Veterans Center of Excellence Celebration

Bill Erickson, General Council Secretary of the Cowlitz Tribe (left) accepted an award recognizing the crucial support of the Cowlitz Foundation. Pictured above (left to right) with Dr. Karin Edwards, Cheree Nygard, and Donna Larson.
Photo: Monica Patton

Generations of veterans connected to Clark College gathered to celebrate how the college and its partners have impacted veteran students over the years. The May 21 event in Gaiser Student Center celebrated 10 years of the Veterans Center of Excellence (VCOE) at Clark College. The college has offered unique resources for veterans for much longer than a decade.

Several speakers shared the history of the Veterans Center of Excellence at Clark and reflected on how the VCOE has changed lives.

Cheree Nygard, chair of Clark College Foundation Board of Directors, a veteran, and a long-time supporter of the center said, “Reflecting on the inception of the VCOE fills me with pride and nostalgia. A decade ago, we embarked on a journey filled with hope and determination to support our veterans. Over the years, I’ve witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of the VCOE on veterans’ education and their successful integration into civilian life. Together, we’ve achieved significant milestones and made a tangible difference in the lives of our military-affiliated students.”

Nygard added, “Today, I stand before you as a testament to the resilience and determination of our veteran community. The VCOE has been more than just an educational resource; it has been a lifeline, providing guidance, mentorship, and a sense of belonging to so many of us. As we celebrate our past achievements, let us look towards the future with optimism and determination. Clark College remains steadfast in its commitment to serving and supporting our military-affiliated students, ensuring they have the necessary resources to succeed.”

A video highlighted Clark College student veterans sharing their stories and talking about how the support of the VCOE impacted their lives and their ability to succeed in school.

William (Bill) Erickson, General Council Secretary of the Cowlitz Tribe, contributed a land acknowledgment and shared the importance of veterans to his tribe. A high percentage of Cowlitz Tribe members are veterans.

Clark College President Dr. Karin Edwards and Donna Larson presented appreciation certificates to those who have made substantial financial contributions to the VCOE.

Photo: Monica Patton

Jane Hagelstein (pictured above receiving recognition from Dr. Edwards), a founding member of Clark’s Veterans Advisory Board, began supporting Clark Student Veterans in 2011 with a scholarship. She continued supporting student veterans by providing funds to build out the Veteran Resource Center for facilities, staffing, and emergency grants. Her overall support of veterans with scholarships and emergency grants, along with facilities and staffing support has totaled $300,000 from 2011 to 2019. Without her generosity and belief in helping student veterans, there would not be a Veteran Center of Excellence today. She was a founding member of the Veterans Advisory Board.

The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation contributed $250,000 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing the VCOE to expand basic needs and to provide needed technology devices student veterans needed to transition to remote learning.

People had opportunities to write thank-you notes to veterans and to meet others who are connected to the VCOE.

Donna Larson, associate director of the VCOE, said, “This event was truly a celebration for student veterans, alumni, staff, and supporters of the VCOE to celebrate this important milestone. The atmosphere felt like a tight-knit family gathering.”

She added, “A short history of the VCOE was shared, along with several inspirational student stories. The highlight of the event was presenting Clark College student coins to Jane Hagelstein and Bill Erickson of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe in appreciation for large donations to support the VCOE. After the program, employees, students, partners, and honorees mingled while they enjoyed coffee and festive cupcakes and cake.”

About Veterans Center of Excellence

The center assists military-affiliated students with their educational journey. Focused on supporting veteran student success, the center provides a single point of contact to coordinate comprehensive, individualized support services that address the academic, financial, physical, and social needs of Clark College’s student veterans. A Clark College veteran is any military-affiliated student at Clark: veterans, active duty, or a military dependent, either spouse or child.

The center’s staff can connect student veterans to agencies, programs, and support. The center also provides tutoring, help with books and calculators; useful workshops; a study area with computers and printers; a lounge and games for relaxation; networking with other veterans, and more.

Monica Patton, Program Coordinator, and Megan Anderson, Veterans Educational Planner. Photo: Carly Rae Zent.

Connect with VCOE:

Timeline: Veterans Center at Clark College

  • November 2013: Clark College President Bob Knight began a new tradition: a college-sponsored celebration honoring veterans held the Thursday before Veterans Day in Gaiser Student Center. At that event, Knight announced the college would one day have a Veterans Resource Center on campus.
  • At that same Nov. 2013 event: Jennifer Rhoads, president of Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, announced in honor of the foundation’s 30th anniversary, they would donate six grants of $30,000 each to help alleviate poverty. The first grant was for Clark College to create its Veteran Resource Center.
  • March 2014: First open house at new Veterans Resource Center at Clark College—less than four months after the CFSWW announced the grant, the center held its first public event to welcome student veterans and the college community
  • Feb. 2021: The Veterans Resource Center received a $449,460 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish a Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success over three years. Clark was one of only two community colleges in the state to receive the grant. Focused on supporting student success, the Center will provide a single point of contact to coordinate comprehensive, individualized support services that address the academic, financial, physical, and social needs of Clark College’s student-veterans.

