much as you can work towards your hopes and dreams, be flexible to the definition of those hopes and dreams changing. 

Initially, I wanted a traditional freshman college experience — going to university after I graduated high school, living in the dorms, the whole nine yards. But my reality began to shift for a few reasons, namely financial. It wouldn’t be possible for me to attend as an out-of-state student, even though PSU’s out-of-state tuition was less than residential schools in my area. I was crushed, but there did remain a thin beam of hope that I could still make things work. 

I knew that above it all, I wanted to live in Oregon — so I moved. I lived with extended family here for a while, and then found some roommates for a place of my own, working a variety of beloved jobs here and there. During this time period I realized that even though I didn’t want to be set back again, attending PCC would make my life a lot easier financially. I also would qualify for resident tuition at both schools due to my year working. 

I finally landed at PSU as a junior last fall, three years after graduating high school. My partner and I both had experience living in small apartments, and reverting to dorm life was a little hard for us to imagine. We like ample space to cook and enough room to fit two desktop computers — to say the least. So we decided to continue in off-campus route. We absolutely love our neighborhood in southwest Portland, it has many great restaurants and a gorgeous riverfront park across the street. There’s space to garden and it’s generally quiet. 

But I won’t pretend that I don’t think about what my life would be like if things were different. I didn’t live in the dorms, or have my four years at PSU. Did I miss out on something? The thing is, I can’t know that. I do know that I made great memories at PCC, live comfortably and happily, and am at PSU now. Hopefully for graduate school, too! I’m grateful for my choices in the past, because I was thinking of myself in the future. There are definitely pros and cons to any route to college, and I’ve faced unique struggles due to the path I took. At the end of the day, I’m just overjoyed to be here, even though the path to get here looked different than what I imagined. I learned instead of resisting change, to go with the flow, as long as I knew I would get there in the end. 

My Journey So Far: Reflecting on My First Year at PSU

By Erika Nelson

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been at PSU for a year now! The last 12 months have brought more changes and challenges than I could have possibly imagined, both in my personal life and the world at large. Since I first became a Viking in September 2019, I’ve switched jobs, broken up with a long-term partner, changed my major, found a new partner, had a major medical emergency, spent almost four months out of town because of the pandemic, and moved apartments … wow. That’s a lot of drama to squeeze into one year. 

If I could go back in time, I’d change a lot of things (first off: warn people about COVID-19, obviously). However, I’ve learned so many lessons and found a new strength and sense of accomplishment from everything I went through. When I feel down on myself, I try to remember how much I’ve grown in a mere 12 months …

My newfound sense of direction

Last autumn, downtown PDX’s urban sprawl seemed like a labyrinth. I was constantly getting lost, relying on Google Maps to get to classes or do errands. Today, I move through the neighborhood on instinct and have all the street names memorized. (“Are you looking for Starbucks? Do you want the one on 6th in the Urban Center, the one on Jefferson inside of Safeway, or the one on Broadway and Clay? Don’t bother trying the ones on Jackson or Montgomery; they’re temporarily closed.”) I’m starting to feel like a local!

A new passion for wellness

A year ago, I was a brand-new suburban transplant who rarely walked anywhere for necessity, much less for fun. A lack of endurance made simple trips to the store a sweaty ordeal. Now, I’m so accustomed to walking every day, I get cabin fever when I have nowhere to go. In addition, I started running regularly and attending workout classes (before social distancing, that is), and started paying closer attention to what I ate. I did end up losing weight, which I’m proud of, but I feel better, which is so much more important than a number on a scale. 

Having faith in my journey

My first term at PSU, I was a Business major — while aspects of the field interested me (and still do), I was only on that track out of fear — what if I couldn’t find a career to make money majoring in the humanities? However, I soon realized that I needed to take a chance and major in what I loved; what felt right. Now, I’m a happy English major and I’m exploring the idea of law school. I love literature and challenging myself to find connections and interpretations in various media, and applying those ideas to real life. I had to take a few steps back in my graduation timeline (changing my major as a junior means I’ll be at PSU a couple extra terms), but I’m happy where I am. It’s better to take a leap of faith than always wonder “what if?”

