Career Connections

Michelle Bart of NWCAVE (right) was one of the many alumni and business partners who volunteered to meet with students at the event.

Seated at tables around Cannell Library, pairs of people were deep in conversation. At each table, one person was a Clark student. The other was an alum or community member working in the student’s prospective career.

More than 50 Clark students met face-to-face with alumni mentors and other professionals to find out more about their prospective careers during Clark College Foundation’s Check Out a Professional event on February 27. The event is designed to connect alumni and business partners with students for one-hour career conversations in Cannell Library.

The event’s organizer, Chandra Chase, associate vice president of Alumni Relations & Community Engagement at Clark College Foundation, said, “Our alumni and business partners look forward to this opportunity to connect with students. Often, they received critical career mentorship through family, friends, faculty, or internships and want to pay it forward.”

The Foundation reached out to alumni and other local professionals with this message: “This event is designed for you to have a one-on-one career conversation with students, aligned with your area of expertise. What will you talk about? Take yourself back to your student days. What career information should you have known?”

Seated with a digital media arts student, Alan Hwang (pictured right), chief executive officer at Riff Agency, recognized the value of networking and volunteered for the event. Hwang earned an associate degree in business at Clark in 2013.

“When I was starting in my career, the most impactful brain gain I had was through 50+ cold emails to community leaders in a hope to gain some insight into what it takes to be successful over coffee,” said Hwang. “I’m a huge believer in hands-on, real-world learning. The Check Out a Pro event is a streamlined process for Clark College students to get that same impactful experience I had and gain some insight into the real world as they consider entering the workforce. This is extremely valuable experience and why I personally dedicate time—and will continue to dedicate the time—to this event.”

Connections made

  • Sheila Davis of Fourth Plain Forward met with a student who is interested in working for a nonprofit organization.
  • Katie Devlin, an attorney with the Washington State Attorney General, met with a political science student.
  • Eric Olmsted, president of OnLine Support and member of the college’s Cybersecurity / IT advisory committee met with a cybersecurity student.
  • Mike Pyszka, a civil engineer with Parametrix who is working on the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program, connected with a civil engineering student.
  • Manuel Galaviz from PeaceHealth Medical Center used his laptop to show a healthcare website to a Health Information Management student.
  • Jasmine Tolbert of YWCA Clark County met with a student about a career in counseling. The student’s young son sat quietly wearing headphones and watching a cartoon on a tablet.
  • PeaceHealth nurse Sofia Cartagena and retired Kaiser Permanente physician Dr. Rebecca Hoffman met with nursing students.

A first-year psychology student sat at a table with Michelle Bart, president and founder of NWCAVE (National Women’s Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation). The student’s professor had suggested she earn her advocate certification. Not only did Bart tell the student about a 40-hour advocate training her organization was hosting in Vancouver the next week, but she offered her a scholarship to participate at no charge. It was exactly the certification the student needed.

Connection made. Opportunity gained.

Throughout the library, alumni and other professionals connected with students in similar meaningful conversations.

“Libraries are about connecting folks with the information they need, in whatever format that might be,” said Julie Austad, dean of Clark Libraries and Academic Success Services. “Sometimes it’s a book or an article. At this event, it was people. It was alumni. It was folks in the community who could relate to our students and talk about their experience getting into their chosen career.”

Check Out a Professional has been an annual event, but Chandra Chase from the Foundation said, “In 2025, we’re hoping to expand to two times per year.”

Check Out a Professional quick stats:

  • Attendance: 55 students (more than double last year’s event)
  • 55% first-generation college students
  • Largest increase in student participation: Health care and STEM areas of study

Participating students are pursuing careers from accounting to computer science to mechanical engineering to web development and more.

Alumni and business participants included representatives from Bloom Collective, Clark Public Utilities, Dynamic Events, Edge Networks, Fourth Plain Forward, Kaiser Permanente, Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, LiveChannel, Mountain Crest Counseling Services, National Women’s Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation (NWCAVE), OnLine Support, Opsahl Dawson, PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, Riff Creative, Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, TSMC (also known as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company), The Vancouver Clinic, Washington State Office of the Attorney General, Webfor, Workforce Southwest Washington, YWCA Clark County, and ZP Productions.

Careers represented included animator, attorney, counselor, dental hygienist, engineer, filmmaker, health information management, human resources/recruiting, information technology, marketing, nonprofit management, nurse, therapist, physical therapist, physician, systems analyst, and more. Learn more about the Foundation’s Check Out a Professional event.

Photos: Clark College/Susan Parrish

Mural Painting

Maggie Li puts the last few strokes of paint on the mural before Christian Barrios takes it back to his studio to finish. Maggie came to all three days of the mural painting.

