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Standing up for students
Photos and Story by James Hill
Growing up as a teenager in Sacramento, California Nan Poppe never considered education as a career choice. She was drawn to social work, helping others get back on their feet after misfortunes. After college, she made a self discovery.
“What I realized is the best way to help someone is to give them an education,” she said. “That’s what empowers people to change their lives.”
She certainly knows how to empower folks as she’s a national expert on how underrepresented populations can succeed in college. And because of her success with alternative high school students, she helped secure more than $13 million in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to replicate PCC’s Gateway to College model nationwide.
“Nan excels at building relationships, both internally and externally,” said Craig Kolins, Dean of Instruction and Student Development for the Extended Learning Campus. “She’s a national leader on workforce, economic development, and adult literacy issues and is an avid believer in providing educational and training opportunities to Oregonians so they have access to high skilled, liveable wage jobs.”
For Poppe, this “dream job” is all about the students. Her focus never wavers. She says that often dislocated workers, immigrants and welfare recipients don’t see themselves as college-bound.
“For a lot of people their dreams don’t get nourished,” she said. “But we can help people rewrite their stories. It’s really inspiring.”
After earning a degree from San Diego State University in the 1970s, Poppe headed to Eugene and worked for the county’s social service agency. She then landed a job at Lane Community College and launched a program to retrain dislocated workers just as the timber crisis was unfolding, forcing many employees out of jobs.
After five years she moved to Mt. Hood Community College and started the Steps to Success welfare-to-work program, now co-operated by Mt. Hood and PCC. She basically built the program from scratch as Oregon was ahead of the national push to reform welfare. The program won recognition as being one of the best in the country, and she stayed at Mt. Hood for a decade.
Along the way she earned a master’s degree in social work from California State University, Fresno and a doctorate in education from Oregon State University.
In August 1998 she arrived at PCC, first as Dean of Instruction for the Cascade Open Campus. In 2003, she took over the Extended Learning Campus, which is now headquartered at the Southeast Center. She’s also held stints as interim president at the Cascade Campus and district vice president for academic and student affairs.
Poppe puts in long hours but also believes in balance and she sets an example for her employees to work hard but also enjoy life. For her that enjoyment comes from hiking, skiing, biking and living aboard a house boat across from Sauvie Island.