Well, I received my news. For those of you who read my previous post Learning to be Comfortable with the Uncomfortable, I wrote that I felt like I was spiraling, unanchored, waiting for decisions and news that would help me shape what my life was going to look like next year. A few weeks ago, both my partner and I found out that we didn’t get into our chosen graduate program. Honestly, I was devastated. I had wanted to get into that program since I started college, and it felt crushing to receive that news. However, I’ve spent the few weeks afterwards in a state of odd peace, which I didn’t imagine I would obtain.
I’ve done a lot of thinking and realized that while I would have loved to go, this decision may be for the best. My partner and I have both had a rough time with online school, and as we near graduation, we’re both feeling pretty burnt out. A break sounds nice right about now. We’ve also spent the past four years on part-time wages, and being able to find full-time jobs and actually have some savings will be great. We also have become really interested in buying a car, and that would probably be really difficult on our current funds. It’s actually achievable next year with the chance to work full-time, and getting some more experience in our chosen fields is never a bad thing.
I was introspective and realized that I was so averse to taking another gap year because I’d already taken one —and it was a bad experience. I first decided to take a gap year in between high school and college, and moved from California immediately after graduation. I had no friends in Portland, and lived alone. I was really lonely without my pets for the first time. I loved my job and saved up a lot of money working there, but I didn’t really do much else other than work. I was incredibly depressed, and understandably didn’t want to repeat that. But I’m in a much different position now than I was then. My life is fulfilling, and I have a lot of hobbies and people around me that bring me joy. There’s so many things that I’m looking forward to doing now that I’ve lived in Portland for five years and have regular favorite spots. Of course it’s normal for me to be upset about not getting in, but I’ve been really pleased to come to peace with it, and realize the many silver linings that are appearing. I’m feeling optimistic about maybe getting my novel publishing-ready this year, and I really want to try taking my online business to a convention! A year of resetting sounds pretty great right about now, with how awful this year has been. We’ll both apply again next year, but it feels like a lot of pressure is off. I’m mostly grateful to just have an answer, so I can begin formulating a picture of what next year will look like.
Unprecedented. Surreal. Socially distanced. No matter how you choose to describe it, 2020 has been a year like no other. But it hasn’t been ALL bad. Though the threat of COVID-19, urgency around racial equity and a strife-filled political climate have dominated our thoughts and lives, we didn’t have far to look to find uplifting PSU stories that will give you all the feels.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. We just didn’t have time to include more before 2021 is upon us.
20. Those beautiful blooming blossoms
Every spring like clockwork, 100 Akabono cherry trees bloom along Portland’s southwest waterfront a few blocks from campus, transforming the esplanade into a pink wonderland (and popular selfie opp.) In spring 2020, they provided a moment of much-needed normalcy against a decidedly abnormal backdrop. Fun fact: The trees were given to Portland in 1990 by the Japanese Grain Importers Association.
19. Athletes transform obstacles into opportunities
Most of us agree that virtual gatherings just aren’t as good as in-person — but there is one advantage: cameo appearances. Comedian alum Ian Karmel graciously dropped in on a spring scriptwriting class to talk comedy. And soccer legend Abby Wambach and her bestselling author wife Glennon Doyle surprised the women’s soccer team. We can’t wait to find out who will show up next!
17. PSU steps up in early days of the pandemic
When COVID-19 first reached Portland, teaching and research labs around campus donated over 1,000 boxes of gloves as well as hundreds of masks and other personal protective equipment to local hospitals. The PSU Center of Entrepreneurship printed and distributed 1,000 face shields to Legacy Health. And they were just getting started!
Recent Portland School of Business grads Sharona Shnayder and Wanda McNealy were looking for ways to contribute to their communities last spring, and realized that picking up trash is a simple and safe way to practice environmental activism that anyone can do wherever they are. The Tuesdays for Trash grassroots movement was born! (Find them on instagram at @TuesdaysForTrash)
School of Architecture alum Lisa Patterson designed a hub in Portland that provides bedding and clothing exchanges, medical aid, showers, bathrooms and an outdoor warming area for Portland’s houseless community.
14. Students go the extra distance
Public health student Morgan Godvin moved to Tijuana last spring to serve the houseless community there while taking classes online between shifts. The experience made a deep impact, and Godvin now plans to pursue a career in public health and human rights law.
In true Viking spirit, College of Urban and Public Affairs student Lauren Everett transformed an empty lot near her home into a temporary park last summer, a place for people to safely gather. “The amount of dedication and sweat equity that went into this project has been really inspiring” she said. “I hope this inspires similar efforts in other neighborhoods, to create spaces where people can gather safely during COVID and beyond.”
