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Thanks to STEM, PCC students getting jobs

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In this economy, Portland Community College is using its share of a regional three-year, $2 million Department of Labor grant to steer students toward training in science-related fields.

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) grant was awarded in early 2009 to Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council to serve a nine-county region in Oregon and Southwest Washington. Work Systems Inc. (WSI) received the funds for Washington and Multnomah Counties and contracted with the college’s Washington County Workforce Development department to implement the grant. Under this project students received training and job search assistance to help them get back to work.

Twenty-two-year-old Ryan Dawson of Newberg contacted PCC a few years ago about getting his electronic engineering technology degree.

“More than 1,600 STEM job openings were projected for this region every year for the next decade, but there were not enough employees to fill them,” said Linda Browning, who formerly worked as a business services coordinator for PCC before transferring to another position at the college. “The purpose of this grant was to encourage and enable local residents to go into training for STEM occupations, like Bioscience, Solar and Alternative Energy, Computer Software and IT, Engineering and Manufacturing.”

Twenty-two-year-old Ryan Dawson of Newberg contacted PCC a few years ago about getting his electronic engineering technology degree. He spent the next year surviving on Pell grants and student loans while STEM paid his tuition and books. The commute to Sylvania Campus was expensive from his home in Newberg, so STEM also provided him with support services in the form of gas cards.

He graduated at the end of 2010 and started attending a job seeker group in December at the PCC Willow Creek Center in Washington County. He confessed he did not know how to look for a job and staff at the center helped him to set goals and targets for meeting them.

“Without STEM funding, I could never have completed college and met my goals,” Dawson said. “Linda Browning came to my class at school to talk about the STEM opportunities s and I was curious to see if I was eligible. I was eligible for some money and getting it really made a difference. I think STEM is awesome. If you are a student I would definitely look into it to see if you qualify.”

After completing his classes, he continued to receive a gas card so he could afford to make the weekly trip to the job search class, where he was advised on improving his resumé and interviewing skills, and given job openings to apply for. He applied at Intel, was interviewed and offered a full time position in the manufacturing arm of the company. He started work in March, just three months after graduating.

“I wasn’t getting many bites on the job market,” he said. “There wasn’t much out there at the time. So I was lucky when they had positions open at Intel when I was looking for work.”

PCC’s new Health Informatics Concentration of Study Award is a joint project between a Department of Labor Health Informatics Training Project and Washington County’s Workforce Development,  and the college’s Health Information Management and Computer Information Systems programs. Twenty-eight dislocated IT workers have found new opportunities in this emerging field. The students received STEM funding in order to complete their three- to six-month training in Health Informatics.

Karl Wilson was recently hired by Providence Health & Services to work as an analyst in their health information management department.

Karl Wilson of Beaverton was the first in the program to get a job. He had left his previous information technology position last summer and spent the latter half of 2010 looking for another job. Through Worksource Oregon, which operates a location out of the Willow Creek Center, he found out that the health informatics field was a hot one for job seekers with his skills and experience. When an orientation for the new award program came up, Wilson was one of the first to sign up. He was eventually selected as one of the 28 candidates, receiving STEM funding to help pay for his classes and books.

“Being at Worksource Oregon, I got e-mails on programs they had and one was on the orientation at Willow Creek,” said Wilson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Willamette University. “They talked about this new award they were developing for people with a strong IT background and who wanted to flesh out their health care background, or had strong health care background, and wanted to improve their IT skills. I have some health care background already, but I’ve never worked in a hospital. It was all on the health care information side.”

Using his own deep experience, Wilson started classes at PCC in January. He was recently hired by Providence Health & Services to work as an analyst in their health information management department.

“I’ve been seeking a job since July and now I got my dream job,” he said.

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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