SILVER FALLS, Ore. - A long commute can be onerous. Good company makes it better. For four college administrators enrolled in the Community College Leadership doctoral program at Oregon State University, sharing their commute from the Portland airport is about more than good company.

It's a chance to exchange ideas, explore opportunities and even to write articles.

The program is entering its 19th year, and has produced more than 100 graduates who work in college leadership programs throughout the country.

Teresa Holland, vice president for administrative services with Yakima Valley Community College, provides the transportation for the group. Since she already commuted from Yakima to Silver Falls, Ore., where the program is based, and since she happened to have a 'big truck,' she was the logical choice to pick up her three classmates who arrive by plane.

"In the beginning it really seemed to be a logical choice since we all got along great and were interested in conserving resources," Holland said. "Now I couldn't imagine not picking everyone up. It has become one of the informal rituals that will help us succeed. Not to mention with all of us in the truck together the drive flies by."

Her passengers include Jo Anna Downey, dean of fine arts at Rio Hondo College in Whittier, Calif.; Deanna Schultz, assistant professor of career and technical education with the University of Alaska Anchorage; and Stephen Strom, associate dean of technology for the Community and Technical College at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Holland says she chose the Community College Leadership Program in OSU's College of Education because of its exceptional national reputation, and despite the difficulties of juggling career, family and school, she said it's been a very worthwhile experience.

"I have grown both personally and professionally," she said. "As a current community college administrator I have gained valuable resources and knowledge that I can apply daily to my job. The program has also provided opportunities for me as a student to meet, learn from and interact with successful community college leaders."

And the drive is such fun, Holland said, that she's even missed the exit off I-205 after getting into a particularly intense conversation with her friends.

Students in the program travel to the conference center at Silver Falls State Park on the first weekend of every month during the academic year. The exception is once a year when they travel to the Corvallis campus to attend the Carpenter Lecture, and in the summer when they are on campus for a week.

Schultz agreed that although balance is sometimes difficult to achieve, spending time with her colleagues in the program has been helpful.

"This is really difficult, especially because of the distance we travel and the need to leave a day before classes start each month," she said. "I spend many late nights the week prior to class in order to meet deadlines. The best support of all, though, has been our cohort members. I couldn't have done it without them."

She also appreciates the cohort model used in the program, which has really enhanced her experience.

"I have been a community college adjunct, staff person, and full-time faculty member, with limited leadership opportunities," Schultz said. "This program is pushing me personally and professionally to find my voice as a leader and a researcher. The cohort model allows us to get to know each other well so we feel comfortable challenging each other, pushing each other to consider different perspectives."

Downey said having the chance to commute together has solidified strong friendships between the group.

"We have become friends and trusted colleagues, which I think will continue long after the program ends," she said. "Having the time to drive together allows us to share personal issues, as well as solicit professional advice. We all have different positions at our respective colleges, which has allowed us to see different viewpoints and provide context in which to make decisions."

Those varied viewpoints also came into play when the group worked on writing an article together, which is now set for publication. The article, "Enhancing Student Learning: Collaborative Partnerships between Academic and Student Affairs," came out of a group class project. It will be published in the spring 2010 issue of Community College Enterprise.

"The genesis of the article came from a group project in one of our classes on instructional leadership," Strom said. "The four of us worked on a paper and presentation focused on enhancing student success through active collaboration between academic and student affairs organizations. The (OSU leadership program) encourages its students to work at developing manuscripts for publication."

Schultz said she'd recommend the Community College Leadership Program to others.

"The cohort model works," she said. "Only those people who have gone through the process understand the challenges and the rewards. And even though we have spent little time on campus, the faculty help us feel a part of the OSU family and I am proud to be a Beaver."


Sidebar: Some of Oregon State University's College of Education Community College Leadership Program's many outstanding graduates include:
•    Camille Preus, commissioner of the Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development;
•    Joanne Truesdell, president, Clackamas Community College;
•    Francisco Rodriguez, superintendent/president, Mira Costa Community College, Oceanside, Calif.
•    Blaine Nissan, president, Umpqua Community College;
•    Debra Derr, president, North Iowa Area Community College;
•    Ron Baker, executive vice president, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

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Darlene Russ-Eft, 541-737-9373