In June of 2020, Randal Wyatt started Taking Ownership PDX, a grassroots nonprofit that helps Black property owners keep their homes by repairing and renovating them. He’s about to graduate from Portland State University with a degree in Social Science, a double minor in Black Studies and Sociology and a 3.92 GPA.
His PSU story: “I was born and raised in Portland, attended community college, then had twins at age 19 and dropped out. I started a band called Speaker Minds. We rap about social issues, and I built a name for myself doing benefit concerts and fund raisers. I went back to community college and got my associate’s degree, became a residential treatment counselor, and then a mentor for Black and Latino boys on probation. Then I moved to Portland Youth Builders as a student advocate with the stipulation that I go back to school and get my degree. I started at PSU half-time in 2017, worked full-time, raised my sons and my music career was taking off. So yeah, it’s been a long road.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the way society works, why things are the way they are, why are systems the way they are, why can’t we have nicer things in America. Last year around this time people started asking me how they can be better allies to Black and marginalized communities. We have to develop more of a village mindset, develop equitable practices that help uplift communities that have historically and currently been excluded. That turned into Taking Ownership PDX, because my studies at PSU taught me that one of the most effective ways to use resources is to keep wealth in communities that are preyed upon for their land.
“I didn’t want to just talk. I decided if we’re really going to change the social climate, I’m going to go out and do it.”
— Randal Wyatt
“I didn’t want to just talk. I decided if we’re really going to change the social climate, I’m going to go out and do it. I was naive about it initially, I thought we’ll just get a bunch of volunteers and start swinging hammers at homes and fixing them up. There’s a lot more to it than that. By the end of the first week, I had $10K. I had one home to work on, so I took the money and started fixing it up, redid the carpet, windows, gutters, all that. Then I got two to three more homes to work on.
“In one year we’ve helped 35 black families fix up their homes with jobs ranging from fixing leaks to roof and window replacements, landscaping, cleanup. We serve primarily the elderly. We’ve raised about $400,000.
“At PSU, not only have I gained knowledge of myself, but it’s inspired me to create an organization that helps the community. It gave me the know-how and what areas to target. It’s worth it. It’s been stressful, but the knowledge that I’ve gained has been invaluable.”
Welcome back, everyone! I’m excited for spring term. My classes are interesting, my color-coding system is finalized, and I’m confident that this is the term that I’ll finally slay the Procrastination Dragon. And this term, I mean it.
I have the habit of making overly-ambitious to-do lists; both necessary (like re-organizing the closet and taking clothes to Goodwill) and pleasurable (like practicing my art skills). Very rarely do I ever complete even a third of these aspirational tasks.
Maybe I’m lazy and unmotivated. On the other hand, maybe I’m being too hard on myself. I’m not the only one who assigns themselves tasks during a period of free time, only to wake up and realize that the window of free time has come and gone. Yet I feel like I do this more than most people. Is it self-sabotage? A mental health thing? Disorganization and lack of motivation stemming from COVID stress?
Whatever the cause (or causes), I’m tired of doing this. I want to be able to set goals and actually meet them.
I decided to look at my lists a little differently. I pulled out my winter break to-do list: was there anything on the list I could see myself doing — actually doing, and not just picturing me doing? Did I write this list for me, or an ideal version of myself? And were my own goals stressing me out; just contributing to procrastination and leading me to not even try?
Ideal Erika — the Erika I want to be — has endless energy and focus. She wakes up at 5:45 a.m. every day to work out. She meets all her homework and blogging deadlines. She has a vibrant social life and devotes lots of time to personal improvement and hobbies. She schedules doctor’s appointments without a shred of anxiety. She keeps her environment clean and tidy and cooks healthy dinners every day in her shiny kitchen with an alphabetized spice rack. Her schedule is perfectly juggled; each ball expertly timed to land in her perfectly-manicured hands, and she manages her stress easily. In fact, stress revitalizes her!
I’m not Ideal Erika. At least not yet. Although the truth is I probably never will be, not entirely. However, I can take steps to get closer to being her, and the first step is by admitting to myself that I have limits. I used to make a lengthy list of everything I wanted to get done in a day, then self-loathe at the end of the day when I didn’t complete it. Now, I’ve started making a list as I would before, but highlighting what’s important … and then highlighting again in a different color once I’ve prioritize from that pool of tasks. As long as I get my Three Big Things done in a day, I feel accomplished.
