Please note: This was published over a year ago. Phone numbers, email addresses and other information may have changed.
Faculty Speaker Spotlight: History Instructor Sylvia Gray
Photos and Story by James Hill
It’s time to study Sylvia Gray’s history.
Gray was the eldest of eight siblings and was raised in a strongly religious family, which didn’t see the value of higher education. At age 31, after her two young children were enrolled in elementary school, Gray decided to enroll in classes at PCC and she excelled. However, in her second term of college, when finances were tight, her car broke down and Gray reluctantly told her instructor she would have to leave 45 minutes early from class to pick up her children after school.
This history instructor, Debbie Olsen, gave her a ride home after each class session for a month until the car was fixed. That act to keep Gray engaged in her class allowed her to continue at PCC, get her associate’s degree and go on earn a master’s degree in History from Portland State University in 1991.
Gray first taught history at Marylhurst University and then moved on to PCC, where she has been for the past 20 years, with her chief focus of study being on classical western history. In her job, Gray is using that same kindness to her own students afforded her years ago.
“Sylvia has never forgotten the extra effort and support that was extended to her by that instructor and has returned that compassionate gesture many times to her students,” stated Loretta Goldy, division dean of Social Science at the Sylvania Campus, in Gray’s nomination for faculty speaker.
In tribute to her rise as a teacher and innovation in the classroom, Gray has been selected as the faculty speaker for Portland Community College’s 50th anniversary commencement ceremony, which begins at 7 p.m., Friday, June 15 at the Memorial Coliseum, 300 Winning Way.
“A student once gave me a note at the end of the year with an unforgettable comment, ‘Thank you for helping me one step along the way,’” said Gray, who is PCC’s Educational Advisory Council chair elect. “That is my teaching philosophy. There is nothing that gives me greater joy than to help students to the next step along the way.
“I hope to cheer on students who have made it this far and encourage them to continue in their future lives to build on the solid foundation they have received here at PCC,” she added.
About eight years ago Gray, who wrote the book “Ask the Ancients: Astonishing Advice for Daily Dilemmas,” also began teaching the Eastern Civilization History Series, including Indian, Chinese and Japanese history. Seeing a need for greater cohesion in the curriculum on Asia studies, she was instrumental in forming the Asian Studies Committee at PCC in 2005 by calling together faculty who were interested in a focus on Asia. Since that time, the committee formed an interdisciplinary Asian Studies Focus Award (more than 60 students have received this award to date) and has brought in a number of speakers on various Asian topics to the college.
Gray along with the Asian Studies Committee has been advocating for the addition of Chinese as a foreign language at PCC. With the help of a Title VI grant in conjunction with the East-West Center’s Asian Studies Development Program, the college has begun offering courses in Chinese languages at the Cascade Campus and Southeast Center. Plus, a group of 12 PCC faculty have used training offered through this grant to design and add modules to existing China-focused classes.
Also part of this grant, she recently helped organize a lecture series, “Focus on China: Lectures on Culture and Change,” at the Cascade Campus last April. The lectures introduced participants to Chinese philosophy and art, focusing on how each affects Chinese identities and their transformations over time. In addition to the public events, a core group of PCC faculty used their experiences from the lectures to design courses and add modules to existing courses focused on China.
In 2008, Gray also was the first to be appointed faculty chair of the Learning Assessment Council. Under Gray, the council developed a system for implementing recommendations from the regional accreditation board.
If that’s not enough, Gray also plays the classical piano in her spare time.