PCC’s Gateway to College opens the door to a world of opportunity for student leader
Photos and Story by Amy Bader
Adrian Jimenez’s educational journey started three years ago after dropping out of high school.
At the time, a counselor gave Jimenez a brochure for Portland Community College’s Gateway to College Program, which allows high school students ages 16 to 20 to obtain college credit while completing their diploma in a college setting.
Gateway to College, which started as a pilot project launched by the college in the late 1990’s and is now a nationally replicated program, contracts with Portland Public, Hillsboro, Lake Oswego and Tigard-Tualatin school districts to offer their students a scholarship that covers the cost of tuition and books. Once in the program, students meet with a college success coach to teach them about college, organization and time management; and connect students with community, career and college resources.
This was perfect for Jimenez, who had struggled to fit in or find meaning in high school, but still had a desire to learn. Jimenez, who uses the pronouns they, them and their, signed up for Gateway to College — a decision that would change their life and open the door to a world of opportunities.
Taking classes at the Southeast Campus, a success coach helped Jimenez navigate the system, learn life skills and connect with valuable opportunities. This consistent support and mentorship was a transformative experience.
“It only took half of my first term to completely change my attitude towards school,” Jimenez added. “I’ve always loved learning and science, I just didn’t like high school.”
The success coach was pivotal in helping Jimenez get on track and select the right classes to explore their love of science. And, Jimenez found that the one-on-one support they received from the coach didn’t end with the Gateway to College Program. Throughout Jimenez’s time at PCC, instructors like geology faculty Marjan Rotting (she, her, hers), have been eager to provide guidance and encouragement.
“Marjan was a major support system, mentoring me and helping me decide what I wanted to major in,” said Jimenez. “Instructors are here because they really care about their students and are willing to do a lot to help you succeed.”
Jimenez is now a tutor and STEM mentor and is dual-enrolled at Portland State University, working towards a bachelor’s degree in Geology and Mathematics. This fits their long-term plans of pursuing a master’s in Math and studying stable isotope hydrology at Oregon State.
Jimenez was inspired to pursue this field after participating in the Research Experience for Undergraduates with the Center for Climate and Aerosol Research at PSU. Jimenez believes this is an important field, with the potential to not only benefit communities with poor quality drinking water, but to understand how groundwater reservoirs recover after depletion. Plus, it’s a chance to investigate how aquatic environments are responding to climate change.
As a STEM mentor, Jimenez and others have come together to create a webinar series and virtual tools for a group of six students who received the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium’s STEM Community College Opportunity for Research Experience this year. It’s a program focused on fostering STEM education and careers to ensure students have the support they need to complete their projects.
“It’s inspiring to see how Adrian has shifted from mentee to mentor through their growth and experiences at PCC,” said Julia Betts (she, her, hers), the Southeast Campus STEM Center coordinator. “They continue to push through their own comforts, gracefully and with an eagerness to learn.”
Jerry Annen (he, him, his), interim manager of Academic Support Services at Southeast, added, “Adrian has been a thoughtful leader in this work. They have had a significant impact on the students they tutor, many of whom can now imagine themselves working in STEM careers.”
Jimenez’s latest accomplishment has the potential to change the future of student engagement at the STEM Center. Under the guidance of faculty mentor Betts, Jimenez and a team of eight students earned NASA’s Undergraduate Team Experience Award this year. They plan to use the campus learning garden to build a prototype for an aquaponics system to facilitate interplanetary travel. With this system in place, students can come in each year and continue to build on the project.
“This project is a big deal,” Betts commented. “Not only because it’s the first time a PCC team project is being funded, but it will set the framework for future STEM students to engage.”
Once done with PCC, Jimenez wants to help students maximize their own potential.
“I have received so much selfless mentoring at PCC, I almost feel I’m obligated to pass it along somewhere,” Jimenez explained. “I think it could be fun to be a professor someday and to pay it forward to future students.”