13. International students show resilience
Portland State’s international students had to contend with multiple stressors all at once this year. Thousands of miles from home, students worried about their families and friends abroad, had flights canceled and suffered financial hardship and homesickness — all while having to cope with changing immigration policies. Amazingly, they persevered. This fall, just over 1,000 international students enrolled at PSU. “There are some incredible stories out there of what students are doing to try to keep up,” said Christina Luther, director of International Student and Scholar Services. Read some of their stories here.
In July, Willie Halliburton was sworn in as PSU’s new Chief of Campus Public Safety. Halliburton has been at PSU since 2016, following a 32-year police career. He has since announced his commitment to unarmed campus patrols. “I believe deeply that safety comes from developing relationships in the community and treating people with respect,” Halliburton said. “My ultimate goal as chief is to build trust between CPSO and the PSU community — staff, faculty and particularly students. I recognize the need for change and to honestly address the concerns of the PSU community.”
While most speech-language pathology programs had to put clinical training on hold last spring, PSU quickly adapted its telepractice to actually expand its services. The clinic did not abandon a single client and, with the addition of four clinical supervisors, were able to increase their caseloads! “In the COVID-19 crisis, we have found an opportunity to innovate and deepen our commitment to serving the community and families in need,” said Claudia Meyer, director of clinical education at the Speech and Language Clinic at PSU.
The pandemic and corresponding shutdown was a financial disaster for many students. So when the federal government stepped up with $8.3 million earmarked for financial relief for students, it was gratifying to hear what a difference these payments made. “I can finally sleep at night,” was how one student expressed her profound relief after receiving the financial assist.
Hannah Prather, a certified arborist and postdoctoral researcher who is part of a team from Portland State, Reed College, Washington State University and The Nature Conservancy, spent the summer getting up at 4 a.m. to install sensors high up in Portland-area Douglas fir trees. These “smart trees” will become part of a study to better understand the impacts of climate change on urban trees. The Smart Trees team uses a range of technologies to monitor the health of the urban tree canopy, a key resource for reducing the social and environmental impacts of our warming climate.
8. Taking strides toward racial equity
As part of President Stephen Percy’s commitment to promoting equity and justice at PSU, the university will hire a cohort of 7 new scholars in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ School of Gender, Race and Nations in fall 2021. The school — made up of Black Studies, Indigenous Nations Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies — seeks to better understand and advocate for historically underserved populations. PSU also welcomed the esteemed Dr. Ame Lambert as Vice President for Global Diversity and Inclusion. In October, she and President Percy convened five cross-campus task groups to organize a Virtual Equity Summit and developed a learning and action agenda to make our vision for a racially just and equitable future a reality at Portland State.
Thirty-three Portland State researchers are ranked among the world’s most-cited and the top researchers within their discipline areas, according to a recent study that looked at more than 6 million researchers in 22 disciplines and 176 subdisciplines. Of course, we already knew this but it’s nice to be recognized!
5. PSU choirs make beautiful music
When it became apparent that in-person concerts were not possible in 2020, Portland State choirs quickly adjusted, practicing outdoors in small, distanced and masked groups. The PSU Chamber Choir, recognized as one of the finest choirs in the world according to Classics Today, created several live concerts online, partnering with the Rose Choir and Thorn Choir. And the Portland State Community Choir chimed in with a beautiful rendition of “Tender Love.”
When COVID-19 hit Oregon, Portland State public health students sprang into action, partnering with OHSU and Oregon Health Authority to perform contact tracing, conduct case investigations and help manage the outbreak. The partnership provided not only real-world experience, but also opportunities for careers after graduation. These inspiring Viks did more than study the issues — they addressed real-world problems with hands-on solutions!
3. Spring Term pivot
Yes it’s the most overused word of 2020, but we don’t care. Portland State faculty and staff delivered a full-on, jaw-dropping pivot this spring when classes moved from in-person to remote in a matter of days, and our students found new ways to learn and connect.
It became the national anthem heard around the world. School of Music & Theater graduate Madisen Hallberg was recording the national anthem for PSU’s virtual commencement ceremony last spring in the park blocks when local artist and singer Emmanuel Henreid, who goes by Onry, walked by and asked to join her. This simple moment between two strangers was a balm for our souls during a divisive moment in our country, reminding us of the uniting, healing power of music. Thanks to the College of the Arts, the duo reunited this holiday season to bring us a beautiful rendition of Dona Nobis Pacem, translation: Grant us peace.
My primary goal at PSU has been to graduate in four years. Using PSU tools like the DARS report and Course Projection Guide, I meticulously created and followed a degree map for the better part of my first three years of school. I believed it to be so thorough that I never bothered to speak with my advisor in order to sort out anything I could have missed.