It’s easy to focus on all the ways life sucks … and let’s be honest, life sucks for pretty much everyone right now. Life is complicated even in the best of times, and we’ve all had our lives disrupted by this virus — it’s ok to be angry, sad, scared, or anywhere else on the spectrum of emotions. Yet it’s also important to pause and reflect on the good. I’m not someone who subscribes to the tenet of destiny, or says “everything happens for a reason,” but I do believe there’s lessons to be learned in every situation: good, bad, and in-between.

Moving Out and Moving On

By: Ragan Love

2020 has been the year of change; every time I blink something new happens. So why not say bye to my family and move to Portland.

I went home to Colorado because of COVID-19 in March and got to spend some quality time with my dad and brother. But, I learned that I am ready to live on my own. It was hard going home for so long after having my first taste of independence.

I was originally planning on staying in the dorms this year with my friend Stacey, but when we found out that we would be in individual rooms for the fall term, we decided to find an off-campus apartment. I am someone who needs human interaction and knew I would not do well living by myself.

We found a place in Southwest with another friend of ours and that prompted a plan to drive 1,200 miles. There were a couple of pieces of furniture that I had from my family home that would work well in our apartment so my dad and I drove up from Colorado to Portland together. 

So we packed up our cars! My dad decided to take his car too and enjoy the trip back with our family dog. We had the cars packed with my bedroom furniture, clothes, shoes (which there were a lot). There was a snowstorm the night we were planning to leave so we were delayed a few hours. But once we got on the road it was smooth sailing — for us and the pets!

The most stressful thing about the drive was my cat, Pinball. The couple times that I had him in the car he was not happy. I had to get some medication from the vet so he could be calm during our journey. I gave him some at 5 a.m., two hours before our trip and that helped him be sleepy for a few hours. He did not want to eat or drink on the road. But, once we got to Portland he ate and drank like normal! He really loves his life here and all of the attention he is getting. I can tell he misses my family cat and dog.

Now that I have spent over a month in my new place, it is safe to say that I made a good choice. I am happy with where I am at and happy that I got to create this little family with my roommates.

A Capstone About Cats: Reflections on Our Senior Capstone

By Claire Golden and Erika Nelson

It was complete coincidence that two PSU Chronicles bloggers — Erika and Claire — ended up in the same Senior Capstone, but we wanted to reflect on our experience. This was far and away the most involved class we’d ever taken, but it was also one of the most rewarding…in large part because our work impacted the real world.

Our class was called “Grant Writing for Shelter Pets.” In a Capstone, you work directly with a community partner — in our case, a non-profit cat shelter in Vancouver, Washington called Furry Friends. We worked in groups writing grant proposals for Furry Friends (Claire worked in the group seeking medical funding for seriously ill cats, and Erika was in the group focused on building a new “kitty condo” structure.) This wasn’t just another course–it had real-world ramifications. The fate of hundreds of cats were directly influenced by our commitment to the grantwriting process–for example, these grant proposals could be the difference between Furry Friends getting funding for life-threatening medical conditions, influencing whether cats live or die. 

This course was intense! Capstones always take up a lot of time and energy. We found it’s best to plan for contingencies that could affect your stamina and focus–life happens sometimes (sometimes in ways we can never anticipate), but you can try to be prepared for things likely to happen. Remember that this class is six credits, which is basically a class-and-a-half. So it’s going to take longer than you’re used to…and it’s a 400-level course. To be safe, treat this class as two regular classes and then you’ll know how to budget enough time.

A huge part of the class involved communication, and while we’d done group work in previous classes, it was nothing to this extent. It was tricky doing distance communication; although this was an online class even before most other classes were remote, not being able to meet with the whole group in person proved challenging. We found group emails, group texts, and Google Docs to be invaluable (pro tip: make sure everyone is looking at the same Google Doc to avoid confusion). It’s essential to communicate with your groupmates, your instructor, and the community partner. It’s way better to double-check something than to miss something.

It’s important to keep in mind that since Capstones involve community service, you might be emotionally affected by the project and the community partner’s stories. Be sure to practice self-care and make use of your support network if necessary. We read stories about animal abuse that made us feel sick, but that was just more motivation to work hard.

In the end, we’re both proud of our work and happy that we made the decision to take this Capstone. We both learned so much–not only about the grantwriting process, but about collaboration, research, and harnessing empathy to do good.