Some days are better than others, and my Three Big Things turns into Eight Big Things. Other days, I have Two Big Things, or even One Big Thing. And some days I don’t even get One Big Thing done. But since I’ve started prioritizing, life is a lot more manageable and less overwhelming. I’ve completed more projects and been more productive compared to before when I’d load up my plate with endless tasks and self-expectations. And while procrastination is still my biggest obstacle to success, I’ve been paying visits to the Procrastination Dragon less and less frequently.
She served as president of Winona State University from 2005-2012, after which she became a distinguished professor of public service at Portland State.
Watch an interview with Ramaley by Liza Schade on May 22, 2020 in the PSU Library Archives, in which she discusses lessons learned during her time as president of PSU, ideas behind the new University Studies curriculum, diversifying student and faculty, and creating safer and more inclusive university spaces.
Gladys McCoy, ’67
First African American elected to public office in the state of Oregon
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, on February 28, 1928, to Tilman Sims and Lucile Dawson and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, McCoy grew up during the Depression in the Jim Crow South.
The first in her family to attend college, McCoy graduated in 1949 from Talladega College in Alabama. She moved to Portland, married William McCoy, and had seven children before she decided to pursue a graduate degree at Portland State University. She received a master’s degree in social work in 1967.
During her years of service, McCoy focused on issues of diversity in public workplaces, public health programs and social services for low-income populations, and justice and human rights.
In 2018, the Multnomah County Commission adopted the Gladys McCoy Standard, which directs the county to interview qualified candidates of underrepresented groups for leadership roles in county departments.
Gladys McCoy died in Portland on April 11, 1993. Each year, the Multnomah County Office of Community Involvement presents the Gladys McCoy Lifetime Achievement Award for “volunteer service dedicated to improving the county community.”
Avel Gordly, ’74
First African American woman to be elected to the Oregon Senate
Born Feb. 13, 1947, Avel Gordly served in the senate from 1997 to 2009. Previously, she served for five years in the Oregon House of Representatives.
Gordly graduated from Girls Polytechnic High School in 1965 and worked at Pacific Northwest Bell until 1970, when she enrolled at Portland State. She earned a degree in the administration of justice in 1974, the first person in her family to graduate from college. She went on to work for the Oregon Corrections Division as a women’s work-release counselor and later as a probation officer.
She was elected state representative from north and northeast Portland in 1992. In 1996, she was elected to the Oregon Senate, where she served from 1997 to 2009.
In 2008, OHSU opened the Avel Gordly Center for Healing, which provides mental health and psychiatric services. Gordly has also served as a professor of black studies at PSU.
First woman to serve on the Public Utility Commission
Nancy Ryles served in the Oregon House of Representatives, the Oregon Senate and as one of three members of the state’s Public Utility Commission. She was known as an advocate for education and for equality for women and minorities. An elementary school in Beaverton is named after her.
Born Nancy Ann Wyly, she graduated from Jefferson High in Northeast Portland and was chosen as Portland Rose Festival Queen in 1955. Ryles attended Portland State and Willamette University, but did not graduate from college.
Ryles served on the Beaverton School Board from 1972 to 1978. The Oregon Education Association gave her its Human Rights Award in 1974, and she was named Beaverton’s “First Citizen” in 1979. She was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1978, the Oregon Senate in 1982, and was appointed to the Oregon Public Utility Commission in 1987.
In July 1990, Ryles was diagnosed with brain cancer. She died in September at age 52. Her early death gave her farewell speech to the Senate added poignance: “The challenge then is to do the best we can … wherever we are … in whatever time we have. I hope I have done that.”
Before she died, a group of Ryles’ friends decided to honor her legacy by creating a scholarship in her name. She insisted that it go to students who returned to school at PSU after their education was interrupted.
Betty Roberts, ’58
First woman to serve on the Oregon Supreme Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals
Betty Roberts was the 83rd Associate Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, the highest state court in Oregon.
She was the first woman on the Oregon Supreme Court and the first woman on the Oregon Court of Appeals. Roberts served from 1982 to 1986 on the high court and from 1977 to 1982 on the Court of Appeals. She graduated from Portland State College in 1958.
A native of Kansas and raised in Texas, Roberts had previously been elected to both chambers of the Oregon Legislative Assembly, but lost bids for the governor’s office and the United States Senate, both in 1974. She was married three times, including to Frank L. Roberts and Keith Skelton, both of whom she would serve with in the Oregon Legislative Assembly.
She was a private mediator and senior judge until her death due to pulmonary fibrosis.
