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Sharon Samuel’s dream of a college education took a backseat for more than 40 years while she raised her five sons. This year, at age 60, she completed her bachelor’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Portland State University.
PSU’s flexible online degree program helped her overcome another hurdle: caring for family members who had COVID-19.
Like Samuel, many college students have experienced extra challenges during the pandemic, such as family obligations, health issues and financial troubles. PSU makes it possible for them to succeed in college with flexible remote classes, academic support and scholarships.
“You’re going to have hiccups in life; that’s just a part of it.” said Samuel. “But the online program at PSU was phenomenal. The professors were right there when you needed them, and you could do your work on your own time. They encouraged me to continue even though I was having family issues.”
All students are welcome at Portland State, whether they are enrolling right after high school or returning to college years later. Here are some ways that PSU has created an environment where anyone can thrive.
Empowering students with diverse backgrounds and needs
PSU has expanded its programs to support a diverse mix of students and give them greater flexibility because of COVID-19, including:
- Four Years Free, which covers tuition and fees for eligible Oregon high school graduates.
- EMPOWER, designed for first-generation, Asian and Pacific Islander students entering college for the first time.
- Transfers Finish Free, which allows eligible Oregon transfer students to complete their degrees without paying standard tuition and fees.
- Attend Anywhere, a new class format with both in-person meetings and remote options.
As a first-generation student, Japhety Ngabireyimana serves as an inspiration to family members and others looking to enter college. He credits PSU with making it easier to transition into college life.
“When I first started as a freshman I was really scared in terms of navigating the school and everything, but the staff and programs offered have made it feel like a second home, so it’s been a good experience for me,” he said.
Ngabireyimana grew up in a Tanzanian refugee camp and moved to Portland when he was eight years old. He is studying business. with support from a full-tuition academic scholarship.
Helping students connect with a community on campus
As a freshman entering college in 2019, Ngabireyimana received tuition help, peer mentors, and assistance with scholarships in PSU’s EMPOWER program. “The program helped me build a family and community before school even started,” he said. “We had weekly check-ins with our mentors to make sure we were on track. PSU also has a variety of clubs for African, Asian, Hispanic students, etc., which has helped us find a way to connect with each other.”
Welcoming more transfer students than any college in Oregon
Transferring from one college to another can be daunting. Yet at PSU, it doesn’t have to be. PSU makes the transfer experience easy and affordable.
The Transfers Finish Free program eases the financial burden for eligible Oregon transfer students by covering standard tuition and mandatory fees. And the Transfer & Returning Student Resource Center provides advising, workshops and events to help students transition smoothly to PSU.
Kara Sydnor transferred to Portland State from Portland Community College (PCC) during the pandemic. She’s earning her bachelor’s degree in public health with a focus on community health promotions.
Despite pandemic challenges, Sydnor really enjoyed her remote classes last year.
“I think everyone should take a public health course at PSU,” she says. “It is such an affirming empowering place, where I feel like every instructor has met me with curiosity, provided space for me to express my unique lived experience, and really values what I bring to the class.”
Giving students career opportunities
For many students, it doesn’t get more exciting than having the chance to roll up their sleeves and apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to a work environment.
PSU works with Greater Portland, Inc to identify which industries are experiencing growth in the region and align its academic programs with those sectors. Workforce Development opportunities include applied learning, internship and co-op programs that give students real-world experience. Students graduate better prepared to enter the workforce in industries like clean technology, health science and the media.
Ngabireyimana interned with software company Ride Report. Once he graduates, he plans to use the educational foundation he received at PSU to continue growing his bproud brand, which he launched to inspire people to be proud of their race, gender, sexuality and beliefs.
Offering flexible online programs
For working adults like Samuel, attending class on campus can be challenging. To accommodate those who need more flexibility, PSU offers online programs that allow students to work around their own schedule. “When you’ve got a full-time job and a family, sometimes attending class in person is not an option,” she said. “I think everyone should try taking at least one or two online classes to get a feel for it, because it will change your perspective.”
As the first in her family to earn a college degree, Samuel is now a role model for her nieces and nephews. “I tell them that they can do anything.”