Veteran finds path forward

Veteran finds path forward

It’s not easy for veterans to come back to regular life at home.

When Eric Gleason left the U.S. Navy in 2007, he went to work in a casino. Then he worked as a welder until he hurt his shoulder. Unable to work, he was super depressed. His wife (then girlfriend) told him to go to school.

“I really struggled in high school,” Eric said. “I had the mindset that college wasn’t something I could do.”

Meeting a veteran’s advocate

Then he sat down with Shana Brazil in SWOCC’s veterans service office. She pushed him to use his college benefit. And, since he is a combat veteran, SWOCC gave him a two-year tuition waiver.

“Eric is one of my vets, I will always hold dear,” Shana said.

That was in 2009. Eric took classes. Some were at night and most online. It gave him time to be with his baby daughter. Before long, he was working in the veterans office as a work study student.

“I realized I was actually pretty good at school,” Eric said.

Fast forward 9 years

As he was graduating with his two-year degree, he found he wanted to learn more. He worked with SWOCC’s University Center and soon enrolled at Oregon State University. Eric graduated with a bachelor’s degree, but decided he wasn’t done learning.

Eric now has his doctoral degree. He works at Coos Health & Wellness in a program that helps people with severe mental illness. He credits SWOCC and the veterans office with giving him the solid foundation he needed to succeed.

“Shana saw something in me that no one else had seen. I owe a great deal of my success to the support she was able to give me,” Eric said.

Are you a veteran? Do you want to train for a job or career? Meet with our veteran’s services coordinator and find a path forward.

College honors LaMont Swinson

College honors LaMont Swinson

COOS BAY, Ore. – How do you honor a person who continuously helps young people navigate the world and always gives back to students in an uplifting way? Someone who’s volunteered for more than a decade mentoring college students and coaching K-12 and college athletes?

Here’s how:  The college is pleased to announce 2000 graduate LaMont Swinson of Coos Bay is our 2019 Distinguished Alumnus.

“LaMont has overcome much adversity in his life. He never gave up on his dream and is a great example of the success that comes from resiliency and determination,” said Dr. Patty Scott, president.

LaMont is an assistant vice president and branch manager for First Community Credit Union in North Bend, and a lot more. He has spent a big chunk of his life at SWOCC.

Excelling on court, in class

LaMont started with the college in 1997, competing in basketball. He led the Lakers to a Northwest Athletic Conference Southern Regional Championship in 2000. A first-generation college student, he graduated with an Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer Degree. He then moved to the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. There, he led OIT’s men’s basketball team to the Elite Eight national tournament in its league.

LaMont eventually returned to Coos Bay and soon found his way back onto SWOCC’s campus. He’s a longtime member of the Laker Alumni Association and the assistant men’s basketball coach. He also coaches a youth sports team and mentors young people, teaching them to manage money and encouraging them go to college.

“I express to them it might not have been part of the plan to be at SWOCC, but believe me that everyone here wants you to succeed,” LaMont said. “All in all, SWOCC allows young people a great opportunity to start their foundation.”

Making choices

Swinson came from Wasilla, Alaska. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, and it wasn’t easy getting here.

“It’s one of those situations where at some point, you have to make a decision to connect and better your life,” Swinson said.

Instead, he focused on school. Teachers and coaches recognized his potential, and opened their homes to give him a safe, stable place to live and a supportive environment to graduate.

“Living with these other families, even though they didn’t have everything in the world, they made good choices,” he said. “Sometimes it’s harder to make those good choices.”

After OIT, like many young people Swinson had the dream to compete professionally in sports, but priorities changed when his first child was born with a heart problem. He moved his family back to Coos Bay, focused on family and went to work. In 2007, he became branch manager at the credit union and he’s become more involved with students ever since.

“I express to them it might not have been part of the plan to be at SWOCC, but believe me that everyone here wants you to succeed,” Swinson said. “All in all, SWOCC allows young people a great opportunity to start their foundation and start learning in a positive environment on what they might want to become.”

The Distinguished Alumni award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to their professions, communities or academia.

Drew Jones: Inspiring students

Drew Jones: Inspiring students

Soccer ruled Drew Jones’ life in high school and ultimately led him on a path to teaching. He came to SWOCC to play soccer, have fun – and learn. He did even more, becoming student body president.

“SWOCC helped me figure out the direction I wanted to go and gave me the tools I needed to be successful,” Jones said.

By the time he got his Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree, Drew knew he wanted to be a teacher. Six years later, he had much more than a teaching degree, but also a job he loved. Today, Drew is back in his home town, teaching the radio journalism classroom at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay.

Every day, he’s surrounded by teens who are busy behind microphones. His students write radio ads and do newscasts. They help with sports broadcasts. He enjoys the challenge of teaching, because every day something is new.

“Having moved back to the area two years ago has allowed me to reconnect with the community I grew up in. Both my family and community gave me so much growing up, I feel fortunate to be in a position where I can return the favor,” Jones said.

Dr. Sarah Kidd: Saving salmon

Dr. Sarah Kidd: Saving salmon

Meet Research Scientist Dr. Sarah Kidd. She started her journey at SWOCC and fell in love with science. Sarah went on to earn a doctoral degree at Portland State University in Environmental Science and Management.

“I truly missed the small classes once I moved into the university. Working closely with teachers who are passionate and eager to share their enthusiasm really inspired me and my own personal education goals,” she said.

Sarah graduated from SWOCC in 2003 with an Oregon Transfer Degree. She went on to win PSU’s Presidential Academic Achievement Award for her work in wetland restoration.

Now, Sarah works outdoors with the Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership to restore wetlands and keep the Columbia healthy. Her research happens in marshes around food webs and finding ways to save salmon. It all started at SWOCC with teachers who cared about what Sarah was learning and her future.

“They met with me one-on-one and I still keep in touch with a few of them,” Sarah said.

Sarah lives in Portland with her baby daughter and celebrity husband Brian Kidd. He’s known as the “Unipiper”, the guy who rides around the city on a unicycle playing bagpipes.

Today’s science-minded students aspire to be tomorrow’s inventors

Today’s science-minded students aspire to be tomorrow’s inventors

When Rose Garrett and Tyrone Stagner graduated in 2018, it was a bit of a surprise to see this dynamic science duo back on our Coos Campus in 2019. Some students just can’t get enough of Southwestern’s science classes.

“It makes a huge difference being able to have a small class and ask those questions,” Tyrone said. “I realized how valuable it was to take the classes here with Dr. Coyner, Dr. Springer and Dr. K.”

Our STARS shine in state competition

That fascination with physics, chemistry and math prompted Rose and Tyrone to pull together SWOCC’s 2019 InventOR team, with students Korina Shipstad and Austin Friedrich. InventOR is a statewide invention competition for college students to develop solutions to problems they see in their communities.

You might have read about our team. They created a prototype for Self Tightening And Retractable Shoes or STARS. Southwestern made it to the final round of the InventOR competition. They didn’t win, but it was worth the experience.

“We learned as a group that everybody has ideas, and everybody butts heads. You have to listen to everybody’s ideas to really try to figure out what’s going to work best,” Tyrone said.

Southwestern propels duo to university programs

Both are headed to universities – Rose in chemical engineering and Tyrone in electrical/software engineering. So far, they’ve been able to pay for school with scholarships, financial aid, PELL grants and tuition waivers for working in student government on campus. Ultimately,  Rose and Tyrone want their masters degrees, so they can work in research and discovery.

“It’d be cool to work for NASA or SpaceX or Google,” Rose said.

No surprise there. Both are already well on their way to inventing products for the future.


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