Clark College welcomed muralist Christian Barrios, a Clark College graduate, to lead the community in creating a mural project during International Education Week from November 13 to 15.  

The college community gathered for a mural painting party. Erika Nava brushed red paint onto a flower petal on a large sheet of metal taped to the wall in the Penguin Student Center. Nearby, Rosalba Pitkin brushed dusty pink paint onto another flower. They were joined by other Clark staff and students adding their brushstrokes to a new mural taking shape on campus. 

Overseeing the project, artist Christian Barrios, who designed the mural, mixed paint colors, offered input to the painters and added his own colorful brushstrokes.  

Titled “Coming Together for Art and Peace,” the mural provided an opportunity for the Clark community to gather, celebrate diversity, and promote the values of international unity and peace. Barrio brings a connection and passion to this project, ensuring its resonance with the college and the local community.    

Nava and Pitkin collaborated to bring Barrios and this community art project to campus. Pitkin, who works in Clark’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, introduced Barrios to Spanish teacher Nava. She invited the bilingual Barrios into her classroom to talk with her students about fine art, public art, mural art, and graffiti. He told Nava he had received a grant from Community Foundation of Southwest Washington and Fourth Plain Forward to create a mural in a public school. Barrios wanted to create the mural at Clark. 

That sparked Nava, Pitkin, and Barrios to begin brainstorming a community mural designed by Barrios. They presented their ideas to President Edwards, ASCC, and then the Art Selection Committee. 

“That’s how it started,” Nava said, waving her paintbrush for emphasis. “And here we are!” 

Left to right: Christian Barrios, Jody Shulnak, Elizabeth Ubiergo, Manda Levie, Erika Nava, and Rosalba Pitkin came out to the opening of the mural painting.

Mural on metal 

The “canvas” consists of three large metal sheets, the same type used for street signs. The paint is an artist’s acrylic polymer that Barrios uses to create outdoor murals. 

In his studio, Barrios drew outlines of the design elements: stylized embroidered flowers scattered across the scene, a Monarch butterfly floating in the breeze on either side and in the center, two rainbow doves aloft with olive branches in their beaks.  

Barrios said it would take at least three layers of paint to create the mural: “The first layer is pastel. The second and third layers will be darker. It creates more color saturation. Makes it more vibrant.” 

To demonstrate, Barrios pointed to the Monarch butterfly’s wings. The first layer was a bright yellow. He explained that as layers are added, the wings eventually will appear a deep orange. 

After all layers are painted, Barrios will take the mural back to his studio where he will outline the shapes in black and add a black background. He also will add sealant to protect the art.  

On the first morning of painting, Barrios shared his passion for creating murals.  

“When I was growing up in Mexico City, I went to a lot of museums, but I don’t remember the artwork,” he said. “But I do remember the murals on the street. People painting on the street—for us. I love public art and doing community projects.” 

The completed mural will be installed inside Joan Stout Hall after the unveiling on February 13, coinciding with International Day. It will join hundreds of public art pieces installed on Clark’s campus. 

Many students came to participate in the painting over the three days, even Clark’s youngest students from early childhood education. Many students expressed how this was a much-needed mental health break this week, and came back multiple times throughout the 3 days. Spanish language, communications classes, and more showed up to support the project.

Special thanks to Fourth Plain Forward, La Casita Art Gallery and Cultural Center, and the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington for their support of this project.  

About Christian Barrios 

An accomplished artist and muralist, Barrios’ artwork has made a significant impact on the Vancouver community. A graduate of Clark College, Barrios is deeply committed to promoting unity and diversity through his artwork, collaborating with organizations including Fourth Plain Forward and La Casita Cultural Center.  

Born in Mexico City, he learned ceramic painting in the historic Talavera tradition from his family’s business. At 16, he moved to the United States, expanding his skills under master marquetry artist Gene Zanni and exploring painting, paper mâché, and photography.   

Active in the Oregon and Washington Latino art scene, Barrios’ work has been exhibited at Portland Art Museum, The Dalles Art Center, and more. His art resides in private collections across Mexico, Canada, California, Oregon, and Washington.  

Devoted to community impact, Barrios collaborates with organizations including the Regional Arts and Culture Council’s Right Brain Initiative and the Hombres Honor Program. He’s the driving force behind La Casita Art Gallery and Cultural Center, a hub promoting diversity and inclusion for LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, and neurodivergent communities.  

