Answer: 4-H and farm life led welders and president to SWOCC
Most folks know our college’s president, Patty Scott, as Oregon’s longest serving college president. What they don’t know is she’s also the daughter of a Wallowa farm family who loves hard work and small-town life. Scott often talks about her roots in northeastern Oregon and her involvement in 4-H, America’s largest youth engagement organization. 4-H set her on a path into education.
Ironically, as we worked on this feature about Southwestern’s welding program, we found the college’s two welding instructors got their start in 4-H, too. 4-H operates in Oregon through the OSU Extension Service. In our region it connects young people from 4th grade through high school with service and group projects, leadership camps, and animal projects that culminate with our county fairs in Coos, Curry and Douglas counties.
President Scott raised sheep and dairy cows, showed horses, trained dogs and did cooking/sewing through the organization while growing up. Our lead Welding instructor Chelsea Clemens engaged in 4-H showing horses and training dogs. Duncan Cooper, who teaches welding in Southwestern’s Coos and Curry job training programs, was involved in sheep and dog 4-H programs.
What is it about 4-H that helps young people gain confidence and find their way in the world?
“As I look back, it was through 4-H that I experienced my first sense of accomplishment and understanding of being responsible,” said President Scott. “Animals need to be fed and cared for, and sometimes that is at 5 a.m. I learned record keeping, time management, and leadership and public speaking skills that I use today. Watching my parents as club leaders inspired my lifelong interest in community service.”
Inspired to teach
Associate Professor Welding
Born and raised in Coos Bay, Chelsea Clemens headed into high school with a mind toward being in the medical field, maybe a doctor. She took anatomy and physiology at Southwestern and soon enrolled at Portland State. It wasn’t long, though, before she came back home.
“I realized that was not my career choice. I didn’t like the city. I liked the more rural, slower pace. I like working with my hands.” She lined up a summer job at Roseburg Forest Products and was making good money. All the while, the crew she worked with kept teasing her that she’d be a good welder.
“I saw Southwestern had a welding program. I thought, ‘you know what? I’m going to take a few classes,” she said.
Soon Chelsea had a two-year welding degree and then a new job at the barge-building company Southern Oregon Marine. Still, she had an urge to teach, that started with class assistant experience at Southwestern and even younger, while in 4-H.
“I learned a lot in 4-H about how to teach people, because you start as a young person and you learn from the seniors. Then you grow into a senior and learn to instruct the juniors,” she said.
She gained confidence speaking to the public. “It teaches a young person how to communicate with people and it really gets you engaged in your community. And, you get to learn.”
In 2015, Chelsea picked up a call from Southwestern’s former welding instructor. He kept in touch with his former teaching assistant, and was retiring. He thought she should apply. You know the story … eight years later, Chelsea is a welding instructor inspiring tomorrow’s boat builders, construction workers and metal fabricators.
Assistant Professor Welding, Manufacturing
Duncan Cooper’s path to teaching was similar to his colleague Chelsea Clemens. He was raising sheep and dogs, and participating in 4-H as a young person. Being so horribly shy, a person might never have imagined Duncan would grow up to teach dozens of students in a college welding program.
“In my 4-H group especially, it was part of the requirements that we talk with the public. We had to interact with them. We talked about our animals and how stuff works. That helps a lot with trying to structure a speech of any kind,” he said.
He happened to visit a Southwestern campus while in high school for a Math & Skills Day competition, not knowing someday he would teach there. After graduating Coquille High School, Duncan joined the military. When he returned to civilian life, he dabbled in welding. Liking it, he enrolled in Southwestern’s program, even assisting in the labs.
Over the summers and between classes, Duncan worked on a large dairy. Farm work is a do-all job. Once you are known as a go-to person for welding, fabrication, and repairs in farming and fishing, you won’t starve in this region.
“I never even touched a cow while I was there. I was always working on the heavy equipment,” he said.
Duncan does private contracting now, too. He has worked with the fishing fleet in Port Orford, where he lives. So, when Southwestern needed a second welding instructor for its classes in Brookings and Coos Bay, well, you know the story. Duncan got a phone call, encouraging him to apply.
Pictured left to right: Dr. Patty Scott, Duncan Cooper, Chelsea Clemens