New challenges, new skills

By Douglas J. Guth

Life and learning during the pandemic for a community college student

Before Covid, Brea Nazareno enjoyed the lively campus atmosphere at Oregon’s Portland Community College (PCC), acting as student body president and a Phi Theta Kappa chapter president. Now back with her parents in Vancouver, Washington, Nazareno is completing her administrative duties online.

Nazareno, 23, misses campus as well as taking part in the social justice advocacy so important to her. The aspiring sociology major, whose parents are Filipino, marched early on in Portland following the police killing of George Floyd. Today, pandemic-wrought loss of a youth group facilitator job has her concentrating on the classroom along with her leadership roles.

Nazareno is enrolled in a social justice theory course and two Spanish classes. As the Philippines were under Spanish colonial rule for 300 years beginning in the mid-16th century, Nazareno views the language courses as a way to, as she puts it, “decolonize my own mind and my roots.”

A borrowed laptop from PCC allows Nazareno to complete her studies at a college educating 60,000 full- and part-time students on four campuses via various credit programs and community and international education initiatives. PCC’s CLIMB Center provides professional-quality training and development services for small businesses, health professionals and organizational supervisors.

As a woman of color from an underprivileged background, Nazareno is using her leadership position to lobby for implicit bias training among PCC faculty, while destigmatizing food assistance and other systems designed to help learners in dire straits. She also worries about her standing as a first-generation student, and what it would mean if she didn’t succeed.

“It’s really hard, because my parents fled to the U.S.,” Nazareno says. “If I don’t excel, then them traveling across the sea will be in vain. That’s something a lot children of immigrants battle. We come to college with these hopes for ourselves, then face barriers our parents don’t understand. It can be overwhelming.”

Despite setbacks brought on by the pandemic, Nazareno is applying to four-year institutions on the coasts, with ambitions of working on the social advocacy side of a large tech company.

This article is part of a larger piece featured in the February/March issue of Community College Journal. Check your mailboxes in early February!

Doug Guth
Douglas J. Guth

is a writer based in Ohio.