Last spring, I finally decided to visit with my math advisor because I needed to ask about the Honors thesis. The math department has different requirements surrounding the thesis project, and the little nuances had me confused. I entered the meeting thinking it would be around a five-minute clarifying chat, but it turned into a full half-hour of me reworking my entire senior year class schedule. Low and behold, in the three years I avoided my advisor, I had never learned about some fine print on the degree requirements involving an Honors student in math. Where I thought I only needed one more math sequence to be done, I actually needed to take two 400-level math sequences.
Leaving my advising appointment, I felt the strangest mix of stress, frustration, and gratitude. I was upset that I didn’t have my whole college career mapped out correctly all along and stressed about my senior year, which would no longer be chill with an additional math sequence tacked on. Overwhelmingly, though, I was relieved and grateful that I saw my advisor before it was too late. Speaking from my experience, save yourself the future grief and meet with your advisor(s). Too many horror stories exist about seniors just missing their graduation requirements; I narrowly avoided being one of them. This week I applied for graduation in Spring 2020, and I am extremely lucky that I could.
Last month my best friend left for Senegal, Africa with the Peace Corps. All this past summer I dreaded the moment we would have to say goodbye. I knew communication with her would be next to none once she left. We promised to write letters, but the mail takes around two months to deliver—if it doesn’t get lost first.
This situation reminded me of a different friend who wrote “read when” letters to me when she left for her mission years ago. “Read when” letters (also called “open when” letters) are prewritten notes that help you remain present in someone’s life even when they are far away. I kept every “read when” letter that my friend wrote for me, and they remain one of the most precious gifts I’ll ever receive. I decided to write the same letters as a gift for my Senegal-bound friend.
Sitting down to write the letters for my friend was honestly depressing. Every word I wrote was a constant reminder that she was leaving soon. The hardest letters were her birthday cards; those really drove home the fact that we wouldn’t share any adventures or experiences for two years. As emotionally draining as it was, I only wish I had written her more. I feel so much more at peace knowing that she’ll have birthday cards to open on her birthday, and that they can’t get lost in the mail. Even though I can’t support her in person, she can immediately turn to my words over and over again when she’s lonely or in need of a boost.
I know this won’t be the last set of “read when” letters I write. As my time at PSU nears its end, I recognize that graduation causes people to scatter. This first—but far from last—goodbye made me realize my lifelong friends and how determined I am to stay in touch with them past our PSU experience.
The PSU Vanguard recently published an article about PSU’s accreditation status. As of January 2019, PSU has two years to improve how it defines and assesses student learning outcomes. Less than half of PSU’s programs have sufficient plans to assess student learning, and accreditation requires that number to increase above 50% by 2021. If PSU fails to comply with these standards, the university risks probation and after that loss of accreditation. Losing accreditation is a big deal, as it means the loss of federal funding.
Upon first reading this article and talking about it amongst my peers, we were all under the impression that PSU was already on probation when it is not. In this mix of misunderstanding, I’d started researching what a diploma from an unaccredited university meant for job and graduate school opportunities. All of my upperclassmen friends were thanking their lucky stars that they’d be graduating within a year regardless. In reality, we had no idea what the accreditation process and continuing verification looked like for a university. One thing that the PSU Vanguard article didn’t mention was that accreditation status is evaluated and reaffirmed in a seven-year cycle. PSU was last evaluated in 2015, and the next evaluation is in 2022. Additionally, the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities, which governs the accreditation of regional universities, does not have a defined time period for probation. So while PSU has two years to fix the current student learning assessment problem, it could actually amount to several more years.
All in all, I know this article caused a level of fear amongst my peers. I know that I had never even considered what it would mean for a university to lose accreditation and what that would mean for myself and the entire student body. However, looking at the accreditation process as a whole puts everything in perspective. PSU has a lot of time to fix the current issue, and remains accredited at least until 2022—and hopefully for many years to come.
I’m graduating in 11 days. The emotion that arises when I think about this fact can only be expressed as a cross between a celebratory squeal of freedom and a blood-curdling Hitchcock scream. The question I’ve been asked at an increasing frequency in recent months, weeks and days provokes a similar cocktail of excitement and terror: “What’s next?”
Really, the person who has asked me this question the most is myself. And despite the ominous tick-tocking of the clock of my undergraduate education, the answer remains: I don’t know. I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. And regardless of my search for answers and the anxiety that arises when I come up short, I think I’m becoming more okay with not knowing.