Barrios’ recent mural on East Fourth Plain Boulevard illustrates his commitment to enhancing neighborhoods by celebrating diverse cultures through art. His work beautifully bridges cultural divides, making him a remarkable artist and community advocate.   

Learn more about Barrios and his work here. 

Women in STEM Tea

To equip their engineering students for success, professors Tina Barsotti and Carol Hsu encourage their students to create community by participating in campus and community outreach events, including STEM NERD Girls.  

These outreach events available in Engineering program provide opportunities for diverse learners to explore and achieve their educational goals by promoting social connectedness through peer support, volunteering, networking, professional interaction, and mentoring.  

“Building community fosters collaboration and connectedness,” said Professor Barsotti. “By providing these opportunities, the program encourages students to continue their paths in the STEM field. This helps us to retain students from systemically non-dominant groups.” 

Engineering graduates remain connected 

Four Engineering graduates who volunteered in outreach events also formed a study group when they were Clark students. Over the years, they have remained friends and continue to encourage each other as they transitioned to pursuing bachelor’s degrees, and now in the early years of their careers. They spoke on a panel at a Women in STEM tea on May 17 in the STEM Building. 

Megan Sarygin, Gabriella Miller, Shiori Baba, and Marie Roza heeded their professors’ advice when they were STEM students at Clark College. They volunteered in NERD Girls and contributed to other outreach and campus events. After they graduated from Clark, they transferred to various universities, but they continued their study group as they faced the rigors of advanced STEM classes and projects.  

Some years later, they still connect and remain friends. Now instead of seeking advice about college classes, they discuss the successes and challenges they are experiencing as young women working in male-dominated STEM fields. 

Megan Sarygin  

Profession: Field service engineer, Tokyo Electron US   


  • Clark College Running Start student; Associate of Science, mechanical engineering, 2019 
  • Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering, minor in business administration, Washington State University Vancouver, 2021 


“Developing your social skills is very important, just like your hard skills. Social skills are just as important as your classes, getting good grades, and studying. Make connections. Work in a group. Work on your communications skills.” 

“Ask for help. In a lab at WSU Vancouver, we were using a mill and a lathe to make small parts for a gyroscope. Using the lathe did not make sense to me. I was so far behind. The lab instructor was patient and opened up the lab on the weekend for extra work on the lathe. It was so nice to have it click in my brain.” 

Gabriella Miller

Profession: Associate mechanical design engineer, Curtiss-Wright Corporation 


  • Clark College, Associate of Arts, mechanical engineering, 2018 
  • Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering, Washington State University Vancouver, 2022 


“When we were growing up, it wasn’t expected that a girl would go into a STEM field.” 

“I wanted to work in a field where there are always questions to answer, opportunities to learn.” 

“I was drawn both to aerospace and neuroscience. I asked myself: Space or brains?” 

“Being able to make mistakes is sometimes harder for women. People can be more critical.” 

Shiori Baba

Profession: Project engineer classified as civil engineer, Bonneville Power Administration 


  • Bachelor of Science degree in geology/earth science, University of Washington, 2016  
  • Clark College, supplemental prerequisite engineering classes to transfer to Portland State University 
  • Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, Portland State University, 2021 


“Networking is a scary term, but who you know is important. You don’t know who will be your boss or what opportunities may come up because of word of mouth.” 

“My agency makes transmission lines and maintains substations. It’s been male dominated, but I’m seeing more female engineers now. BPA has been putting in efforts for more diversity within their workforce.” 

“It’s okay to make mistakes. Just make sure you learn from your mistakes.” 

Marie Roza

Profession: Senior emerging technology engineer, Skanska, the fifth-largest construction company in the world 


  • Clark College Running Start student and Associate of Science degree in civil engineering, 2019 
  • Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, Portland State University, 2021 


“In engineering, there are so many options. You aren’t limited.” 

“Construction is very male dominated. Only about 13% are women. But within my company, we have an amazing focus on diversity and inclusion.” 

“Make your connections within your classes. It’s important to have a support system, especially as a woman in STEM. I could not have made it without these three.” 

Photos: Clark College/Susan Parrish

April 20 is PenguinsGive and Sakura Festival

Submitted by Clark College Foundation 

PenguinsGive, Clark College’s 24-hour fundraising event, is Thursday, April 20. In celebration of Clark College celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, all Clark College and Clark College Foundation employees and retirees are challenged to “Give $90.” Join the members of the O Squad, your employee giving committee and give $90 to support Clark students. 

PenguinsGive at Sakura Festival 

If you’re attending the Sakura Festival on Thursday, on your way from the cherry trees to Gaiser Hall, get a FREE coffee or smoothie at the IQ Credit Union cart from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and make your donation. 

