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Q & A with Sarah Tillery: She’s making history

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It’s hard to imagine things getting much bigger for the Service Learning Program.

Last year, 76 PCC students provided 11,000 hours of service and faculty have developed between 40 to 60 classes with service learning components for 18,000 hours of additional service. Last year, five organized days of service translated to two trips to the Oregon Food Bank, an ivy weed pull for Friends of Tryon Creek, a new playground for Harrison Park and coordination with thousands of students on MLK’s Day of Service.

Sarah Tillery and her Service Learning Program are aiming at collecting 50,000 hours of service from students, faculty and the community during PCC's 50th year.

In 2011-12, things will get much bigger. PCC will celebrate its 50th year with a yearlong service-learning event where students, faculty and the community will attempt to reach 50,000 hours of service by the end of the year. The goal may seem ambitious, especially since PCC’s Service Learning Program reached a total of 29,000 hours in 2010-11, but it’s a challenge that second-year coordinator Sarah Tillery relishes.

Tillery, who joined PCC in the summer 2010, guides the service-learning program and teaches women’s studies. Raised in Southern California, Tillery’s presence at the college is a bit of a homecoming. Before she earned her bachelor’s degree in English and Women’s Studies from UC Irvine in 1998, master’s degree in Women’s Studies from San Diego State in 2000 and a doctorate in Women’s Studies from the University of Maryland in 2007, she began her post-secondary education at El Camino Community College.

Q: How did you come to PCC?

Tillery: “I was job searching. My contract with Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., was up and my partner at the time had moved to California. The school was unable to fill my job, so I worked on contract from a distance for the spring semester, looking for a job the whole time. And, really, I was looking anywhere between Portland and Central California. There were no jobs in Central California and a few jobs up here. I had been trying to get a community college job for a while and it hadn’t worked out.”

Service-learning projects include park clean-ups.

Q: Having gone to a community college do you feel it helped you in finding work at PCC?

Tillery: “Certainly, it helped me being able to identify what I valued in higher education because it was probably, particularly with my under-graduate experience, the most positive college experience I had. So it was really nice to be able to say that this is where my values are and this where I could see where your values are in terms of interviewing (for the position). It was nice to be able to layout to the interviewers that I felt like my values were aligned (with their’s).”

Q: Was there much of a transition coming into a service-learning environment?

Tillery: “The positives were that Jennifer Alkezweeny before me had done such an amazing job in building the roots of this program. So, it was nice to walk into a program that had such a solid foundation. I felt like I didn’t have to search around for stuff or beef up the webpage or the recordkeeping. It was easy to sort of walk in and say, ‘Alright, we can maintain these and then see where else we can go.’ That’s a credit to her and made the transition for me really easy.”

Q: What are the main benefits associated with volunteering for a service-learning project?

Tillery: “Whether its cooperative education or hands-on training in an auto collision repair shop here, it really does fall on that continuum of experiential learning. It gives students the opportunity to take what they are learning in the class and apply it in a volunteer context to benefit the community or benefit a client at a particular non-profit. I know for myself in particular that as a student having that kind of learning experience means I learned it for real and not from a book. For faculty the benefit is being able to offer service learning as part of the buffet of options in your teaching tool kit. How to get your students from points A to B; this is one way you get them there.”

Or helping out at local non-profits.

Q: Are you up for the task of overseeing PCC’s quest to reach 50,000 hours of service in honor of the college’s 50th year?

Tillery: “I’m super excited that the college has committed to 50,000 hours of service. I think that it will be a huge commitment and will be a bit of a stretch to get us there. All of the things that the college already does are so amazing that we’ll be able to raise awareness on all of those things and sort of put a spotlight on those great activities. We have our hands full, but we’re excited about doing double or triple the number of service events in a single year. I think these events will be a great opportunity to be together and contribute something back to this community that keeps this place going and alive.”

Q: Have you ever heard of a community college or any school doing something like this?

Tillery: “I have heard, second hand, that other places might have done something similar, but not on this scale by any stretch. We’re the biggest college in the state so I think it’s appropriate. It’s totally in keeping with the mission of the college and where we sit with the community.”

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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