His name is Earl

by Kelly Sullivan
HORIZON Reporter

A “Nixon Now” bumper sticker, a crumpled and tattered dollar bill, a picture of a young girl, a picture of a cabin on an undisclosed lake, all posted on a bulletin board. A cluttered desk, a middle aged man sitting and grading papers. Not an uncommon scene at Whatcom Community College, or other college campuses across the nation. However Earl Bower, political science and history teacher at Whatcom, is anything but a common man.

Few of those who know Bower can or will deny, (except perhaps Bower himself), that he is a man of many talents. Earl Bower has been here at Whatcom since 1975. “I drove in on a foggy day; I followed the signs to NW Road Facility, interviewed at Whatcom, and afterwards went to Maury’s.” The rest is history.

As an instructor, Bower stands at the front of his appointed, non-descript classroom and speaks to his students with respect. His voice is boisterous, but engaging. Bower allows and encourages free discussion between his students and himself during lecture.

Bower is passionate in his profession, an interest that stemmed from his early days growing up in Wenatchee, Washington. His ancestors came west in a covered wagon, which influenced his interest in the Pacific Northwest and it geography.

Bower also explains that this family history, coupled with the fact that he grew up in the dynamic political climate of the 1970s inspired gravitation towards an education relevant to the revolutionary decade. This manifested itself in a bachelor’s in political science and a master’s in history from Washington State University.

Before he chose this course of study, Bower had been an aspiring music major after graduating from Wenatchee High School. He feared, however, that this would result in directing “the Quincy Jack Rabbit Band,” and after graduating in 1968 he applied to Whatcom Community College in 1975 because he wanted to teach, and, “I wanted time off in the summer.”

Some may have seen Bower around Whatcom exhibiting his amazing abilities with the guitar. Bower has been playing since the ripe age of 15, attributing his initial inspiration to take up the instrument from his father Bower who was a small town music director.

As a boy, Bower would play instruments in church, including the woodwinds, saxophone and clarinet, but also filled in on bells, bass drum and electric guitar. “I always like to look back with fond memories,” Bower said of these times from his childhood.

His expertise is in Bossa Nova and Choro, which are challenging styles of Brazilian music. Bower is well-versed in classical technique, but prefers jazz which allows him the freedom to venture from the emphasis of “playing how the composer wrote it,” which Bower stated is dominant in classical music.

“Earl Bower performs with wonderful artistry and professionalism. I know for a fact that he has sacrificed many a daily hour and many an evening rehearsing and performing for our college,” said Ben Kohn. Kohn, who is a German teacher at Whatcom, is also a long time friend and colleague of Bower’s.

Bower can be found on campus performing with whoever desires his accompaniment. He has played with the Chamber and Collegiate Choirs, and all three of the language clubs on campus. At the end of last quarter, he played at the world languages’ Winterfest with the German Club.

Bower also plays with Kohn and Chris Roberts, both instructors at Whatcom Community College. They play in a variety of styles, from German Cabaret to French jazz.

“Earl Bower is very modest, but is really an amazing musician,” said Kohn. “He is very accommodating and professional, and very generous with his time.”

Bower said of the trio’s dynamic, “Ben is in charge of showmanship, Chris is in charge of musical taste, and I’m in charge of plugging the amp in and making sure every one wore their trousers.”

An interesting fact about Bower is that he has been rumored to have a history of wearing vibrant Hawaiian shirts. “I’ve never been to Hawaii” said Bower.
When asked about the “loud shirts” Kohn said, “He may have occasional lapses in fashion aesthetic.” Kohn however, admitted to owning a few himself.

Bower is unsure of his next campus performance. “No doubt we’ll turn up playing somewhere,” he said.

Kohn’s answer was a little more precise, however. “He doesn’t know it yet but he will be accompanying the German Club at International Night,” this event will take place in late February. Additionally, Kohn is going to schedule him for an intimate classroom performance of 1920s music for his students the quarter.

Aside from his dedicated time at Whatcom, Bower enjoys working with his wife at their summer cabin in Chelan. He has four children, and recently played at his daughter Mckenzie’s wedding along with Kohn and Roberts.

