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Lured by lessons, students seek dreams; Mount Hood Community College offers a wide array of real-world job training.

Since 1966, Mount Hood Community College has anchored Gresham's cultural and educational life. Among its many pluses are the Mount Hood Festival of Jazz, the Small Business Development Center, an extensive library, an aquatic center and rock climbing facility, and the Mount Hood Regional Cooperative Consortium, which helps shape curricula in area high school districts.

More than 27,000 students attend each year. Don and Zina Larson, longtime Gresham residents, and their three small children are campus regulars.

Zina had studied music at MHCC eight years ago. Then Don injured his back while working for a moving company. So the two decided to start a floral design business that would give them time for their kids and church.

In 1991 Zina enrolled in the college's floral technology and design program, and Don took the entrepreneurship and small business management courses. Zina's course included one year of design and another of business management.

"MHCC is smaller than other community colleges," Zina says. "It's comfortable, intimate and friendly, and the instructors let us work around our kids' needs."

The Larsons graduated in 1993, Zina with honors and Don with pride. "I hadn't been in school for 17 years," he says. "And I'd been a terrible student then."

They've started Flowers by Zina at home, and intend to open a retail flower store in Gresham.

"We like this area, not only for ourselves, but for our kids," Zina adds. "We're really close to Mount Hood, Hood River and the Gorge. Gresham's growing up, but it still has the country feel. The businesses that are attracted here are interested in enhancing that, not making it a blob of cement."

The college serves Gresham residents, like the Larsons, but it also serves as a magnet for students from places farther afield. Some earn degrees in 66 professional-technical programs and become airline pilots, civil engineers, landscapers, television technicians and dental hygienists.

Some get a two-year associate degree in one of 65 subjects such as agri-business, botany or hotel, restaurant and tourism management, and then transfer to four-year colleges and universities. People for whom English is not their native tongue study language; others fulfill apprenticeship requirements as brick masons and glass workers.

MHCC offers specialized auto repair programs in conjunction with both Ford and Chrysler, and contract training for major area corporations such as Fujitsu and Boeing.

And it offers some courses unique to it: the Northwest's only funeral service education program; and a broad array of allied health courses, whose students consistently test high nationally.

Beth Rogers came to Mount Hood Community College from Rockaway Beach on the northern Oregon coast. She says the college is very popular with graduates of her high school.

Rogers first took the college's word processing course. She graduated in 1991 and worked as a secretary in Gresham.

But she was looking for a solid career choice, a new direction that would lead to more interesting employment. So she flipped open her MHCC catalog, and -- bingo! -- picked Environmental Safety and Hazardous Material Management.

"MHCC designed the course to provide an overall education for health and safety and handling hazardous chemicals," she says. "We study the materials themselves, but we focus on the regulations. This was a quick decision for me, but I understood that there will be a need for people with education in this field, especially as governments pass more regulations."

During her two-year program, Rogers has logged 240 internship hours. She organized and evaluated the material safety data sheets for the 3,000 hazardous materials used on campus.

Her study of indoor air quality in campus buildings revealed high levels of carbon dioxide, so the college installed a new ventilation system. And she's just completed a new "Emergency Procedures Handbook" to ensure that the college is prepared for emergencies from fire to earthquakes and hazardous material spills.

Rogers prefers the safety training component of the program to actual handling of hazardous materials. She intends to train employees to work safely with the chemicals. After completing her associate's degree this summer, she plans to get a bachelor's degree in human resources from Concordia College in Portland.

And then stay in Gresham. Mount Hood Community College brought her here, then gave her a reason to stay.
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Publication:Oregon Business
Date:Aug 1, 1994
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