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Talent and drive lead Southeast Campus student to new scholarship opportunity
Photos and Story by Katherine Miller
Two years ago, Melissa Lamproe came to a crossroad. Her family was struggling financially. She earned income cleaning houses and selling clothing online. At 32, Lamproe knew her options were limited.
“House cleaning is really physical labor and there’s no advancement opportunity,” Lamproe said. “I made OK money but I just didn’t feel there was any future in that. So I needed to make some kind of change.”
That decision has led not only to academic success, but also to her recently winning a new full-ride opportunity at the Portland Community College Foundation named the Ryan Courtney State Farm Agency Scholarship.
Lamproe’s journey began when she saw a brochure for Mt. Hood Community College. The brochure inspired her to go back to school, but she opted for PCC’s Southeast Campus. And when she announced her decision to her husband, he too decided to enroll.
But there was a major problem: Lamproe dropped out of school at the beginning of eighth grade, in part to help care for her bed-ridden mother. So going back to school would first require her to earn a general education development diploma (GED).
For two weeks she studied a GED prep book every day after work.
“Everyone thought I wouldn’t pass because I didn’t go to high school at all, but I’m a fast learner,” she said.
Lamproe passed the exam but missed the deadline for the next term at the Southeast Campus by two days and thus had to wait until the following term to start.
“I’m really competitive,” she said. “My husband got in a term before me as I frantically tried to get my GED done. I was so jealous of him.”
Lamproe couldn’t afford to pay for the series of GED tests, so she “crowd-sourced” donations on Facebook.
“I said to my friends, ‘I really want to improve my life and this is how I want to do it,” she remembered. “If anybody can chip in $5 or $10 – even to just enough to get that first test started – that would be so great.’ And my friends really came through. They paid for the whole thing.”
When she was finally able to start her classes, she dove in full-time and is now in her second year studying business administration.
In order to qualify for financial aid, she has had to maintain a full load of classes. But the aid is not enough to live on so she often takes classes in the evening, on Saturdays and online in order to continue to work and help care for the couple’s 16-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. Their daughter’s Type I diabetes requires regular injections and Lamproe and her husband, Sam Jasperson, are always on call for health emergencies.
Jasperson, an honors student with a full academic load as well, works part-time as bicycle program coordinator at ASPCC Southeast. Lamproe said his help at home is a big reason why the couple is able to make their demanding schedules work.
Her Passionate Impact in Volunteerism
In addition, she worked last summer in a leadership program with Passion Impact, a local nonprofit that empowers local students through volunteer work. And starting fall term, she has been hired to work nine to 10 hours a week as a peer advisor at the campus Career Exploration Center.
Lamproe said her volunteer and campus work is one way of repaying the help her friends gave her with the GED fees.
“I knew financially I couldn’t pay it back,” she said. “I wanted to pay it forward and I started doing a ton of volunteering. I’ve done almost every type of volunteering you can think of since then. I’ve fed low-income people. I’ve worked at community gardens. I’ve done trash pick-up – you name it.”
Lamproe said the State Farm scholarship has greatly eased her family’s financial pressure. Ryan Courtney owns the State Farm insurance agency that opened this year in one of the retail spaces in Southeast Campus’ Student Commons, which was one of the improvements funded by the bond measure passed by voters in 2008.
Courtney established the scholarship for a business student who takes most of their classes at the Southeast Campus. It covers all tuition, fees and books for a year. The winning student must be low-income, high-achieving and the first in his or her family to go to college.
The scholarship is administered by the PCC Foundation, State Farm Companies Foundation, and Courtney, who said he wanted to pay forward the help a mentor gave him when he was a college student.
“I had a mentor who paid for me to attend graduate school at Northwestern University,” he said. “It was a handshake deal. All he asked in return was for me to work five years for him. He changed my life in a very positive way. Fast-forward 20 years and I’m in a position to give back to our community in a similar way.”
Lamproe Wins Scholarship and Job
After Lamproe won the scholarship and finally met Courtney, he knew she could also be a “perfect addition” to his staff and offered her a 30-hour-a-week job at his agency.
“When I met Melissa, I saw so much energy, drive and potential to be successful in whatever she chooses to do,” said Courtney. “She had a sales and customer service background, and she is involved in her community and here on campus. I was so impressed with her positive attitude and work ethic.”
Misty Bouse, major gift officer for the PCC Foundation, said the State Farm scholarship is unusual for the college in that it is renewable for a second year if the student maintains at least a 3.0 GPA. That’s no problem for Lamproe, who has consistently maintained a 4.0.
“She loves Excel spreadsheets,” said Bouse. “Ryan was very excited to hear that. It was like the most ideal candidate showed up and it was synchronicity in the universe.”
With Courtney’s financial assistance Lamproe was able to take the 40-hour training course to obtain a license to sell property and casualty insurance. She passed the exam on her first try and next will take a training course for life and health insurance. She has also been certified to sell banking products.
Lamproe’s primary goal is to transfer to Portland State or Marylhurst University and earn a degree in accounting, and then do accounting for nonprofit groups. But the unexpected job opportunity with Courtney’s agency has given her second career path in insurance sales, something which she said is a natural fit for her.
Her journey has taken her a long way from being a middle-school drop-out.
“We were told growing up, ‘We’re poor – you won’t go to college,” Lamproe said. “College is for rich people.’ We weren’t told that there were scholarships, financial aid or other options. I never went on a college campus until I came here.
“Now I take my kids here all the time, every time there’s an event on campus,” she added. “I want college to be a normal part of life. I want my kids to know that it’s not only an option, it’s something we can make work no matter what. I wish I had that growing up, that drive toward higher education.”