Nov 13 2012

Non-traditional Oregon education

Published by at 8:21 am under Rainey

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

While living in Oregon offers us many blessings, two really standout for me.

One was coming up with a Pacific Ocean as a border, then putting it on our western edge. I like that. Thanks to former Gov. Tom McCall, we are one of only three ocean-side states that allow full, unfettered public access to every foot of it. We get to enjoy it a lot. And one side benefit is we deprived Idaho of oceanfront property. At least for now.

The second blessing we Oregonians share is a growing, multi-faceted and extremely valuable community college system. They’re all over the place. And communities adjacent to each of them are better for their presence.

Here – near our little burg-in-the-woods – we have one of those. It’s got a really nifty, compact campus, offers some first-rate classes in relevant subjects, is staffed by what appears to be a well-qualified and diverse cadre of instructors and seems to always be looking for more ways to improve its value to the community.

Part of this last quality is the arrival of a new president who has some real-world experience in his background – in addition to the required educational stuff, of course. But, even before his tenure, our little community educational gem launched a new, two-year degree program backed with considerable financial input from our regional grape growers and wine producers. The first year, students learn the basics of how to grow and care for grapes. The second, they learn the basics of how to make the wine.

Two factors make this a valuable addition to our neighborhood. First, students become skilled workers feeding into the more than 80 vineyards hereabouts – so skilled they can be hired at more than minimum wage and employers don’t have to do lengthy, one-on-one training with each hire. Same for the more than 40 or so wineries.

The other major benefit is, if students complete the course wanting to learn more, our little program is designed to lead into two universities less than 100 miles away that offer even graduate programs in the grape-growing, wine-making subjects. What a deal!
As one who hates the hide-bound resistance to change so present in our higher educational systems, I like the smaller, quicker response these community-based schools can provide. And we may be about to see an excellent example of that. Right here!

Our little college is looking at becoming a national leader in – wait for it – drone aircraft maintenance. Drones? Those flying, spy-killing machines? Them? Yep. Keeping those Taliban executioner, pilotless lanes flying could become our newest community college offering alongside nursing, computer science, dietary and auto mechanics.

Our new non-traditional C.C. president got to wondering about that mechanics program. Auto engine repair is now a highly computerized speciality. So, in his mind, if you can fix ‘em to drive, why can’t you fix ‘em to fly? He started making some national contacts and was encouraged by the feedback.

I’m one of those “alarmist” citizens concerned about our privacy when it comes to drones. Spooky stuff that can be badly used. But, as usual, there are some pluses to consider. Drones can be used for traffic control, weather forecasting, geology and mineral exploration, storm chasing and lots of other useful things.

But one special reason why we may see drones buzzing around our tree-covered neighborhood is to spot forest fires. For more than a century, we’ve sent people out in the woods each summer to look for and report fires. If you find ‘em earlier and kill ‘em quicker. Works most of the time.

Sol, suppose you put a couple of drones in the air covering a dozen counties or more. Put some specialty cameras in each and monitor all from a single location. Would seem to me you couldn’t find a smouldering fire faster, determine the size quicker or give the first-attack firefighters better real-time information.

Some timber companies are sizing up this new technology while our little community college leadership is sizing up the possible benefits of getting into drone mechanics training. And not just for Oregon. Kinda like the wine business. You don’t find trained wine workers or good drone technicians looking for work on just every street corner.

So, there you are. Our little one-story, community college seems about to make news in a big way. I’m still a little spooky about the drone business. From a philosophical perspective. Also, we’d have to get used to them buzzing around on test flights and all that. Have to keep more of our clothes on. But I say, “What the Hell? Go for it.”

And if you live in Idaho. I was just kidding about that oceanfront business. You may get it eventually anyway.

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