An Open Letter to My Freshman Self

by Claire Golden

Dear Freshman Claire,

Well, you did it. You graduated college. Technically, I graduated college, because you’re just starting out. But have faith – you will make it, even if it feels impossible right now.

I know you’re terrified. You can’t see past today because you’re so scared of tomorrow. But that’s okay. All you have to focus on is today. Four years seems impossible when you look at it, but when you break it down, all you have to do is get through the next 24 hours. And if that’s too much, just focus on the moment. When you feel rooted in place with anxiety, just remember, you can always make it one moment more.

Believe it or not, college is going to be wonderful. You’ll meet your best friends and develop so many inside jokes that you can’t stop laughing. You’ll find the best food carts on campus and eat so much macaroni and cheese while studying for tests. You’ll read some of your new favorite books (and some of your new least favorite books). 

I know you don’t trust people when they tell you “college will be good for you,” because they don’t understand how scared you are. But you can trust me. I’m you! It’s true that it will be stressful. You’re going to cry in the library, and in the bathroom, and even in class sometimes. But it will always get better. It’s going to be worth it in the end, because you’ll learn so much, and not just academically – you’ll learn so much about yourself and the world around you. 

So hang in there. The first day is always the hardest. Every day will get a little bit easier, until one day you realize: you feel at home at PSU. 

And just wait until you learn about Cow Pigeon.

Sincerely,

PSU Alumna Claire

Not-So-Great Expectations: Adjusting Plans During the Pandemic

By Erika Nelson

I’m a list-maker: Homework assignments, goals, chores, funny things I overheard in the Park Blocks…you name it, I have a list for it! Four times a year, I create a “bucket list,” itemizing everything I want to do that season: swimming and barbeques in the summer. Haunted houses and pumpkin-picking in the fall. Holiday parties in the winter. Travel for spring break. 

At least, that’s what my bucket lists consisted of in simpler times. I now look back on my Spring 2020 bucket list—compiled just before the lockdown—and laugh: buy new warm-weather clothes? Pfft—fitting rooms were havens for germs even before the pandemic! Go to the gym every other day? Ridiculous—even if the rec center was open, I’d still want to stay home and social distance myself. Get involved in campus activities? Ha! I was so young and naïve six months ago. 

As fate would have it, Spring of 2020 was not a good time to make plans. Events were cancelled all over the world, and people abandoned their new years resolutions even faster than usual. Hopes that everything would quickly go back to normal were shattered when the days in quarantine turned to weeks and months. Needless to say, I didn’t bother creating a Summer 2020 bucket list. 

I’m trying to be optimistic for this autumn, though. I’m making two lists: one for if things stay as they are now, and places are open with social distancing measures, and another in case another shutdown happens. On the first list, I have things like socially-distant pumpkin picking and attending a limited-capacity haunted house. On the second list, I include seasonal things I can do on my own in my apartment, like decorating the outside of my door with paper skeletons and baking pumpkin cookies. 

2020 is the year of uncertainty. We don’t know what the world is going to be like in a week, a month, a year, or even tomorrow. It will be a long time before the novel coronavirus is fully understood. We might have to wear masks long-term, and we all need to make radical adjustments to how we socialize and celebrate (I’ve heard rumors that “Zoom-or-Treating” might be a thing, and the term “Halloween mask” has an entirely different meaning this year). But life goes on, and being flexible with your expectations is better than having no expectations. Even if you have to tweak your plans to comply with 2020’s new world, we all need things to look forward to. 

Author Dreams

IMG_7345 By Claire Golden

Two months ago, I woke up and checked my email to discover that a publishing company wanted to publish my book. After the squealing and happy tears had subsided, I signed the contract and got to work. I had to keep the news quiet for a few weeks, but I’m beyond delighted to share that my Young Adult fantasy novel, Unraveled, will release later this year from Gurt Dog Press. It’s a retelling of Sleeping Beauty where two girls fall in love while trying to break the curse on a crochet shawl, and it’s about faeries, OCD, and figuring out who you are.

