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Ongoing aspirations

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - Mary Ann Bugni retired as Estacada High School's ASPIRE coordinator, but she's still involved in the program as a volunteer. She says she will remain a volunteer in the program 'forever.'

Mary Ann Bugni makes a point to tell everyone she meets about Estacada High School’s ASPIRE program.

“I’m always looking for new people who would become as passionate as I am to direct our students to post-high school plans,” she said.

Though Bugni recently retired at ASPIRE coordinator, her dedication to the program still runs strong, and she’s stayed on as a volunteer mentor.

Bugni saw her leadership in the ASPIRE program as an extension of her parent-volunteering while her children were in school and always thought she would retire this year when her son graduated from Estacada High School.

Bugni’s successor, Cheryl Copeland, hopes to continue to help students bridge the gap between high school and post-secondary plans. Developed by the Oregon Office of Student Access and Completion, ASPIRE matches trained adult volunteer mentors with high school students to help them plan future educational goals.

Bugni became ASPIRE coordinator in 2009, two years after the program began in Estacada. As coordinator, Bugni brainstormed college options with students, connected them with mentors and helped them apply for financial aid.

With Bugni’s assistance, 83 percent of students in Estacada High School’s class of 2015 planned to enter a four-year or two-year college, a trade school or apprenticeship program. They earned more than $3 million dollars in scholarship money. The year before ASPIRE began at Estacada High, students earned $122,000 in scholarship money.

“Estacada has one of the best ASPIRE programs in the state, and that’s thanks to Mary Ann,” said Ryan Carpenter, principal at Estacada High School. “She’s done a fantastic job of collecting families and students with local colleges and giving them information about how to apply.”

Bugni’s students say she’s always available whenever they need help.

“She always takes the time to help all of her students with scholarship and college applications,” said Melanie Juarez, a senior who was recently accepted to Portland State University. “She never keeps us waiting.”

Bugni has enjoyed getting to know students through her work.

“They’re an inspiration to me,” she said. “I love seeing them go from not really having a career path to becoming confident in what they want for their future.”

Bugni, who didn’t have a straightforward path to her career, believes her own experiences have been valuable in working with ASPIRE. After graduating from high school, Bugni enrolled in the University of Oregon’s architecture program, but realized it was not a good fit.

Following her interests in art and sewing, she transferred to Oregon State University and graduated with a degree in fashion merchandising. After graduation, she planned to work as a buyer for a department store, but ultimately didn’t like working in retail.

“I asked myself what else I had in my toolbox, and what else I could use as a skill set while looking for a different line of work,” she said.

Once again drawing on her interests in design, Bugni landed an entry-level drafter job at an electrical and mechanical engineering company.

After finding a mentor who taught her about electrical design, she worked for 12 years as a designer of lights, smoke alarms and power plugs.

Bugni believes her story is useful for students applying to college.

“I didn’t have a direct moment where I thought, I wanted to be this, and that’s what I became,” she said. “You don’t have to think what you decide now will be what you do for the rest of your life. A lot of times, a college degree is a foot in the door to lots of different directions.”

She believes her own experiences have given her empathy while helping students plan their futures.

“I think, in the moment, when you’re in high school, it can be very unnerving to feel like you have to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life,” she said. “Sometimes student don’t realize that it’s an option to transfer, or change your major — not everything is set in stone.”

Since retiring, she’s enjoyed her new role as a mentor.

“I’ll just do that forever,” she said. “As long as there’s an ASPIRE program, I want to be a part of it.”