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Jan Oliva is a believer in the vital role Clark College plays in Clark County and Southwest Washington. The community volunteer is leading the college's $20 million fundraising campaign — the most ambitious in the school's 80-year history.
Oliva and Robert Knight, president of Clark College, announced the launch of the Ensuring a Bright Future campaign at a Wednesday night dinner for donors. So far, the college has raised almost $17 million toward its $20 million goal. The last time the college embarked on a campaign was the early 1990s.
Money raised in the campaign will be used to enhance scholarships, health care programs, science, technology, engineering and mathematics education, as well as facilities including the Oliva Early Learning Center, Firstenburg Family Dental Hygiene Education and Care Center, and a STEM facility to train students entering STEM professions including health science programs.
Oliva's connection to Clark goes deeper than chairing a committee. As a young teacher hired to teach ninth-grade social studies and English at Lewis Junior High School in 1965, Oliva, who had been teaching in Oregon, discovered she needed to take a Washington state history class in order to attain her Washington teaching certificate. She found her answer at Clark College.
"I can remember walking onto that campus nearly 50 years ago," Oliva said. "Clark College plays a key role in training the workforce. That little requirement is typical of many professions. The community college is the answer to getting that training, whether it's something to do with the education world or the legal world or the medical world."
Some years later, Oliva registered her 3-year-old toddler in the college's preschool because "the preschool program at Clark College was the place to go," she said.
Even more years later, a gift from Oliva and her husband, Steve, funded the first phase of the Oliva Family Early Learning Center at the college.
"Now I can take Mature Learning classes," Oliva said. "Clark College can touch you at every single stage of your life; no matter who you are or where you are, Clark College meets the needs of the community. That's my passion for Clark."
The Clark College Foundation began the fundraising in 2010. A 2008 comprehensive needs assessment and a 2009 feasibility study determined that the community would support bolstering the community college's ability to meet regional economic and workforce training needs while also broadening access to students.
"The community's response was that the economic climate makes the training necessary. We heard from the community that the need is here. Now," said Ara Serjoie, senior vice president of the Clark College Foundation.
"State funding is no longer enough," Knight said. "Just over $3 million — that's all we have left to raise to reach this campaign goal."
Serjoie agreed. "In a landscape where government is continuing to lessen its contribution in education, private donations are needed not just to survive, but to thrive."
Even in the recession, Serjoie has observed that 'in good economic times and in bad economic times, the people who see the importance of philanthropy and the value of education, they do it."
"Clark College was started during the Depression," Oliva said. "People took a risk. I'm hoping people will step forward and do this now."