LA GRANDE - The student government at Eastern Oregon University was taken over this year by Oregon State University students for the first time in Eastern's 70-year history.
EOU student government president Colby Marshall, vice president Aaron Pratt and finance executive Gavin Hottman consider the mountain-rimmed campus in La Grande their alma mater - almost. But the diplomas the three will receive June 12 will bear the OSU seal.
All three are nearing completion for undergraduate degrees in agriculture from the OSU-EOU satellite agriculture program. Located at Eastern Oregon University, the ag program is designed, taught and administered by OSU faculty on the EOU campus in La G rande.
Students in the cooperative program take classes through EOU in their freshmen and sophomore years and transfer into the OSU program as juniors.
Officials with OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences note that the satellite ag sciences program allows students to complete their college courses in a smaller environment on the eastern side of the state. The program has grown steadily since it was launched in July 1984. More than 225 of the campus' 1,850 students are enrolled.
But why did so many agriculture students enrolled in the satellite program - including three who served on the student senate - take on leadership positions this year?
Art Greer, an OSU associate professor of agricultural business management who has taught at the La Grande campus for more than 20 years, said the explanation can be summed up in a name:
With a face that easily breaks into a wide, infectious grin, Marshall, 24, is a high-energy dynamo who admits he is most comfortable when he's the center of attention.
"He isn't happy unless he has a bunch of irons in the fire," Greer said. "And when one of them cools down, he heats up another one."
An eastern Oregon native from a cattle ranch near Burns, Marshall spent his summers in college working for the La Grande Hot Shots, fighting fires for three years. Last summer, he went to Washington, D.C., to serve as an intern for the House Agricultur e Committee, where he already was known to at least one Capitol Hill figure from Oregon, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore.
"He remembered me when I got back there because I helped him at the feed and seed store in Pendleton," Marshall said.
Penny Diebel, an OSU associate professor of agriculture and natural resources and Marshall's adviser at EOU, said Marshall has left his impression on his professors as well. Most have a ready supply of "Colby stories."
"Oooh, yeeaahh," Diebel said, nodding and smiling.
Like the time in Diebel's class when Marshall didn't quite grasp Diebel's lecture on linear regression and let her know it in his own way: He melted slowly in his seat, slid out of his chair, and lay on the floor, moaning.
"Other students might just say they didn't understand," Diebel said. "Colby fell in the aisle and flopped around, saying 'I don't get it.' "
Marshall grinned, his hand going up to his face. "The whole class was just sitting there going 'What in the world is happening?' " Marshall said. "I just chose to liven the moment."
Marshall uses a little theater to enliven serious issues as well. At the end of March, when the Oregon Legislature was considering how much to allocate to the higher education budget, student leaders from Oregon's universities organized a rally on the steps of the state Capitol in Salem.
Hundreds of students, faculty and alumni from Oregon's colleges and universities showed up to indicate their support for restoring full funding of higher education.
Marshall served as emcee for the event. Standing on the Capitol steps holding a bullhorn, he drew himself up like a World Wrestling Federation announcer, complete with a deep, booming voice: "Let's get ready to rrrrrrrum-bulll," he intoned to a response of wild cheering and applause.
Reflecting on the day a few weeks later, Marshall said the theatrics had their purpose.
"It was theatrical, but once again, we got that rally done," Marshall said. "It was the largest rally for higher education ever held there. It made Eastern very visible and it was very empowering."
Empowering the students of Eastern wasn't something that Marshall wanted to do alone.
Marshall and fellow ag student Aaron Pratt were sitting in the student lounge one day and they decided they would run for office. "We asked ourselves what is our main thing here?" Pratt said. "And we both almost said it at the same time: People are goi ng to know who we are and what we do."
Pratt, 22, who grew up on a California cattle ranch near the southern Oregon border, has so enjoyed his stint at student government vice president that he plans to work in some student adviser capacity after graduation.
Fellow ag student Gavin Hottman, 22, joined as finance executive. He supervised the $1 million student activities budget. Recently married, the all-around athlete and former national track and field champion was so active in volunteer efforts in his ho metown of Kalama, Wash., that the town dedicated June 6 as Gavin Hottman Day.
Once "The Marshall Three" were in office, the changes, large and small, began immediately. They cleaned up the student government offices in Hoke Hall, removing stacks of newspapers and debris and rearranging the furniture into a welcoming, professional setting.
To encourage more trade between EOU students and La Grande merchants, the three started the Student Saver Program. It offered students coupons and special deals at more than 40 La Grande businesses, ranging from restaurants and movie theaters to auto p arts stores and dry cleaners.
The OSU-ag leaders of EOU showed up at virtually all student activities. They asked students what they wanted from their student government on an official web site. They also surveyed students about their experiences with student government.
They were there to listen and to serve, Pratt said.
"There was no reason we needed to be among the elite group," he said. "Students (were) the ones who put us here, and we have to be out there talking to them and knowing what they want."
For example, EOU doesn't have an official mascot to represent its nickname, The Mountaineers. Some members of Eastern's faculty and administration were concerned that a likeness of a traditional rugged mountain man was too male and rural to reflect EOU 's commitment to diversity and tolerance.
Marshall and the other student leaders, reflecting the wishes of much of the student body, pressed the administration to adopt the traditional mountain man mascot.
With graduation a few days away, the battle about the mascot still isn't won, but victory is near, Marshall said. A compromise version of the mountaineer mascot is likely to be unveiled before the start of football season in the fall.
As for his own plans, Marshall took care of those a long time ago: In 1995, the newlywed Marshall went to work for Pendleton Grain Growers during the day and attended classes at night.
Although his job was primarily pushing a broom and stacking sacks, Marshall came up with ways to improve operations at the feed lot. He then convinced the manager that if the PGG would contribute to his tuition and books, Marshall would return to work for them after he had his degree in agricultural business management.
After watching his progress for a few months and taking the matter up with the board, they agreed.
"I'm persistent," Marshall grinned. He reports to work after graduation.
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Art Greer, 541-962-3613