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Emily Hall: A diverse cause

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Emily Hall, PCC graduate

Emily Hall, PCC graduate

Emily Hall finished her degree in the Civil and Mechanical Engineering Technology program and credits the program for turning her life around. Without it, along with the encouragement of faculty and staff, she might not be where she is today – running a materials testing lab in Lake Oswego called Shannon & Wilson Inc.

When she entered PCC as a 30-year-old single mother a few years ago, her confidence was at an "all time low." She had had a brush with the law and was homeless for a stretch before she realized she had to finish her education. Coming from a family of seven, she was the first to attend college.

"I needed to go to school for my son," said Hall, who has been selected to the Honor’s List five consecutive quarters. "The Civil and Mechanical Engineering Technology program was a fast track to a career. There is a gigantic need for people in this field."

The Utah native said her constant dropping out of college (she dropped out four times) was a result of, "one tragedy or drama after another," Hall said. "It always seemed to make it difficult for me to stay in school, but this was something that helped me focus. The scholarship was the key. Without it, I don’t know how well I would have done."

That scholarship was the result of a four-year, $400,000 grant for the computer science, engineering and math programs. It provided scholarships to full-time, degree-seeking students who showed the greatest financial need and were underrepresented in the targeted fields. Recently, PCC earned a follow-up to the grant with a four-year, $596,214 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Scholarships-Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program to increase diversity in the technology and engineering fields.

The S-STEM grant targets increasing participation of underrepresented students, specifically women, minorities and people in financial need, in technology engineering programs at PCC. This is the second grant for the Increasing Access and Diversity and Technology Programs project.

The new grant involves the Civil and Mechanical Engineering Technology, Electronic Engineering Technology and Machine Manufacturing Technology programs at the Sylvania Campus and the Microelectronics Technology program at the Rock Creek Campus. The goal of the grant is to increase under-represented groups by 50 percent, increase the number of female students by 25 percent, grow the amount of high school students by 20 percent, and have 80 percent of all scholars complete their program within two years.

"The goal of these grants is to address the need for a more diverse engineering workforce and help feed the big demand for engineers in all fields," said Todd Sanders, mechanical engineering instructor and project manager for the grant. "There are numerous students with financial need who will benefit from this grant, especially minority students, single parents, injured workers, displaced workers, and people who have hit the employment ceiling without an education."

To help improve the path to these programs, Sanders said that they have teamed up with the college’s PAVTEC program, which offers PCC credit courses through cooperating high schools. If high school students complete the courses, they are eligible for entry into the programs and will have their two years of school at PCC paid for, including tuition and books. This is a value of about $8,250. There is also an option in which, if the students transfer to Oregon Institute of Technology, they have their third year paid for as well.

The grant aims to get students like Emily Hall exposed to a career field that she might not have explored otherwise. Hall wasn’t your typical candidate to enter a civil and mechanical engineering program. She is an artist, who specializes in painting art cars in brilliant colors and spent two years in a drum corps, participating in the Starlight Parade. Plus it didn’t help that she was terrified of math or anything relating to it.

"I was a ‘math-phobe’; completely afraid of math," she said. "I am proof that women can do this. Even though I was paranoid about my abilities I stuck with it and knew I could do it. Now it’s all I do. I remember when I first started, instructor Jan Chambers asked, ‘How are your math skills?’ I told her, ‘Well I could learn.’ I didn’t want to tell her that I had never seen anything above pre-algebra. It was really difficult for me to pick it up. Many people don’t make it past the first year because of the amount of math. It’s really challenging."

Emily Hall -mixing chemicals Once Hall got the hang of the course work she was hooked. She said engineering is a broad area in which there are so many different ways to start a career path, whether it is construction or project management. She now helps supervise a lab that performs tens of thousands of dollars of testing, overseeing an audit and much more.

"I love what I’m doing; I’m a workaholic," Hall said. "Going into this field I’m thinking with a whole other wing of my brain that I didn’t know I had. I love geology and that’s what I’m dealing with, technical engineers and geologists go into this field. One reason I was hired was that the PCC Civil and Mechanical Engineering program gave me Auto Cad skills, lab and field experience, which were really important to my employer."

She also

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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