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The new student body president of Mt. Hood Community College is barely 16 years old

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - At only 16 years old, Collin Kazu Lewis, is ready to lead students at Mt. Hood Community College. Like most college student body presidents, Collin Kazu Lewis is working hard to earn his first degree. Unlike most in that role, however, he's also looking forward to getting his high school diploma and driver's license.

Lewis, who just celebrated his 16th birthday, is undoubtedly the youngest president Mt. Hood Community College students have ever elected. He's a student in the early college program at Metro East Web Academy and also attends MHCC full time.

Lewis, who goes by "Kazu," is on track to get his high school diploma and associate's degree at the same time.

After three years at MHCC, the young go-getter plans to transfer to a four-year college to finish his education and then head to medical school. Acknowledging that becoming a doctor requires many years in school, the affable teen takes a practical view of his chosen path.

"I thought I might as well get an early start to my academic journey," he said.

Managing time

Lewis, the son of a mail carrier and school food services worker, attended Reynolds High School as a freshman and transferred to Metro East so he could enroll at MHCC through the early college program. He will be a high school junior next year while he serves as Mt. Hood college's student body president.

Attending MHCC, he said, "offers more opportunity" than regular high school.

"I can be more independent and it gives me the ability to work at my own pace."

And how's that going?

"I really like it here," he says, while admitting he misses friends he made at Walt Morey Middle School and Reynolds High.

He noted that he likes the ethnic and age diversity he finds at the college.

"This morning in class the person sitting next to me was in his 70s," he said.

Lewis, who so far boasts a 3.9 grade average in his college classes, spends 12 to 15 hours per week on homework.

"Compared to a lot of college students, it isn't too many (hours)," he said, "but I work really hard on time management."

The student body president gets a small monthly stipend, and MetroEast Web Academy pays a big chunk of Lewis' tuition, so he's saving time on his education as well as money.

Lewis said he enjoyed running track at Reynolds High, but otherwise doesn't feel like he'll be missing out on the proverbial high school experience.

"I try not to think of the things I'll miss, but more of the things I will get here," he said.

'Amazing' ideas

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Collin Kazu Lewis,incoming student body president at Mt. Hood Community College (holding paper), discusses publicity for a campus event with other members of student government. Lewis, who is an Academic Affairs representative as an MHCC student government officer, said he ran for president because he "thought it would be fun to represent all the students."

In the student body election, Lewis garnered more than 1,000 votes, a record for the college.

With the average age of a community college student being 29, Lewis will preside over a student body that's almost twice his age. Despite the age disparity, he said he feels accepted by the students.

Many other students are not only accepting, but impressed.

"He's so mature and responsible," said Kim Poling. "He's going to do great things."

Cassie James, an MHCC employee, added "he's always there to help."

Poling, who serves as campus affairs representative in student government, praised Lewis for his communications skills.

"When we're in a meeting, he's so good at listening and he's really careful before he speaks. It's amazing," she said. "It's not like he comes from an elite background. I don't know where he gets it."

Poling, a nursing student who takes classes at MHCC's Bruning Center in Portland's Maywood Park neighborhood, said Lewis was the only candidate she remembers to ever come out and campaign at the satellite campus.

Another student, Fardwosa Duale, noted Lewis "has these amazing ideas."

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Madison Higgins, ASG community affairs and outreach representative; Kenneth Mendoza, ASG legislation affairs representative; and Melanie Roberts, ASG vice president; join Lewis on a cement couch near the MHCC visual arts buildings. Among those, Lewis wants to expand the college's push toward more so-called "Open Educational Resources," free or very low-cost, usually digital, textbooks and other learning tools. With college textbooks costing as much as $300 each, OER can dramatically cut the total cost of college.

Lewis also has his eye on three mothballed greenhouses on campus, and supports the movement to restore them and create a community garden that could provide students with food and be used for other opportunities.

Lewis will play a key student government role as it organizes student activities on campus, such as the recent "Take Back the Night" event to make students aware of sexual and domestic violence.

"I want to forge strong connections between students, administration and faculty," Lewis said. "I want to focus on what students need and what students want."

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