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County teams up with Portland Community College, Oregon Aero to offer local scholarships

When Victor Nieves decided he wanted to study computer science, he wasn't sure where to start.

A 2017 Scappoose High School graduate and first-generation college student with two younger siblings, Nieves was awarded a Future Connect scholarship through Portland Community College.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Future Connect scholarship recipients and PCC staff meet Tuesday evening in Scappoose. Eight students were awarded scholarships this year to attend PCC.

This year, he will begin his first round of college courses at PCC's Rock Creek campus.

Students like Nieves are getting an extra opportunity to succeed with scholarships provided by PCC following a new boost in funding from the county and Oregon Aero.

The county teamed up with PCC and Oregon Aero to allocate $10,000 scholarships to low-income and first-generation college students.

This year, eight students from Scappoose and St. Helens will begin their first year of community college, thanks to the Future Connect program.

Through the program, scholarships are made available to students who may face extra financial hardship because their parents did not go to college, or they come from a low-income household. The funds are used toward students' pursuit of an associate degree or certificate from PCC.

Oregon Aero agreed to match the county's contributions to the scholarship program, leaving $20,000 in scholarships that will fund eight students for their first year of PCC's two-year program. Future Connect is $2,500 per student each year. The PCC Foundation is also pitching in, using its funds to help pay for the second year of the program.

The total $40,000 will go to students from Columbia County.

Tony Erickson, chief operating officer of Oregon Aero, one of this year's major Future Connect donors, highlighted the need for community colleges and the importance of offering workforce training like the advanced manufacturing taking shape in Scappoose with the new Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center.

"We're a company out here that relies on advanced manufacturing," Erickson said. "We've seen a drop-off of talent ... a drop-off of kids who can even read a ruler. That's the foundation for math and blueprint reading and design. It's important out here that we have strong companies that can employ people."

In all, 14 students from Columbia County applied for Future Connect this year. Eight students were chosen, with six being from St. Helens High School and two from Scappoose High.

During a recognition ceremony Tuesday evening at Scappoose High, scholarship recipients mingled with PCC staff and board members, while some, like Nieves, shared their experience.

"It's been scary, just because I'm not sure what to expect," Nieves said of his journey into higher education, but praised Adam Lucero, one of the Future Connect success coaches tasked with helping recent high school grads navigate financial aid and class registration.

"Now I feel like a pro at the registration process," Nieves said. "That kind of confidence just comes from someone who knows what they're doing."

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Hailey Barlow, a 2016 St. Helens High School graduate, talks about the advanatages of the Future Connect program.

Hailey Barlow, a 2016 St. Helens High graduate, said as a former Future Connect recipient, she was able to pursue certification to become a paramedic. Barlow said having someone to help guide her through the process and keep her on track made all the difference.

"If it wasn't for Adam (Lucero), I would've had no idea what I was doing," Barlow told a room full of fellow scholarship recipients, county officials and PCC reps. "Future Connect has been an amazing opportunity to have."

The scholarship recipients are slated to begin at PCC in late September.

"This is a project that may help kids who otherwise may fall through the cracks," Columbia Columbia Commissioner Henry Heimuller said. "We want kids to be able to graduate here from my alma mater in Scappoose and turn around and go get a higher education ... and come back and work and pay taxes here."

This year marks the county's first time getting involved with Future Connect, but local students who attend PCC have benefited from the program for the past three years.

Data collected by Education Northwest show students who participate in the Future Connect program are more likely to earn better grades, complete classes and complete a program or transfer to a university by 11 percentage points.

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