by Mary Louise Speer
Whatcom Community College is celebrating 45 years of educating students this year and the “I Am Whatcom” project highlights the stories of people associated with the college through those decades. Published on the school’s website and advertised on busses, the series features personal narratives of students, alumni, faculty, staff and community supporters.
“The story of Whatcom is the story of each individual who is connected to the college,” said Mary Vermillion, Whatcom’s interim marketing and communications manager. “As you look back on 45 years, it’s the story of those individuals.”
Momentum for “I Am Whatcom” kicked off last summer with presentations at the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden and other community events. Vermillion said many people shared thoughts about their connections to the college and why they support Whatcom. “We’ve had a really great cross-section of ‘I Am Whatcom’ stories so far,” she said.
Koichi Hirata is a native of Japan. He keeps busy with his studies and by volunteering in Whatcom’s math lab and Student Life center, as well as serving as a student ambassador. “These are the opportunities that I can get involved in and communicate with a lot of people,” he said.
In his story, Hirata said he wishes international students, like him, could have more opportunities to interact with domestic students.
Stacey McGee, a 2012 Whatcom Community College graduate, said the school acted as the launching pad for her dreams.
Chuck Robinson, a member of Whatcom’s board of trustees, said Whatcom helps to create a thriving, well-educated community where local residents want to live.
Hirata said he hopes his experiences encourage other international students to get more involved in Whatcom. Usually these newcomers are shy at first, he said, adding he was as well after beginning classes at Whatcom in 2011.
“If I show what I can do, then other international students might think about what they can do,” a smiling Hirata said.
He will graduate from Whatcom this spring and he hopes to continue pursuing his education and become a pilot. “If I get a scholarship, I will transfer to a four-year university,” he said. “If not, I will have to go back to Japan. I love this culture.”
Stacey McGee, a part of the All Washington Academic Team, said she wishes her Whatcom experience could have lasted longer. “I really enjoyed going to the school. If I could finish a four-year degree at Whatcom, I would,” she said.
McGee grew up in Alaska and briefly attended college in Anchorage after graduating from high school, she said. She quit school to take care of her best friend who was ill, and decided to move to Bellingham after visiting her sister here. She worked as a nurse’s aide before enrolling at Whatcom.
McGee said Whatcom is a great school, especially for returning students. She plans to finish her education at Western Washington University and is debating becoming a pharmacist. “I’m still figuring it out,” she said.
Robinson said his first encounter with Whatcom occurred years ago when he and his wife Dee were invited to speak to a class. “I’m inspired by students who work hard to achieve, and by the faculty and staff who give so much to help students and to build a strong community,” he said.
The couple owns Village Books and Paper Dreams in Bellingham’s Fairhaven district. Robinson began serving on Whatcom’s board of trustees in Nov. 2005 and has also attended and taught community education classes.
“I hope that Whatcom can continue to serve every student who wishes to come here,” Robinson said of Whatcom’s next 45 years. “Those who want to earn transfer degrees, those who are retraining for the workplace, and community members who are lifelong learners.”
Vermillion hopes to keep adding new ‘I Am Whatcom’ stories even after Whatcom’s 45 year anniversary celebration wraps up in May. “I would love for more students to share their stories with us,” she said.
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