Although it feels like everything is happening so quickly, the journey of writing a book started about seven years ago. I’ve been writing stories since I was in elementary school and dreaming of becoming an author since I realized that was a career, but I started seriously working toward that when I was 15. I wrote my first novel during NaNoWriMo, a worldwide program where people all over the world write 50,000 words (the length of a short novel) during the month of November, and I haven’t stopped writing since. I started writing Unraveled in 2016, which is also when I started college…and that’s when everything got more complicated.

IMG_8338

The thing is, I’m an English and French major…which means I’m writing stuff all the time for college. When I finished my homework, the last thing I wanted to do was write more. I grew discouraged because I wasn’t making progress on my book. I had to learn to be kind to myself and realize that college is essentially a full-time job. It was OK that most of my book-writing took place during breaks. There’s a balance between not working toward your goal at all, and working so hard that you burn yourself out. I’m still trying to find that balance.

The picture in this post is from my 2016 writing journal, where I recorded my daily word count. I participated in NaNoWriMo that year, too, and you can see that I hit a block pretty early on and didn’t think I would make the 50,000-word goal. But one day I plunked myself down in the armchair and decided not to get up until I was done. I wrote 20,000 words that day, a feat that I have never done before or since. It took me over six hours, but I finished Unraveled. It remains one of my proudest moments because I fought through my self-doubt and a myriad of health issues for the sake of this novel, which was important to me.    

Over the next several years I submitted Unraveled to about five different agents and publishers, but nobody was interested, so I started losing hope. It wasn’t until the COVID pandemic that I got the courage to try again, because I realized there’s no time like the present. I found Gurt Dog, a small press in Sweden that focuses on LGBTQ+ speculative fiction, and they were enthusiastic about my book…which will release just a few months after I graduate college.

I’ve met a lot of people who say, “I’ve always dreamed of writing a book.” Or, “I have a draft of a novel, but it’s not any good.” Well, I’m here as proof that any nerd can get a book published if you just put the work in and believe in yourself. Whatever your dream is, I encourage you to chase it down, because it will be worth it in the end.

Nailing Stress

By Erika Nelson

“I actually used to be a nail tech … not that you can tell.” I force a laugh and brandish my bitten stubs. I admit it — I’m a nail biter. Gross and unattractive in the best of times, it’s a literal life-and-death habit in Corona times — a danger to not only myself by introducing new microbes to my system, but to other people as well. Each bite transfers germs from my mouth to what I touch. I don’t bite in public, sanitize regularly and thoroughly scrub my fingers with soap and water before leaving and after returning to my apartment. But when I’m at home, in front of my laptop … I find my fingers floating to my lips.  

I’ve mostly been able to kick this habit. I say “mostly,” because no matter what methods I use to quit, I always come back to the form of tension-relief that borders on self-cannibalistic. If there’s a pervading collective emotion in the world today — it’s stress. Stress from isolation. Stress from economic turmoil and job insecurity. Stress from systemic injustice. Stress from having to “keep calm and carry on” with our regular lives, as if all of this is normal, when things are as abnormal as they’ve ever been. When I spoke with a PSU employee earlier this week, he summed up what I, and a lot of other people, are feeling: “a kind of stress I’ve never known.” We’re all bobbing along with the bumps and dips of the new-case graphs; paddling however we know how while the water continues to rise. 

Stress. So much stress. Meditation apps abound. #selfcare tips feature prominently across social media. The CDC even has a page on ways to deal with stress during the pandemic. I’ve tried pretty much everything I can to translate an unsanitary, destructive coping mechanism to something constructive that involves minimal microbe transfer … but gratitude journals and deep breathing never seem to be as instantly satisfying as shredding the tips of my fingernails with my teeth. 

The only thing that seems to work to curb the compulsive nibbling is engaging in what I used to do for a living — doing nails — but on myself. The process of meticulously applying polish is soothing, and forces me to slow down and exercise hand-eye coordination. Carefully placing polka dots and painting tiny flowers on my nails is just what I need to distract my thoughts — even for a few minutes — from everything else. When I’m done, I can’t bear to chip my painstaking work by biting!

Decorating (and maintaining) my nails has been helpful at chipping (haha) away at stress. Stress always comes back … but in the moments that I’m picking a color, filing, putting brush to nail … stress is on vacation. There are myriad reasons why I decided to ditch being a nail technician to go back to school — that’s a post for another day — but I still adore everything to do with it. There are many ways to de-escalate stress: for some people it’s yoga, video games or screaming into pillows. Some people are taking this time in quarantine to experiment with new hobbies or re-discover old ones. Thank goodness for my stockpile of polishes to get me through another day without mangling my own fingers.