Margaret Carter, ’72
First African American in the Oregon House
Born December 29, 1935, Margaret Carter was the first black woman elected to the state’s legislature. She served in the Oregon House of Representatives from 1985 to 1999, and the state senate from 2001 to 2009.
Born Margaret Hunter in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Dec. 29, 1935, she was one of nine children. Her father was a Baptist minister, and her mother was a cook at the school cafeteria. After getting married she had five daughters by the age of 28, and moved to Oregon in 1967 to escape abuse by her then husband. In 1970, she enrolled at Portland State, graduating in 1972 with a bachelor of arts degree in education. She earned a masters of education in psychology from Oregon State University in 1973.
She resigned from the senate in 2009 and took a post as deputy director for human services programs at the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Tawna D. Sanchez, ’12
Second Native American to serve in the Oregon legislature
Born and raised in Portland, Sanchez is Native American, of Shoshone, Bannock, and Ute descent. She is currently serving in the Oregon House of Representatives, for the 43rd District which covers parts of north-central Portland. She is the second Native American to serve in the Oregon legislature, and the first to represent Portland.
Sanchez graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Marylhurst University and with a master’s degree in social work from Portland State University in 2012.
Sanchez served on the Oregon Child Welfare Advisory Commission and the Oregon Family Services Review Commission, and has worked with the Native American Youth and Family Center for much of her life.
Debbie Murdock was known and widely respected for her tireless belief in and dedication to public service and Portland State University. She worked tirelessly at PSU for 14 years serving as lobbyist and strategic advisor to the president. Her intellect, passion and powers of persuasion led to tens of millions of dollars in funding for PSU and policy directives that helped transform the University into the largest in the Oregon Higher Education System.
During her time at PSU, Murdock helped secure funding for several major projects, including the Native American Student and Community Center.
Murdock died of cancer in 2007 at the age of 52. Her colleagues and friends established the Deborah Murdock Scholarship to honor her memory in a way that she would have loved: by helping PSU students reach their educational goals.
The Memorial Clock Tower in Urban Plaza is named after Murdock, and is said to represent her energy and vitality.
Finals week is fast approaching, and spring break will be here before we know it! Many students are already thinking about reselling their textbooks and can’t wait to toss their notes. However, I’d argue that there are benefits to keeping class materials.
Old assignments can be useful in future classes
Keeping graded essays from previous courses has been helpful to me in the past, because they can help me ascertain what instructors look for in good papers. Of course, all professors are different, with their own pet peeves and preferences. However, if one instructor makes a constructive remark, chances are that advice can be applied to future assignments with future instructors. For example, in an English composition course I took in community college, the instructor gave us a handout with a list of mistakes English instructors are tired of seeing, ranging from grammatical errors to flaws in logic. This has been an incredibly helpful list to have around as I’ve continued my academic journey. Past research papers have also become a resource — if I didn’t use a source in a previous paper, I can use it in a future paper on the same topic, or use that source as a starting point for future research.
Keeping old materials can help you get your money’s worth
Let’s face it: college is expensive, and human brains are flawed when it comes to retaining information long-term. The notes you scrawl in Statistics and the study guide you fashion for French have value in both time and money. Saving materials from a past class is a way of preserving what you’ve learned, especially if it’s been a long time since you’ve taken the class.
Let’s say you took time off between Class 101 and Class 102. If you kept your course materials, you’d have easy access to what you learned in 101 to refresh your memory before taking 102. Also, you wouldn’t have to pay to take the course again or spend hours combing through Google trying to cobble together a free crash course. Even when you don’t take a hiatus from your education, you forget a lot over school breaks, and having materials around to review before going back can be helpful! Not to mention, the resale value for books is far less than the original price, so if your text has valuable information or you’ll want to read it again, it might be worth it to just keep it.
Looking over old work can be enjoyable
It’s validating to look back at my writing from years ago and see how I’ve improved. Depending on the course, re-reading old handouts and texts can also be fun! For example, I’ve kept books from my literature classes I particularly enjoy. A textbook from my Interpersonal Communications class at my last college sits on my shelf, because it holds information on skills and situations that will help me throughout my life — not just within the quarter I took that class.
How do you select what class materials to keep?
Quality over quantity: it’s important to pare down your notes, books, and assignments to what’s relevant. Here are some tips when deciding what to keep:
Is the information novel, or basic? Is this information you could find from a cursory Google search?
Is this course relevant to your major? Did you learn things that would apply to future classes?
Is this a difficult topic for you, and would it help you to review the concepts before taking the next course in the sequence?
