There's a flourishing cherry tree planted along downtown Prineville's 3rd Street, where the branches these days flutter with tentacles of red ribbon. Each long strand, 40 or so by last count, was tied on by staffers from the Crook County Chamber of Commerce and represents a local business that's opened up after coronavirus closures. It's a show of strength for a community now bouncing back.One of those ribbons symbolizes the COCC Crook County Open Campus, which, in fact, never actually closed its doors. As with all of Central Oregon Community College's campuses, the Prineville location has kept its computer lab up and running for students in need of computer access and online connectivity, with the space closely monitored for social distancing and abiding by state directives.
Though the classrooms inside are hushed for the moment, the learning is loud and clear. Nearly every academic program at COCC was able to funnel its curriculum into the virtual world within two weeks of pandemic restrictions. Faculty and students adapted; programs evolved. Zoom classes and GoPro fieldtrips have simply taken learning in a new direction for the time being.
And last week, the college honored its more than 600 graduates through a social media campaign, celebratory webpage and special commencement package mailed to students receiving their certificate or degree. For many, it was a celebration of perseverance.
A good number of those grads hail from Crook County: forty-one are from Prineville, six are from Powell Butte. Like many of their fellow Crook County neighbors and former residents who call themselves Bobcat alums, the gateway to their higher learning was, in no small part, their COCC "home" campus that anchors Prineville's southern city limits.
First opened in 2011, the broad brick building occupies a lot donated by the county. Its very proximity helps to spotlight higher learning."Having the campus within walking distance of our high school is a real plus for the students that want to take some college classes the last year or two of high school," explained Jerry Brummer, Crook County Commissioner. Brummer has witnessed the campus's impact firsthand. "I've been at annual meetings where they've introduced people who earned degrees because the campus was located here locally, which gave them the opportunity to grow and be leaders in our county."
Offering a mix of credit and non-credit classes, from algebra and personal finance to cheese-making and a roster of summer Youth Camps, as well as workforce training and small-business advising, the campus serves many community needs. Resources include the computer lab (a 72-station facility open to both students and community members) and meeting spaces. Events, such as a March presentation by community organizer Chisao Hata, part of the COCC Foundation's Visiting Scholar Program, have offered opportunities for enrichment.
"It provides a setting and an opportunity for lifelong learning, whether it be in the form of a degree, certificate or personal development and enjoyment," said Becky Munn, board chair of the Crook County Chamber of Commerce and Oregon State University's Open Campus education coordinator. "Having access to education and training locally raises the quality of life for all residents, and helps to break down barriers that exist for many when wanting to pursue new opportunities."
More and more, the region is expanding its access to new opportunities. Its recent growth has certainly been remarkable.A report released this year by Portland State University's Population Research Center found that Crook County had 2019's second-highest population growth in all of Oregon, rising by 3.2%. In fact, the county held that same title for 2017 and 2018, growing by 2.7% and 2.4%, respectively. By comparison, the 2018-19 growth rate for a bustling Deschutes County saw just a 2.1% bump in population. The COCC Crook County Open Campus will continue to play a vital part in serving a rising area, connecting a robust region with a skilled workforce.
For now, the campus — and the college — awaits its official order as to when, and how, it can return to normal operations. COCC does plan to offer some in-person instruction at all campuses this fall, along with online, remote and hybrid options for students, though the college is prepared to move to fully remote or online instruction if directed.
Suzie Kristensen, campus director, knows that some students, admitted to other colleges, are looking to stay local in lieu of remotely attending a distant, more expensive school. COCC is a great bridge, she encouraged. "Staying safe and close to home is extremely important to our community, and COCC is able to provide education services without leaving home," she said. "And whether you are a first-time student eager to start your educational journey or a former student looking for a fresh start, we can help."
The college's summer term starts on June 22; fall term begins on Sept. 21. Learn more at cocc.edu or contact the COCC Crook County Open Campus at 541-447-9233.
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