Featured Stories

Education Council works to expand learning, training


   In August 2009, when Wayne Pearson from Economic Development for Central Oregon first helped to form the Jefferson County Education Council, it was in response to a requirement for participation in the Oregon Open Campus pilot project.
   Since its inception, however, the role of the JCEC has grown and the group is finding its stride and gaining momentum.
   In the last year, JCEC has solidified its membership, refined its mission statement, and held community roundtables.
   They have also gathered input from local businesses about the education and training needs of their workforce, and worked with Oregon Open Campus and Central Oregon Community College to share the needs of the local businesses.
   The committee's general goal: bring education to the forefront of everyone's mind in Jefferson County.
   "With the new COCC building and an increased presence from OSU/Oregon Open Campus, the community members on the council seem incredibly motivated toward further expanding local education and training," said Michele Gemelas, cochairman of JCEC.
   "We have an opportunity to start creating a seamless transition from school to postsecondary education in Jefferson County for everyone, and it's a great time to be involved in this work," Gemelas added.
   JCEC is made up of representatives from COCC, Oregon Open Campus/OSU, many of the local manufacturers and businesses, EDCO, healthcare and agricultural industries, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, 509-J and Culver school districts, city and county government, corrections, justice and more.
   The mission of JCEC is, "To identify, implement and oversee access to education and workforce training for Jefferson County residents."
   Currently, the council has several subcommittees working diligently toward a variety of goals. Subcommittees include:
   . Workforce and economic development.
   . Postsecondary curriculum and career development.
   . Family and student engagement, which intends to improve outreach to families to promote and encourage education after high school and to expand opportunities for highly-motivated high school students.
   . Internship, a group hoping to expand on opportunities to expose students to local businesses and job opportunities in order to connect workforce with employers in Jefferson County.
   Stephen Hillis, another member of the JCEC and a retired teacher, said, "Students need to know what choices they really have, employees need to know what skills they need, and employers need to have skilled workers, and JCEC is working to make this happen."
   "We are promoting lifelong learning to help family life, income, and provide employers with educated and/or well-trained employees," Hillis said.
   All this work and effort to train local people for local jobs and to encourage postsecondary education might seem fruitless to some, considering the current job market, but already the group is excited about how their work is part of what is attracting businesses to the area.
   Partnering with the schools is essential to the work of the JCEC as well. Co-chairing JCEC with Gemelas is Susan Kovari, chief executive officer of Sheilding International. She believes that every student in our schools should be equipped with a "tool box" for success.
   "In this tool box, there should be rewarding educational and work experiences maximized by community support and involvement both within and beyond our local school districts," Kovari said.
   One of her visions for JCEC is, "To create opportunities for students to gain practical work and educational experiences by seeking out and maintaining internships and partnerships with local and regional businesses, as well as connections to postsecondary and expanded educational opportunities."
   Doing much of the day-in-day-out work of JCEC is Jennifer Oppenlander, education program coordinator for Oregon Open Campus.
   She was hired in January by OSU Extension, in cooperation with Jefferson County, to promote and increase postsecondary opportunities to place-bound learners in rural areas.
   Her position is divided into half youth programming and half adult programming/workforce training.
   This is unique in the Oregon Open Campus system and it is anticipated that her dual role will provide a more seamless transition for students to the workforce.
   "I truly enjoy coming to work every day, in part because the community is so enthusiastic about the work that we are doing on the Ed Council and it makes it easier to do my job with this group of committed people," Oppenlander said.
   "The folks that employ me had this vision for Oregon Open Campus and they are impressed with our progress in Jefferson County in the short eight months that we've been consistently meeting," she said.
   JCEC is a nonfunded advisory board to the OSU/Oregon Open Campus program, and they welcome your comments and input.
   To make comments or ask questions, contact Oppenlander, at 541-550-4133, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..