At the Foundation’s table, members of the O Squad will visit with faculty and staff about contributing during PenguinsGive and students can write thank-you notes to donors. 

The annual Sakura Festival returns to the Clark College main campus on Thursday, April 20 beginning at 1 p.m. The free community event underneath a canopy of cherry blossoms is presented by Clark College, the city of Vancouver and Vancouver Rotary. 

$15k Available for Matching Gifts 

Join colleagues in supporting Penguin Nation. Thanks to generous donors, gifts of any amount will be matched dollar-for-dollar. More than $15,000 is available to double donations. For example, a $50 gift to student scholarships becomes $100; a $90 donation to STEM programs becomes $180; $150 to the Music program becomes $300, thanks to some generous donors. 


Penguins hiring Penguins

It’s become an annual tradition: hundreds of Clark College students showing up to meet potential employers as graduation looms near. But while Clark’s Career Fair has become a familiar part of the academic cycle, not everyone realizes how many of those employer booths are staffed by former Clark students—some of whom attended the fair themselves, once upon a time.

Leslie Matheney, an HR generalist for Burgerville, remembered attending the fair before graduating from Clark in 2008 with her associate degree. “At the time, I wasn’t really ready for it,” she said, noting that she had just been looking for part-time work as she geared up to transfer to WSU Vancouver, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in human resources and personal psychology.

Matheney, who was at the May 3 fair to recruit seasonal crew members and managers, said she felt being a Clark graduate helped her when she did start looking for full-time, permanent employment. “I think, especially because I was looking for a position at a local company, it was good,” she said. “I think that Clark is really well respected in this area.”

Sgt. Nieman at Career Days

Sgt. Fred Nieman stands with a colleague at the Clark County Sheriff’s Office table.

Sergeant Fred Neiman, who was recruiting for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, said that his workplace also values the diversity of Clark’s student body. “What we look for is folks who have a variety of education and background,” he said. “You deal with all kinds of people in public safety. So to have a background of diverse education and experiences, and knowing how to interact with lots of different kinds of people—that’s valuable.”

Neiman has a long personal connection with Clark College. Not only did he attend classes here in the late 1970s, but he came back to work as its Director of Security for eight years. Clark is also where he met his wife, and their three children all earned associate degrees from the college.

“It’s a wonderful institution,” he said. “I enjoyed attending here when I was a student, and I enjoyed working here when I was an employee.”

Vicky Barnes also has a child who graduated from Clark. She earned her own associate degree here—with highest honors, no less—while he was still a teen.

Vicki Barnes

“I often got mistaken for a professor on campus,” laughed Barnes, who was at the fair to recruit for Woodland Public School, where she is the HR coordinator and district office manager. Barnes said she enjoyed her time as a Penguin, even though it meant long days—she attended Clark while working at WPS. “This is something I wanted to show my kids—that you can be a life-long learner.”

“It definitely benefited me in HR,” she said. “You learn how to engage with people, how to get out of your comfort zone.”

As if to prove this, she quickly turned to a woman eyeing her display of job descriptions to answer questions about open positions in the district.

According to Clark College Employer Relations Specialist Scott Clemans, 15 of the 110 employers who registered for this year’s fair indicated that they would have Clark College alumni present.

“Smart companies send alumni to events like these because they’re great role models and mentors for current Clark students,” Clemans said. “The alumni show current students what’s possible after college, and give great advice on how to achieve it. And of course, they relate to Clark students on a level that other recruiters simply can’t.”

Clemans added that the fair was an impressive success. “Not only did we have 110 employers registered to attend—the maximum the O’Connell gym would hold—but we had to create a wait list for interested employers and probably had about 20 more who were interested but contacted us too late to register,” he said.

This year’s job fair included not only employer booths but also a photo booth where visitors could get a professional portrait taken for their LinkedIn accounts. Leading up to the fair, Clark College Career Services also hosted numerous workshops and events, as well as the annual Career Clothing Closet, to prepare students and guests for the day. The fair, which is open not just to Clark students but to all job-seekers in the community, saw 923 visitors this year—up 15 percent from last year’s attendance.

Top photo: Clark College/Jenny Shadley. Photos of Nieman and Barnes: Clark College/Hannah Erickson.

A champ returns

Award-winning author Mitchell S. Jackson began his college career at Clark. Photo: Charlotte M. Wales

During the 2017 winter quarter installment of its renowned Columbia Writers Series, Clark College will welcome back former student Mitchell S. Jackson, an award-winning author. Mitchell will read from and discuss his writing from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 17, in room PUB 258 on Clark’s main campus.