Do you enjoy the subject? Were the readings interesting, and if you enjoyed the texts, would it make financial sense to keep them instead of selling them?
If it’s an assignment, is the instructor’s feedback constructive? Did you learn something valuable?
Do you have the physical or digital space to store old materials?
At the end of every term, I ask myself these questions while I comb through my class materials to help me narrow down what to save. This method has helped me determine what’s useful to toss or sell, and what’s useful to keep around.
I have a small archive of class materials from previous courses that I keep in binders, and I thumb through everything periodically. Some people might raise an eyebrow at this collection, but this works for me, and a similar system might help you during your time in college.
I posted a picture of my graduation from community college on Instagram almost exactly two years ago to the day. The caption for my photo read, “official graduate of @inverhills with my associate of arts in gender and women’s studies. @portlandstate I’m coming for you next!” It wasn’t particularly unusual that I transferred to PSU from a community college, but what makes my situation a bit different than most is the fact that I earned my associate’s degree before I’d even earned my high school diploma. This means that when I graduate from PSU next month, I’ll only be 20 years old.
My educational path has not been traditional and I’m rather proud of that. Most of my immediate family has also taken a nontraditional path to higher education. My mom went back to school to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees when she was a single parent in her 30’s. My brother switched his major twice and was a super, super, super senior by the time he graduated. They inspired me to pursue higher education and assured me that it was OK to take a path less traveled.
In part thanks to them, I’ll be the youngest person in my family to graduate from college with my bachelor’s degree. So to my mom, to my brother, to myself, and to anyone else who deviates from the four years that it’s “supposed” to take to graduate: this is an ode to you. There are plenty of ways to go about getting your degree, and as long as you do it in the way that makes the most sense for you, it shouldn’t matter if it takes you much less or much more time than the usual allotment of four years.
A year ago today I made my way to the streetcar on a very Portland rainy morning. It was packed and muggy – full of people’s breath and their steaming hot coffees. There was a tightening knot in the bottom of my stomach, that my breakfast lay precariously on. We pulled to the Market Street stop, and I stepped down cautiously in my worn brown oxford shoes and brand new dark jeans. I gently placed my hand on my head to check if my recently curled hair was still in place. I was ready, and excessively nervous, as I proceeded up the Park Blocks for the very first time. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship – at Portland State University.
Tomorrow, I will be venturing out on the same route. Streetcar to Park Blocks and to begin with old-fashioned Cramer Hall. I am still nervous, but this time I am comforted with familiarity and wisdom. I will hold on dearly to the most important things I learned last year that made me a successful Viking:
Know PSU – and the various resources available that are usually FREE such as Buddy Up and the PSU Library.
Here are some academic tricks I’ve learned at Portland State. I hope these hints help you become a stellar Viking scholar:
Calendar Your Studies.Enter ALL assignment and exam deadlines into your calendar or organizer. Planning ahead saves cramming later!
Don’t be a perfectionist. I don’t advocate skipping readings, but when an exam is upon you, there may be more benefit in reviewing your notes, lecture slides, and other class materials than in every precious word in the readings.
Be succinct on essay tests and class presentations. Being long-winded won’t help your grade, but your grade will drop with unfinished essay exams. An instructor will cut you off in class if you go over time on presentations.
Demand rigor in your education: Ask everyone who the best professors are. Can’t hear student comments in class? Ask the professor to repeat them. If your professor is doing something wrong or inaccurate with grading, points, or on the syllabus, approach them about the matter. You will usually get satisfaction.
You have a right not to be distracted in class by your classmates’ smart phone and Facebook fetishes. Complain to your prof after class or during office hours; they will respond. And don’t BE that in-class surfing addict. It’s distracting and rude to fellow students. Go in the hallway.
For now, avoid online PSU classes like STDs. Nonverbal communication is 66 percent of all communication, and online classes remove almost all live teacher-student contact and student-to-student contact. Plus, PSU charges you an extra $160 in “online learning fees” for the privilege. Learn more in my Vanguard story “Clicking for Classes” here.
Need a quiet study spot? The Quiet Study Lounge on the 4th floor of Smith features the soft, rustling leaves of Park Blocks trees, cushy furniture, and seriously quiet students. Another seriously quiet spot is the 7th floor mini-library in the Urban Center Building.
Concerned about negotiating this university? Consider taking the well-run College Success courses (UNST 199 and UNST 399).
Local hangout hint: 25-cent coffee all the time at Big Town Hero, 1923 SW 6th Ave., between College and Hall.