An essay by Dr. Jennifer Sasser, gerontology program director, was published in the International Journal of Reminiscence and Lifelong Learning in January 2015.
Olivia Yeung has graduated from Marylhurst University twice. She dreams of using her communication and business degrees to help people and organizations better learn how to live and work in sustainable ways. Yet she never planned to go to college.
The daughter of a single mother in a low-income home, college was something that seemed unattainable. But there was always the desire to learn.
"My mom is the ideal lifelong learner – always learning and reading, listening to NPR," Olivia said. "She instilled the notion of continuous learning in me."
From PCC to Marylhurst
Olivia found her way to Portland Community College, and then to Marylhurst University, where she earned a BA in Organizational Communication in 2009, and completed her MBA in Sustainable Business in 2012. A Chinese American, Olivia is the first in her family to attend college and earn a degree, all while working one or two jobs and helping her mother care for Olivia's two younger siblings.
She fully credits her mentors at PCC for helping convince her that a bachelor's degree was within her reach, and for helping her apply for and win a prestigious Ford Family Foundation scholarship to help her make that higher education goal more achievable.
"Seeking help, having people support you and see the potential in you – that makes all the difference," Olivia said. "And I think that's what educators do."
She chose Marylhurst to continue her education for very specific reasons.
"I wanted to attend a private school, a place I could 'own' my education, and not just be a number," Olivia noted. "I think what makes Marylhurst different is that the instructors really feel like every student has something valuable to add. The instructors were always great at pulling things out of me that I didn't realize were valuable to contribute to the learning environment."
Degree brings empowerment
So how has a college education changed her?
"There's a certain empowerment that comes from earning a degree," Olivia observed. "It's not an expectation that doors will open, but an understanding you'll have the opportunity to open doors on your own. It's about expanding your options."
In spring 2012, Olivia was named one of Portland Community College's "Diamond Alums," celebrated as one of 50 outstanding graduates as the college celebrated its 50th anniversary. She frequently returns to PCC to speak and to support other students who are working hard to make it through college. In the meantime, Olivia continues to expand her role as Marylhurst University's mentor program coordinator, connecting students with alumni mentors.
"I've learned through working with students and alumni that I love to see potential in others the way folks at PCC and Marylhurst saw potential in me," Olivia said. "We're in the business of creating futures. It's so gratifying. If I can be a part of that in even the smallest way it makes the work I do here meaningful."
And perhaps most meaningful is the influence she's had on her own family.
"It just takes one person in your family going to college to break the cycle," she commented. "I now have skills and knowledge that I can share to help my siblings succeed in their lives. Seeing that family member in college encourages families to strive more, to see the value in education. It sets the tone for generations to come."