Read previous stories about the VCOE

Spring Writer’s Workshop

Workshop co-director Jesse Morse speaks to a packed audience. The event had several break-out sessions focused on poetry, nonfiction, fiction, imagery, and developing story stakes.

Clark Creative Writing welcomed over 120 attendees for the annual Spring Creative Writing Workshop. 

The third annual event, hosted on May 11, invited the Southwest Washington writing community to Clark for free workshops, readings, and lectures. Participants chose three events to attend from the 12 offered and received free lunch, coffee, and pastries. A mix of Clark employees, students, and community members joined. This year, attendance notably increased. 

Alexis Nelson, creative writing lead and Clark faculty said, “We wanted it to be something special for Clark students and employees, something that would add even more value and enrichment to our Creative Writing program, and something that would also bring more of the community to campus and help build the sense of Clark as a center for the arts within the area. And we wanted the event to be welcoming and open to all, just like the college. It felt like we accomplished all that.” 

Clark faculty Jennifer Denrow and Jesse Morse are workshop co-directors. 

Workshop instructors came from as far as Southern California. Sessions focused on poetry, nonfiction, fiction, imagery, and developing story stakes. Vintage Books, a local bookstore, set up a space to sell books by workshop instructors (pictured below)

Instructor Stephanie Adams Santos, a Guatemalan-American writer living in Oregon, taught Dreamscape of the Altar, inviting participants to create their own altar with art supplies, a candle, and an oracle card. She then led poets through an altar meditation to inspire language. 

Another workshop led by HR Hegnauer, a poet and book designer specializing in independent publishing, covered the crucial aspects of book cover design and invited participants to design their own book covers. 

Poet Mathias Svalina, founder of Dream Delivery Service, which delivers personalized poems by bicycle to subscribers, taught participants to write with dream logic. 

Clark’s own Joe Pitkin shared industry knowledge, including using the resource Duotrope to connect with publishers. 

Other workshop leaders included: 

  • Sara Jaffe 
  • Lisa Bullard (Clark instructor) 
  • Emily Chenoweth 
  • Michael Guerra (Clark instructor) 
  • Debra Gwartney 
  • Meredith Kirkwood (Clark instructor) 
  • Pauls Toutonghi 
  • Claire Vaye Watkins 

About Clark Creative Writing 

Clark Creative Writing, part of the English department, offers a creative writing associate of arts track with electives in poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, graphic fiction, and publishing. Clark Creative Writing: 

Photos: Clark College/Carly Rae Zent

Transfer Fair

Clark brought back the Transfer Fair this year, bringing in 13 colleges from as far away as Arizona and Alaska. The May 16 fair was the first Clark held since 2019 before the pandemic.

College representatives set up tables in the Gaiser Hall breezeway, chatting with students as they traveled between classes or across campus. They shared information about programs ranging from brewing science to psychology, taking student contact information so they could learn more and apply.

Several representatives shared that the new location made a huge difference, and they were able to connect with many interested students.

Kately Power, of Western Washington University, said, “I ran out of booklets. So that’s a win.”

Palmer Muntz of University of Alaska Fairbanks said, “I’ve done a lot of transfer fairs over the years and they’re usually bad — but this has been good.”

Colleges highlighted how they can benefit Clark students, specifically. For example, Northern Arizona University automatically participates in the Western Undergraduate Exchange for transfer students, which allows Clark students to pay in-state tuition. Pacific Northwest College of The Arts offers a Transfer Partner Scholarship to Clark students in studio arts.

The colleges who participated were:

  • University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • Washington State University (Vancouver/Pullman)
  • Western Washington University
  • Saint Martin’s University
  • South Puget Sound Community College (bachelor’s programs highlighted)
  • University of Idaho
  • University of Washington- Bothell
  • Central Washington University
  • Pacific Northwest College of The Arts (PNCA) at Willamette University
  • Portland State University
  • Grand Canyon University
  • Northern Arizona University
  • Multnomah University

If any students missed the fair, they should contact the specific colleges they are interested in to learn more.

Photo: Clark College/Carly Rae Zent

Columbia Writers Series

Left to right: Authors Andrew Leland and Justin Taylor discussing Leland’s work and process at the spring Columbia Writers Series event.

Andrew Leland quoted Georgina Kleege’s Sight Unseen to explain his own relationship to his work: “Writing this book made me blind.”

Authors Andrew Leland and Justin Taylor discussed Leland’s new memoir, The Country of the Blind, at the Spring Columbia Writers’ event. It was attended by Clark creative writing students, students from the nearby Washington State School for the Blind, and staff from Cannell Library and Disability Support Services (DSS).  

