CORVALLIS - A couple months ago Karen Bryant went for the first time to the campus of Oregon State University. She and a friend walked around, looked at the buildings and picked up some souvenirs at the bookstore.

In June, she will pick up the best souvenir of all - her bachelor's degree.

It's not that Bryant is such an extraordinarily fast learner - she's been working hard toward this moment for five years. But the busy, 38-year-old, Redmond, Ore., resident - who also cares for her 12-year-old daughter and works half-time manufacturing futons - never before had the opportunity to actually set foot on the OSU campus. She figured it was time.

Like an increasing number of Oregon residents all across the state, Bryant is taking advantage of the many new opportunities in extended education available through OSU and other Oregon universities and community colleges. Through the Internet, e-mail, other technologies and highly-mobile faculty, going to college no longer means having to go away from home.

"With my work and family obligations I really wasn't able to move, and with the OSU program I didn't have to," Bryant said. "Programs like this are a great opportunity for people living in remote areas. About all you need is a computer and e-mail."

Bryant started her education at Central Oregon Community College in Bend, will get her degree in liberal studies this year from OSU, and hopes to complete a master's degree in elementary education through Eastern Oregon University - also through a distance learning program. Her career goal is to be a kindergarten teacher.

OSU, through its new and expanded "OSU Statewide" extended education program, is now offering perhaps the most ambitious combination of higher educational opportunities of any Pacific Northwest university. Outreach initiatives can give high school students a jump start to their college education, meet lifelong learning needs through the new OSU Alumni College and bring the advantages of higher education to literally every corner of the state.

Courses leading to degrees in liberal studies, business administration, environmental sciences, natural resources, agriculture, engineering, education, pharmacy, health and human performance and others are all available through OSU Statewide, at locations ranging from Coos Bay to Medford, Portland, Bend, LaGrande, Salem and elsewhere. More information about the programs, course locations, registration and other issues can be obtained by calling OSU Statewide at (800) 235-6559.

Collaborative efforts with many Oregon community colleges and other universities make a variety of programs possible and surprisingly convenient - many courses are offered on evenings or weekends - for students who no longer have to agonize over the incompatible obligations of work, school and family. And other degree programs are being tailored to the specific needs of certain groups, such as those of the Warm Springs Reservation.

And the success stories are mounting up.

"I wanted to finish my undergraduate degree but we couldn't move from Bend, because my husband's work is there," said Cheryl Shaw, 45, who also will graduate this June. "The OSU officials were very flexible...and seemed to want me to succeed as much as I did."

What she especially liked about the OSU program, Shaw said, was that it allowed her to work toward a degree at her own pace while putting the needs of her family first. Those demands were considerable - she has a seven-year-old daughter at home and three older daughters who recently have attended college. And her husband, Bob, also worked on an OSU distance education degree program.

Shaw hopes to continue her education in graduate school and eventually get a master's degree in counseling.

"In the past, I've worked in retail and banking positions, in addition to homemaking, but I really wanted to work professionally in counseling, one-on-one with people, perhaps in our church or a shelter," Shaw said. "I'd like to be able to help people when they're depressed or struggling. Counseling is in my heart."

Although Shaw never made it to the OSU campus with any frequency in recent years, the whole family will be there to cheer for mom when she dons cap and gown at the university's June 14 commencement ceremonies.

"Everyone is pretty excited about that," Shaw said.

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Barbara Moon, 541-737-1282