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Nothing to Fear
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Mark EvertzHis heart raced. The fight-or-flight response was in full effect. David Lomax came upon the friendly confines of Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus with just one thing gripping his generally easy-going nature."Can I do this??The last time he cracked a book, Lomax was a self-admitted slacker student at Parkrose High School – nearly two decades earlier. Could someone who had spent the years since high school as a day care co-owner, a construction worker and machinist re-train himself to think in an academic setting after all these years?David Lomax wanted to find out. After getting laid off from his job as a machinist, he decided that he needed more education under his belt to better provide for his wife, Shril, and their children. And he wanted to be the family’s shining example that education was the ticket to success.But that didn’t mean Lomax was the picture of confidence."It was really scary,"he exhaled. "I was out of the school loop for so long that I didn’t know if I could do it or not. I didn’t know about the workload or anything."Shril thought about those early days. "Oh yeah, I remember that,"she said with a chuckle. "He started off slow, not quite sure what to do – but he caught on quick."Lomax swallowed hard and jumped into PCC’s College Success and Survival class, taught by PCC counselor Carl Parker. A class that helps ease the anxiety while reintroducing students to the skills needed to graduate, this survival class moved Lomax on the course that would ultimately bring him success in the classroom, turn him into a campus leader and give him the vision to aim higher."Oh yeah, I remember David,"Parker said warmly. "I encouraged him that if he wanted it, he could get it done. I am very pleased to see how he’s developed. He had the characteristics and said the things that I liked right away. I am proud of him."Lomax praised Parker’s guidance and reassurance for getting him on the right track."That class put me over the hump,"he said. "Dr. Parker said ?you don’t have to be who you are, you have the power to change.’?And change he did. Research for a 10-page paper on how he would survive in the college environment unveiled an interesting statistic. Lomax discovered that students who got involved in campus politics were more likely to do well in college. That was all the encouragement he needed.Taking an active role in PCC Cascade’s future meant joining the Associated Students of Portland Community College organization. There, Lomax became the voice of reason and an eager organizing force. Recent successes in that realm included assembling and leading student rallies at the state Capitol as the organization’s president – in full view of Oregon lawmakers."I was so proud of him,"remembered Shril.Wins in the political arena led to wins in the classroom for Lomax, in the form of achievement and bigger dreams."I got to doing really well in math and I thought, ?Well, darn, I could look a little higher,’"he said. "I could go into engineering."Lucky for Lomax that he happened to be going to a school that had a dual enrollment agreement with the state’s four-year school for mechanical engineering – the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT). Success built on itself, brick by brick. Good marks on assignments in the classroom and a very respectable GPA gave Lomax a reasonable assurance that he could take on OIT."I feel I have a pretty good handle on it and PCC did that,"said Lomax, who expects to finish up at PCC after a couple of classes in the summer, then get his degree from OIT in mechanical engineering in 2003-04. "I’m going in there fired up, energized, ready to design something and ready to get involved,"he added.With the OIT degree in hand, Lomax sees himself playing a role in helping provide answers to the country’s current energy crisis. His keen interest in power and energy cycles will likely drive him into helping design power plants, he says.Lomax is well aware that he’s come a long way from the anxiety-ridden 30-something he was upon his arrival at PCC. He credits his own tenacity, his family’s support and PCC’s motivational staff members for turning him toward his passions."It is very fulfilling for me,"he said as he nears graduation and a new direction. "In high school there wasn’t much of a push for me to go to college, so I didn’t and I always knew that was a mistake. This really helped me fulfill a dream that I’ve always had."With educational endeavors opening new doors for him, Lomax is glad to see his family and children take notice."His pride shows more,"said Shril. "He is involved with the school. The kids see him doing his best, being motivated to get good grades and do well."The lesson isn’t lost on David Lomax, Jr., who has designs on a career as a lawyer or a doctor. At the ripe old age of 12, Lomax Jr. is using his dad as a role model for what to do – and what not to do."I think I’ll (go to college) a little bit earlier than he did,"said Lomax Jr., a straight-A student.