From a young age, there’s so much pressure to know what we want to be when we grow up. We grow up playing house and prescribing careers to our Barbie dolls, from pastry chef to firefighter to fairy princess. Our high school years are geared toward preparing for college, and most of us start applying our junior year. I don’t know about you, but at age 16 I could hardly plan my breakfast, let alone pinpoint the career path I was supposed to follow for the remaining (hopefully) several decades of my existence. Which is probably why my college years have been full of indecision, confusion, change, dropping out and transferring.
But with every stressful semester and unpleasant job, I’ve gotten a little closer to figuring out what I want. And even if we never figure out what we want to be when we grow up, I think that’s okay. I’m pretty sure no matter how old I get, I’ll be stumbling blindly through life with more questions than answers. And anyone who honestly thinks they have all the answers is someone I neither want to be nor be around. Life is inherently mysterious and ridiculous, and we might as well accept that.
The one thing I know I’m doing after graduation is taking a well-earned road trip down the Pacific coast. Not only does this give me an opportunity to get a little less pale, it also gives me an opportunity to run away from my anxieties and put off the job search until July. Cheers to that—and cheers to the great unknown.
As graduation approaches, I find myself in the same boat as many of my fellow soon-to-be-alumni: I still don’t have a job or other obligation lined up for after graduation on June 17th. In the hopes of securing a job soon, I thought that I’d share part of my job-hunting experience. . . by the numbers.
Days since I submitted my first job application: 60
The number of applications that a Career Services Adviser told me was average to submit before landing an interview: 25-30
The number of applications that my coworker told me was average to submit before landing a job: 50-60
Applications that I’ve submitted so far: 15
Applications that I haven’t heard back about at all: 10
Positions that I’ve interviewed for: 2
Job offers that I’ve received: 0
Hopefully sharing my experience will help give my peers a better idea of what to expect when job hunting in Portland! Applying for jobs while still being a full-time college student is stressful to say the least and entirely unattainable for a lot of us. As many enter into our final days at PSU, I just wanted to say congratulations to all that are graduating and good luck on whatever your next endeavor may be, even if you don’t quite know what it is yet.
I will graduate this June! I was excited to say so in January. Now, every time when I say, “I will graduate in a couple days,” I tear up. I hated the journey, but now I miss it even while I am still in it.
I remember the first term that began my study life at Portland State University. I was exhausted, and worried a lot about giving up. I use to worry if I had enough money to finish my degree. I remember every night I spent in the library, the tons of coffee I drank, and the papers I wrote.
If you ask me to write down one word that sums up the journey, it would be stress. The stress of getting use to life styles different from my own country, the stress of the academic learning in another language, the stress of the financial side, even the stress of now finding a job. Stresses are always by my side since I chose to study at PSU.
I hated it, but I also love it.
Because of the stress, I kept challenging myself all the time. My English keeps improving, and I absorbed many skills to deal with the different culture. I appreciate the help I received from all my teachers and my friends. With the powerful help and encouragement, I successfully finished my Chinese degree in May, and I will also complete my teaching degree at PSU next Month. For now, I wish time could slow down a bit. I know I will miss the feeling of being a student.
All of this helped me to become a nicer and stronger me.
Graduation is not the end; it is another way to continue.
I’m graduating next month. Just typing those words feels hard to believe. My college career did not follow a linear path; I attended four different colleges in three different time zones, with a year off in the middle during which I worked at a bagel shop and partied too much. I’ve learned so much in the past five years—and I didn’t learn all of it in textbooks or classrooms. As I prepare to leave PSU and enter the so-called real world, I will impart a few quick lessons I wish I could’ve told my freshman self:
Sit in the front of the class. Simple but effective. By sitting near the front of the room, you’re up close and personal with the material. It’s harder to get away with smartphone distractions, side conversations, watching pigeons through classroom windows or daydreaming. The times I’ve habitually sat in the front have left me pleasantly surprised by my test grades.
Get involved in the student community. This is something you’ve heard a million times and, like me, have maybe been reluctant to listen to. When I first transferred to PSU, I read the Vanguard every week and wanted to contribute. I included this goal in to-do lists, planner pages and new year’s resolutions. It wasn’t until my senior year that I finally wrote my first story— and I could not believe how exciting and rewarding it was to see it in newsprint. My only regret is not getting involved sooner.
Use a planner. With Vanguard and student blog responsibilities, internships, a 6-credit capstone and homework, I could not have stayed afloat without my planner. Weekly and daily to-do lists and color-coding helped me manage my time confidently and efficiently. Once deadlines and due dates are on paper, they’re no longer building up in my head and stressing me out. Don’t think of yourself as a slave to your planner, though—just do things piece by piece, do the best you can and know that you will handle it all.
To those of you who are still powering through your education, you’ve got this! And congrats to my fellow soon-to-be graduates—we’re almost done, and it feels good. Feel free to comment your own tips for ruling your schooling!
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.