After a decade of working and being in and out of school, Michael Walker was sitting in a health class at PCC Cascade in the fall of 2009. He was still uncertain about his future and his ability to complete his education. His teacher passed him a flyer about an internship opportunity and advised him to apply. Instructor Shari Rochelle probably did not know it at the time, but she had forever altered the Walker’s life.
“I hadn’t really gotten involved with anything at the campus level, and hadn’t yet begun to believe in myself,” Walker said, but the event marked a turning point in his life, as he applied and was accepted. During the summer program, he worked on a research project through Portland State University that allowed him to make connections and build relationships with directors across the Portland area.
The following summer he applied to the same program but sought a research project through the Sociology Department that was close to his heart: black male students in education. His research focused on those who were successful in education and what worked for them, as well as those who were not successful in higher education and some possible reasons for their struggles. The number one factor of success, according to Walker, was the presence of a mentor in the lives of the men he interviewed. The mentor was sometimes a person from their home, but often was a teacher who believed in them and helped them develop a belief in themselves.
Shortly after that first application to the Bridges to Baccalaureate program, Walker started seeing other opportunities at PCC. While attending classes at the Sylvania Campus, he noticed an internship prospect with its Multicultural Center.
“Ms. Rochelle got me to believe in myself,” he said. ” Working with Amara Perez at the Sylvania Multicultural Center allowed me to recognize the injustices that were happening, and provided me with the foundation to understand how to start making a difference.”
He points to his internship with the Sylvania Multicultural Center, and having Amara Perez as a mentor, as a turning point in his academic career. He had not previously been involved with campus life, but by doing so, he says, he improved his entire student experience. The internship also solidified his commitment to academics as he began feeling part of a community at PCC.
Because of his internship experience, Walker was able to apply for more scholarships, and he received many. Among those is the Diversity Enrichment Scholarship, which he received in the fall of 2012 and is currently using at Portland State University. The scholarship is awarded by the Multicultural Center and available to first generation, minority students with a grade-point average of 2.5 or higher. The scholarship offers up to $5,000 per year through the end of Walker’s baccalaureate program.
His most recent scholarship award is the prestigious Ronald E. McNair Scholarship, which includes a paid research component that continues throughout the pursuit of a doctorate. Walker is pursuing a research project that intersects his two majors; public health and social justice. The project he is working on focuses on the targeted-marketing efforts by the food industry promoting high fat, high calorie foods to African-Americans and the resulting effects on health. The research project will be an in-depth study and take multiple years to complete. Due to the extensive skills that are built through this process, recipients of this scholarship are highly recruited by professionals in the businesses and non-profit worlds.
Walker’s future looks bright and promising. He has aspirations to complete graduate school and begin working with policy in the next five years with the ultimate goal of making change at a higher level. His commitment to his community is strong, and he plans to remain in Portland for the foreseeable future. When looking back at his life, Walker said Portland Community College provided him with the skills needed to be successful academically, but more importantly, it provided him a community that allowed him to build relationships with mentors and develop a belief in himself that he can make a difference and be successful.