“I’m excited about Mitchell’s reading because I think it will be a great opportunity for Clark students to hear from someone who grew up in the area and attended Clark,” says English instructor Alexis Nelson, who co-directs the Columbia Writers Series. “I also think The Residue Years suits the college theme of Transformation, in addition to being a unique and powerful read.”

Raised in Portland, Mitchell Jackson is the author of The Residue Years, a novel that Mitchell has said includes many autobiographical elements. The award-winning book centers on the relationship between Champ, a young African-American man struggling to balance his ambitions with his circumstances, and his mother Grace, recently released from rehab.

Jackson began his college career at Clark in 1993, where he played basketball under then-coach David Waldow. “My time at Clark was formative,” says Jackson. “It taught me that I would have to work hard to achieve my goals, that I’d have to take responsibility for my decisions. Coach Waldow was tough on me, but he was also a figure I needed at that point in my life.”

Jackson transferred to another college after one year at Clark, eventually earning an M.A. in writing from Portland State University and an M.F.A in Creative Writing from New York University. He currently resides in New York, and serves on the faculty of both New York University and Columbia University.

The Residue Years has earned significant accolades since its release in 2013. It was praised by publications including The New York Times, The Paris Review, and The Times of London. Jackson is the winner of a Whiting Award. His novel also won The Ernest J. Gaines Prize for Literary Excellence and was a finalist for the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First novel prize, the PEN/ Hemingway award for first fiction, and the Hurston / Wright Legacy Award. Jackson’s honors include fellowships from TED, the Lannan Foundation, the BreadLoaf Conference, and the Center for Fiction. It was also the 2015 Everybody Reads selection of the Multnomah County Library. The New York Times said in its review of the book, “Jackson’s prose has a spoken-word cadence, the language flying off the page with percussive energy … there is a warmth and a hard-won wisdom about the intersection of race and poverty in America.”

The event is free and open to the public. Directions and maps are available online. Individuals who need accommodation due to a disability in order to fully participate in this event should contact Clark College’s Disability Support Services (DSS) Office at 360-992-2314 or 360-991-0901 (VP). The DSS office is located in room 013 in Clark’s Penguin Union Building.

The Columbia Writers Series was launched at Clark College in 1988, bringing local, national and international authors to the college and the region. Information about the Columbia Writers Series is available at



Penguin flies high among Cougars

Narek Daniyelyan

Clark alumnus and employee Narek Daniyelyan was named to the WSU Board of Regents. Photo courtesy of WSU.

Clark College alumnus and employee Narek Daniyelyan has been appointed by Governor Jay Inslee as the student member of the Washington State University Board of Regents for the 2016-2017 academic year.

“I am excited to have Daniyelyan as our student representative on the regents,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz. “He has an impressive background and will bring a strong student voice to board deliberations.  I look forward to working closely with Daniyelyan during my first year as WSU President”

Daniyelyan has a long history of service to institutions of higher learning. During his time at Clark, he was a Student Ambassador, helping to guide new students around the college and supporting Clark events. He graduated from Clark with his Associate of Arts transfer degree from Clark in 2009, but soon returned to the college to work as a recruitment specialist. He currently works in the college’s Office of Instruction as its Education Partnership Manager, engaging with local schools, businesses and other higher education institutions to create and maintain mutually beneficial student partnership agreements. His other past work includes serving as a recreation leader for the City of Vancouver and as an intern with the Clark County Juvenile Court system.

Daniyelyan continued his education after Clark, graduating from WSU Vancouver in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Human Development. In 2013 he began his master’s degree studies in public affairs at WSUV.

“Upon graduation, I plan to continue working in higher education and serving students in our community,” said Daniyelyan. “Education has given me an opportunity for social mobility, so I want to help others see their potential and become the best versions of themselves.”

“I am ecstatic to be serving as the Student Regent and am looking forward to representing all WSU students,” Daniyelyan said of his appointment. “During my time as student regent I hope to learn about some of the amazing things that past Student Regents have accomplished, work with current board members on some of the pressing initiatives for the year, and serve as a liaison between students and the board.”

Daniyelyan was elected vice president of the Associated Students of WSU Vancouver and has held a variety of other student leadership positions, including serving as a student ambassador and as director of Leadership Development for ASWSU-Vancouver.

Effective July 1, Daniyelyan’s appointment will run through June 30, 2017. He succeeds current Student Regent Jansen VanderMeulen, of Burlington, Wash.

This article adapted from the Washington State University news site.

