(Dr. Laurie Chesley is proud of the many ways Central Oregon Community College prepares students for the workforce, helps to continue learning and provides classes for small business owners | Photo by Kristine Thomas)
Dr. Laurie Chesley is proud of the many ways the community is served by Central Oregon Community College (COCC). She is the sixth president of COCC, Oregon’s longest-standing college with campuses in Bend, Redmond, Prineville and Madras. Classes are offered in-person, online or hybrid, a combination of in-person and online. “There are three hallmarks of education that we strive to provide to our community members in Central Oregon,” Chesley said. “We aim to have high quality educational opportunities, accessibility and affordability.”
Chesley shared COCC is one of the five most affordable community colleges in Oregon, and the COCC Foundation awarded $1.8 million in scholarships for the 2021-22 academic year. “We have beautiful campuses with programs taught by talented and qualified faculty members,” she said. “We prepare our students for employment.”
Chesley described COCC as a diverse campus with students of all ages, abilities, gender, sexual orientation, race, backgrounds and ethnicity, and COCC is accessible to anyone who wants an opportunity to work to achieve their goals. There is not a grade-point that students need to have to enroll. “We invite students to come here, find their academic and career interest and leave ready for the workforce,” she said.
In the past, it was common for colleges and universities nationwide to want students to be ready for their institution, Chesley said. “Now, the thinking is the opposite,” she said. “Is your institution ready to meet the needs of its students? At COCC, it’s our goal to help students to learn and achieve what they are interested in.”
That’s why there are various ways for students to attend COCC and achieve their goals, whether by earning an associate degree to get a specific job such as in manufacturing, fire science, healthcare, aviation, automotive or early childhood education or working towards a transfer degree to move on to a four-year university. Other students are interested in personal enrichment classes through the college’s Continuing Education department, while others are looking for ways to gain knowledge to successfully manage their entrepreneurial venture at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
“We judge our success on helping our students achieve what they want to achieve,” Chesley said.
Chesley said COCC is also responsive to the community’s needs. “We work with employers throughout Central Oregon to understand what their employees need to know to be successful in their careers,” she noted. “Our cutting-edge curriculum is often based on the skills that local employers demand.”
One example of this responsiveness is COCC’s partnership with St. Charles Health System to train certified nursing assistants. The program is held at the Bend hospital, made available to current St. Charles employees and is taught by COCC faculty, with clinical instruction provided by the staff at St. Charles. “This partnership provides St. Charles with its own pipeline of qualified certified nursing assistants, and it offers students hands-on experience that often leads to a job at the hospital,” she said.
Chesley serves on the board of directors for Economic Development of Central Oregon (EDCO) as well as the Oregon’s Workforce and Talent Development board, which advises the governor and the legislature on workforce policy to strengthen Oregon’s workforce systems for both workers and businesses.
Chesley became COCC’s president on July 1, 2019. Eight months later, the college closed to the public and moved its 2020 Spring term courses entirely online in response to the global coronavirus pandemic. “I was still in the phase of listening and learning about COCC when the pandemic hit,” she said. “I want to acknowledge how proud I am of everyone who was all-hands-on-deck to make sure our students and employees were safe and Central Oregonians could continue their education.”
The COVID era has reminded Chesley that everything is subject to change depending on the virus’ spread. “I have become more comfortable with not knowing how or when this pandemic will end,” she said. “That’s because I am blessed to be working with a trusted staff and faculty who have the best interests of our students and our mission in mind. Our mission is service, and we are here to serve the students and community regardless of what happens with COVID.”