What’s Up With Online Tutoring?

IMG_7345 by Claire Golden

I’ve worked as a tutor at PSU’s Learning Center since last fall. Last term, when everything started getting serious with the COVID-19 pandemic, we switched to online tutoring. Socially distancing isn’t really an option for tutoring, because you have to get close to the student to see what they’re working on. So I’m extremely lucky to have the ability to work remotely because it offers less risk for both students and tutors. The Learning Center continues to offer remote tutoring and academic coaching this summer, and we’ll just have to see what this fall looks like.

But you may be wondering the same thing I was: How does online tutoring even work? Turns out it’s quite simple. Every organization does it differently, but the Learning Center uses two apps: Penji and Zoom. (Remember a few months ago when basically nobody knew what Zoom was, and now everybody has it installed?) Penji is used to schedule your appointment with a tutor. You can book 30-minute sessions during the tutor’s availability. Right before your session, you’ll get an email from Penji with the link to the tutor’s Zoom room, so all you have to do is click and join.

The tutoring session is the same as usual: you can get help with practice problems, studying, concepts, and language conversation…anything you would cover during a normal in-person session. You can share your screen or use the whiteboard to write out what you’re working on. The tutor will be live on screen (my bookshelf is usually in the background during my Zoom sessions, and sometimes my cat will walk by). It can be weird at first getting used to the online tutoring format, but it doesn’t feel so weird after a while. In fact, I like it by now.

So if you need any tutoring or academic coaching during the last few weeks of summer term, don’t hesitate to swing by. We’ll be happy to see you.

Growing Pains: Turning Discomfort into Change

By Erika Nelson

This summer, I’m taking my senior Capstone, Grantwriting for Shelter Pets. Our community partner is Furry Friends, a no-kill cat shelter in Vancouver. Our mission this term is to draft the proposals that will compel donors to fund important shelter projects, such as medical care and a new kitty condo.

Before I signed up, I thought this would be a lighthearted, fun experience. I love animals, have a passion for animal rescue and love writing. It seemed like a no-brainer. I assumed that upsetting images and facts would be present in the coursework — after all, animal welfare is an emotionally fraught topic. What I didn’t anticipate was the extent of the information. To help us understand the real-life implications of the work we’re doing, a book and corresponding documentary about the history of animal shelters and the no-kill movement were assigned. These materials were difficult to get through — images of shaking, pacing animals in cages; upsetting statistics (millions of shelter pets are euthanized every year); graphic descriptions of euthanasia that turned my stomach and brought tears to my eyes.  

My discomfort in the first weeks of the Capstone made me question my involvement, and I thought maybe I should have signed up for a different Capstone altogether. However, I began to wonder: why is discomfort bad? Why do we avoid it, and seek out situations that avoid discomfort instead of facing it head-on? After all, change stems from discomfort in the first place. Just as we must face the discomfort of noticing and calling out oppressive institutions, we must push through to change things for the better — to harness that emotion and translate it into concrete actions. 

For example: no one becomes a veterinarian because they don’t have compassion and empathy for animals. Yet veterinarians regularly see sick, injured, neglected, or abused animals, and continue to do their jobs. Discomfort is a regular part of the profession, yet people find their calling in veterinary medicine. While vets no doubt are affected emotionally, the opportunities to improve animals’ health outweighs the discomfort from seeing suffering animals. 

It’s tempting to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the important issues in the world. Sure, you could purposely only sign up for innocuous courses with benign subject matter and tune out everything upsetting. Yet college is an opportunity to grow, and growth comes with growing pains. Knowledge and awareness of the injustices and difficulties of the world is a springboard to change. Ignorance is NOT bliss — ignorance only perpetuates the status quo, whatever it may be. 

The hard truth is that many aspects of life are inherently uncomfortable. This is inescapable. Instead of avoiding the negative emotions that come up in this Capstone, I’m choosing to embrace them. I’m challenging myself to persevere through discomfort to help these shelter cats, and I’m looking forward to documenting what I learn and how I grow along the way.