Penguins Enter Hall of Fame

1989 WBB team2

On Saturday, February 28, the Penguin Athletic Club, in conjunction with the Athletics Department at Clark College, will hold the annual Clark College Athletic Hall of Fame banquet and induction ceremony at 5 p.m. in the Penguin Union Building. The banquet and ceremony will take place after the women’s and men’s basketball games that day, which start at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. respectively. The inductees will be honored during halftime of the men’s game.

This year’s honorees include:

Lisa uni 33

Lisa Boe (Women’s Basketball) helped lead her team to 55 wins during her two seasons at Clark College. In 1989 the Penguins won the NWAACC (now NWAC) Championship; in 1990, they finished second. Boe was First Team All-NWAACC both years and MVP of the league one year. She was selected to the All-Tournament team both years, and was MVP of tourney one year. Boe, who went on to play at the University of Central Missouri, and is currently a Portland police officer.


Coach George Fullerton (Track & Field) coached Track at Clark for 24 years (1958-1989), guiding his student athletes to the 1960 NWAACC Track & Field Championship, as well as numerous regional championships during the course of his career. Fullerton lives in Vancouver.


Denny Huston received his Associate of Arts degree from Clark, where he was student athlete (1959-1961), coach (1965-1969), and Athletic Director (2008-2011). He also coached basketball at Camas High School and had many coaching stints at the college level from 1963 to 1992.


The 1989 Women’s Basketball Team won Clark’s first NWACC basketball championship, finishing the season 27-6. (pictured at top)

For more information on this event, please access the Hall of Fame link at Individuals can also register online by February 21 at Tickets are $25.00 per person.

If you need accommodation due to a disability in order to fully participate in this event, you should contact Clark College’s Disability Support Services Office at 360-992-2314 or 360-991-0901 (VP), or visit Penguin Union Building room 013 as soon as possible.





After Haiyan


Enrico “Rico” Selga is a well-known figure to many at Clark College. Either they recognize him from his time as a nursing student here during the 1990s, or they saw him receive the Clark College Foundation’s Outstanding Alumni Award in 2010, or they’ve ordered a latte from him at one of the two coffee kiosks he and his wife, Jennifer, run on Clark’s main campus. However, not everyone knows what he does with his “off” hours: For years, Selga has volunteered with the church-based nonprofit Medical Teams International in areas stricken by disaster or conflict. He’s done so much of this work that MTI now sends him as a “First in Team” member, tasked with scouting the area and organizing resources before the rest of the medical team arrives. When the Philippines were hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan on November 8, 2013–demolishing buildings and killing thousands of people–Selga, who is originally from the Philippines, was one of the first volunteers to land in the hard-hit town of Guiuan. We wrote about Selga’s trip to treat earthquake victims in Haiti in a previous issue of Clark 24/7; here, Selga describes his latest experience in his own words.

Looking from the small window of the Australian Air Force C-130 airplane one week after Super Typhoon Haiyan, the community of Guiuan looked like it had been bombed. Houses were flattened; trees were uprooted or snapped in half. Once I was on the ground, I could also see that all the vehicles were damaged and that the people were wet and dirty. Locals told me that some people had resorted to eating dogs for food, while others had looted stores for food or items to trade for food. Survivors created shelters from scraps of wood or tin. Others used tarpaulins or plastic bags. During the nights, the wind would blow so hard that the rain went sideways. It was impossible to stay dry, and the combination of wetness, hunger, and thirst made it close to impossible to sleep.


Guiuan residents line up to use the phone.

Under normal conditions, Guiuan is a tropical paradise, filled with picturesque white sand beaches perfect for surfing and diving. But Haiyan left nothing standing. Houses were demolished beyond repair. Hotels and resorts were reduced to sticks and rubble. Wells that normally provide safe drinking water were contaminated. Fallen trees and power lines made the streets unpassable by car.

The children walked around the community with their parents, checking on their neighbors. I could hear the children telling their parents that they were hungry and thirsty. I tried my best to hold back my tears because I too have a child. I knew that children ages 6 months to 2 years would be particularly vulnerable because there was no milk or safe water to drink. Inevitably, many of them would get sick or die from the conditions. I cannot imagine how helpless their parents must feel. I know that if the roles were reversed, I too would be looting and stealing.

Yet these same people who looted were the first ones to share their food. Food rations were scarce, but people still shared them with their neighbors. Despite the catastrophe people found ways to smile and laugh. It was beautiful to observe the people banding together to help each other. And then one of them helped me.