Leland’s book shares his experience of slowly losing his sight due to a degenerative eye disease, Retinitis Pigmentos (RP).  More than a description of his life, his memoir explores history, disability justice, and what it means to identify as blind.

With emotion, Leland said a blind reader described his memoir as “the story of our people.” Leland added, “it’s incredibly moving for me that it might have value.”

Writing the book helped Leland process his recently accepted identity as a blind person. At the beginning of his journey, “blindness did not feel like a word connected to me.” As he wrote, he evolved from using third person to describe the blind community (they) to using the first-person plural (we).

The book covers some of the history of innovation driven by blind people. The first typewriters, audiobooks, and LP records were adaptations designed for blind accessibility. Adaptations can become their own form of art as blind people experiment with how to communicate information within the world’s inaccessible design. As Leland put it, “Alt text is poetry.”

An early form of Optical Character Recognition was the Kurzweil Reading Machine, which scanned print books and turned them into computer-spoken words. The inventor designed it for blind people, working closely with the National Federation of the Blind.

When Xerox purchased the machine, the company laid off the blind sales staff. The technology then became a foundation for the internet, which today remains largely inaccessible to the blind. Only 2% of home pages are fully accessible to screen readers.

Leland said, “Often, after it [the technology designed for accessibility] gets coopted into the mainstream, the accessibility falls away.”

According to Leland, information access is one of the biggest barriers affecting blind people. The disability justice movement seeks to change barriers to access for blind people and for all those experiencing disabilities — including multiple disabilities. Key to the movement is understanding how experiences of disability intersect with other identities such as race, class, and gender.

He shared his own experience of diving into disability justice, and how his views started out as naive but became more complex as he talked with more people. “My privilege is intact and will continue to be intact as a blind person… to be a blind person of color is a radically different experience.”

He advised college students to be unafraid to engage with the disability justice movement even if their knowledge is incomplete. “It’s an important first step to be like, ‘I think it’s like this’ and then you take the tires off.”

Leland also shared his advice on writing. He advocates for a regular writing practice — even if you’re not writing with a goal of being published — to prepare you to write when you have something important to say.

“The butt-in-chair principle I think is really important,” Leland said and added “don’t be a hermit… it’s important to be sharing your work with readers.”

Find books by Andrew Leland and Justin Taylor at Clark’s Cannell Library or local independent bookstores.

About Andrew Leland

Andrew Leland’s debut book, The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight, about the world of blindness (and figuring out his place in it), was published in July 2023 by Penguin Press. His writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, McSweeney’s Quarterly, and The San Francisco Chronicle, among other outlets. From 2013-2019, he hosted and produced The Organist, an arts and culture podcast, for KCRW; he has also produced pieces for Radiolab and 99 Percent Invisible. He has been an editor at The Believer since 2003. He lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and son.

About Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor is the author of the novel Reboot, the memoir Riding with the Ghost, the novel The Gospel of Anarchy, and two collections of short fiction: Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever and Flings. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Bomb, and Bookforum, among other publications. He has taught writing at the graduate and undergraduate levels in programs all over the country, including Columbia University, N.Y.U., the University of Southern Mississippi, and the University of Montana. He is a contributing writer to the Washington Post’s Book World and the Director of the Sewanee School of Letters. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

About the Columbia Writers Series

The Columbia Writers Series has been a part of Clark College since 1988, bringing local, national and international authors to the college throughout the year. Writers who have visited Clark College through the series include Ursula Le Guin, Donald Justice, Sherman Alexie, Marvin Bell, William Stafford, Jamaica Kincaid, Gerald Stern, Carolyn Forchè, Natalie Diaz, Karen Russell, Jess Walter, Dana Spiotta, Mitchell Jackson, and many others.

Next up: Learn more about the Creative Writing Festival

Photo: Clark College/Carly Rae Zent

Clark Installed New Mural

Have you seen the new mural next to the Clark Cafe in Joan Stout Hall?  

Called “Coming Together for Art and Peace,” it was designed by Clark alum Christian Barrios and painted by Clark College and our Vancouver community during International Education Week in November 2023.  

The mural premiered at Clark’s International Day celebration on February 13. It honors how our international programs at Clark College foster global awareness in our community. The mural depicts colorful florals, two rainbow peace doves, and the words “Clark College.” It was inspired by textile designs from different cultures around the world.

Now, the mural will permanently live near Clark Cafe in Joan Stout Hall. 

To learn more, visit Mural Painting | Clark 24/7 

View the gallery of photos of the finished mural below. Then, stop by Clark Cafe for a coffee or muffin and an in-person glimpse of the fabulous mural. 

Learn more about Barrios and his work  here.