On my first day in Guiuan, I met Klaus Engesvoll, the man who became my savior and best friend. I was sitting on the bench at Viva grocery, which had become the relief center of the town. There was a long line outside the looted grocery for the only functional satellite phone available to call the outside world. People were given 60 seconds to talk to someone. Each person was given three chances to dial a phone number. If nobody answered on the other side, the person lost his turn. The free telephone service was available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., but lines started forming at 5 a.m. and the last calls were made after 9 p.m. Listening to the conversations was heart-breaking. One woman narrated the story of how she lost her husband and children. Another woman kept on repeating, “Food is so hard.” For 60 seconds all she could muster up to say was, “Food is so hard.” It was painful to hear their 60-second stories of tragedy, but the ability to share their stories gave them hope that soon help would arrive. The last caller of the day was Klaus. He called his sister in Norway. After his call, he invited me and my colleague to stay in his house.

Klaus and Rico

Klaus Engesvoll and Rico Selga

Klaus came to the Philippines from Norway on a vacation many years ago. He never left. Eventually, he married Amy, with whom he has two children who speak four languages fluently. Klaus told me how his family and 60 other people were saved by hiding in the laundry room and garage of his house. He said that if the wind had blown for another hour, they too might not have survived–and that when they came out after the storm had passed, they did not know if anyone else had.

The day after the storm, Amy cooked all their food and shared it with their neighbors, a move typical of her and Klaus’s generosity. After knowing me for only a day, Klaus invited me to stay in his house, where he and his family shared their scant amount of relief goods, water, and food with me. This was uncomfortable for me because I was supposed to be there providing help to them. In the end, our team would not have been able to function without his hospitality and willingness to share everything with us.

Klaus and I spent 24 hours a day together, brainstorming and helping the people of Guiuan. We would go to bed at midnight and stare at the ceiling, waiting for daylight so we could start working again. I would get up from my cot at 5:30 in the morning to go to his room, where I would see him crammed in his bed with Amy and their children–his eyes open. He would turn to me, nod, and get up without waking his family.

Around us, everything was sopping wet. In the living room at least six of his neighbors slept on wet sofas. Some nights, there were three inches of water all over the house. His stairs looked like a waterfall with the rain coming down hard from the second floor, where the roof had been torn off by the storm. Debris filled his house. Mud and grass peppered the walls and ceiling.

The first priority of each day was to find water, food, medications, and gasoline. Without gas, we could not send Doctor Alan out to see the patients. Without water and food, we were finished. In a disaster-hit community it is difficult to find the most basic necessities. Klaus and I had to go around town scavenging from other international aid agencies and the local market. We also needed to find a tarpaulin to cover Klaus’s blown-off roof–with more volunteers arriving soon, we needed a place for them to stay.

Once, we spent the whole day just begging for one liter of gas–and got none. We spent countless hours networking at United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to procure gas and diesel. The diesel was important to keep our van moving. The van was by no means comfortable–it was missing a windshield and the engine had issues–but it was moving. I borrowed it from a neighbor on a handshake promise to pay him at a later date. This neighbor had three vans that at one point became shelter for 23 people.


Dr. Alan, far right yellow shirt.

On that same day, the first baby was born in a tent hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). The crowd in the OCHA meeting clapped in jubilation. We had also scored enough tarpaulin to cover our house and one clinic. The tarpaulin was a gift from International Organization for Migration (IOM) and MSF. On this same day we also received a water filter from Guiuan Disaster Relief Coordination (GDRC). We could now filter enough water for 100 people daily for five years. It was a happy day for the community and for our organization. Klaus and I celebrated with a drink of rum, but neither Klaus nor I slept well because we both knew there was more work to be done.

The next day the carpenters worked at a feverish pace to finish putting tarpaulin on Klaus’s house. It was a dangerous job because the tarpaulin was slippery and any mistake would send them falling from a two-story house. Meanwhile, thanks to neighbors, the inside of his house was miraculously cleaned of wood, metal, and glass debris in five days.

There were other signs of hope that day–and new challenges. For the first week after the storm, there was no food for sale in the market. Almost two weeks later, on the Thursday that Klaus’s house got covered, the markets began selling more varied food again. Disappointingly, the prices for that food skyrocketed as more international aid workers (aka “rich foreigners”) arrived. The day before, we had bought a kilo of potatoes for $1.50; now a kilo cost $3.50. This is an unintended side effect of the arrival of the relief agencies, one felt most keenly by the locals. The average salary of an unskilled laborer is about $5 per day. I paid the men fixing the roof about $5 per day. I paid the foreman about $9 per day. These people cannot afford a 300-percent increase in food costs.


By Friday morning, we had welcomed 12 volunteer doctors, nurses, and paramedics. We were in full capacity to treat patients. Doctor Alan now had a complete team with him when he went out to the villages. Our team immediately went to work treating patients in Guiuan, Mercedes, and Salcedo. In one day, we were able to see more than 200 patients and provided them with essential medications.

My job with the ‘First In Team’ was finished. We had shelter, food, water, volunteers and clinics. This was good news, but my heart sank because it also meant that soon I would be sent back home. Klaus felt it too. He kept saying, “It will be strange without you, Rico.” For nearly two weeks, I had spent my days and nights with Klaus. He had an uncanny ability to make friends and get things done. I admired his strength and perseverance, growing to love him like a brother. I knew that he would give his life for me–as I would for him.

Before departing I asked Klaus, “What are you going to do after all of this is done?” He told me that he was not leaving, that Guiuan is forever his home. But then he added, “I do not know, Rico. For the first time in my life, I care only about others. I do not care what happens to me. I have never felt this way before. I will only leave if my children cannot go to school. If the schools are not rebuilt, I must return to Norway for my children.” I could see in his eyes that he is deeply worried. I felt guilty for leaving him and going home.

I believe in the power of dreams. It will triumph over adversity. Dreams have the power to transform despair into hope. Dreams keep us taking the next step forward. Dreams turn the impossible into reality. Today I dream of rebuilding a school. I have never rebuilt a school. This is a dream I cannot accomplish without help. I need a small miracle. Twenty-three years after evacuating my home in a US Air Force C-130 plane due to an earthquake, and after 13 years of volunteering in disaster-stricken and war-torn areas like Kosovo, Liberia, Uganda, and Haiti, I am needed now in the land of my bones, Philippines.

Photos: Rico and Jennifer Selga

Exemplary Citizenship

Bob and Schaefer with Oswald at the First Citizen Award Ceremony

Bob ’50 and Sally ’55 Schaefer with Oswald at the Clark County First Citizen ceremony

Clark College alumnus Robert Bob Schaefer 50 has plenty of accomplishments and accolades to his name: former Washington state Speaker of the House, a Fifty-Year Award of Honor from the Washington State Bar Association, 2006 Outstanding Clark Alumnus. On Oct. 1, he added another honor to that list when he was formally named the 2013 Clark County First Citizen.

Schaefer joined a group of 71 other community standouts during a ceremony at the Hilton Vancouver Washington.

Pat Jollota, the 2012 First Citizen, presented this year’s award to Schaefer after lauding him as “a very wise person.” Others called him a “solutions person” with a gift for bringing people together to improve things in his community.

A video highlighted Schaefer’s career, volunteer activities and family life. The presentation touched upon how Schaefer and his wife, Sally, have worked for decades to ensure a brighter future for Southwest Washington. Some of Schaefer’s lifelong passions include early learning education; local government leadership; and economic development, particularly the high-tech industry. He was instrumental in establishing Washington State University’s Vancouver campus and in creating Paradise Point State Park.

The event had a definite Clark College connection from the beginning—with musical performances by Clark students—to the end, when Schaefer announced he was donating half of his $1,000 award to Clark College Foundation.

Such generosity has been a hallmark of Schaefer’s career. Schaefer, 83, explained to the audience how he and his sister were adopted as children and were raised to help others. He grew up in Clark County, attending Vancouver public schools and Clark College, where he met Sally (Clark College class of 1955, recipient of the 2012 Iris Award, and a First Citizen recipient herself). He later transferred to Willamette University to study law.

Clark College President Bob Knight, far left, and Clark College alumnus Ben Bagherpour, far right, congratulates Bob Schaefer, center.

Clark College President Bob Knight, far right, and SEH Vice President of Operations Ben Bagherpour ’75, far left, congratulate Bob Schaefer ’50, center, on his award.

After passing the bar, he got a job with Clark County Prosecutor’s Office, while serving in the Army Reserves. He ran for the Washington State Legislature in 1958, spending $560 on his campaign. He won that election, going on to serve four terms, from 1959 to 1967, and serving as Speaker of the House in his last term.

Reflecting on his past political work, Schaefer bemoaned the lack of compromise and personal relationships between current political parties. “I think it’s a sad commentary of our system that these (personal relationships) are not taking place today,” he said.

On the day that the federal government partially shut down because of legislative stalemate, he reminded the audience that public officials must compromise: “You just don’t get your way,” he said. “It has to be worked out, and it has to be in the public interest.”

Schaefer wrapped up his remarks with a reminder that Vancouver is a “can-do community.”

“My prayer is that each of us can participate in some way to carry out this can-do philosophy for the future,” he said.

Photos: Clark College/Jenny Shadley (see more photos on Flickr)