He can also be found in the big barn on his property with his collections of antique cars, motorcycles and model airplanes.

“Anything a 10 year-old-boy would enjoy,” Said Kohn.

Bower for the record, is not a fan of Nixon, but clarifies the bumper sticker was a gift from a student one year. He has kept his first dollar bill, one he found behind his barn during his childhood. If you are presented with the chance to get to know him grasp onto it, Bower is full of stories and memories from a fruitful life here in the Pacific Northwest, and is an important part of our community here at Whatcom.

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Financial aid, Work Study threatened

by Matt Benoit
HORIZON Reporter

A revised Jan. 14 State budget draft by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire threatens to eliminate $6 million in student financial aid and suspend the state’s Work Study program beginning in the fall of 2010.

Although the Governor’s initial budget was to cut more than $146 million from the State Need Grant, which provides financial aid for students, the restoration of any funding stops there. Perhaps the most damaging effect of the cuts for Whatcom Community College lies in the suspension of State Work Study, which would cost the college nearly 100 positions and over $238,000 from its operating budget.

“The impact would be devastating to the college,” said Patricia Onion, vice president of administrative services at Whatcom. “Work study students are strong providers of service to students.”

Those student services that would likely be affected include the financial aid, business, and student life offices, as well as the library, tutoring center, testing center, entry and advising office, registration office, and even the custodial and grounds department. Ninety-nine positions would be lost overall.

“Those Work Study students are tour guides,” she said. “They’re the first ones that students often contact.”

Whatcom’s financial aid office currently employs five Work Study students working an average of 15 hours a week.

The Learning Center, which provides academic help and tutoring to Whatcom students, has about 10 of its 70 tutors who are Work Study-eligible, Learning Center director Dean Hagin said in an e-mail.

Hagin added that those students receive awards of between seven and 19 hours a week, allowing the Learning Center to save around $30,000 over the course of one year.

If Work Study were suspended, Hagin said the affected students would not be let go of, but rather have their earnings shifted into the Learning Center’s part-time/hourly budget. This would necessitate their budget being increased to cover the additional wages. If the budget could not be increased, Hagin warned, the Learning Center would have to “significantly reduce the amount of academic support” offered.

Onion echoed that sentiment with regard to the affect on student services. “We would probably reduce the number of hours that we’re directly serving students in certain areas,” she said.

Onion added that if that were the case, the college might opt to move several off-campus internships from federal Work Study funding to positions in “critical areas” at the college, likely diminishing the number of Cooperative Education students currently working with local school districts.

Cuts to financial aid, meanwhile, would leave some of Whatcom’s most financially-challenged students with only federal Pell Grant money and the option of taking loans.

Students would also be affected to a lesser degree by the elimination of the Washington Scholars and WAVE (Washington Award for Vocational Excellence) scholarship programs.

A final version of the budget will be passed at the end of the State’s legislative session in mid-March.

A student rally opposing the cuts is to be held in Olympia on Feb. 15.

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Wolff Comes to Whatcom

by Matt Benoit

Make no mistake, he said: a true piece of writing is a dangerous thing. It can change your life.” –Tobias Wolff, from “Old School.”

Over a month of community events surrounding this year’s WhatcomReads! book, “Old School,” will come to a close at Whatcom on February 8 with a visit from award-winning author Tobias Wolff.

Wolff, a Stanford professor, is perhaps best known for his 1989 memoir, “This Boy’s Life.” The book chronicles his childhood and adolescence, part of which was spent in the rural Skagit County town of Concrete, in the 1950s. The book was adapted into a film in 1993 starring Robert De Niro and a young Leonardo DiCaprio as Wolff.

“Old School,” published in 2003, tells the coming-of-age story of a teen at an all-boy’s prep school in New England during his senior year of 1960 to 1961, and the consequences of his actions in trying to win a writing contest before Ernest Hemingway visits the school.

This is the second year of the WhatcomReads! program, which in 2009 brought Sherman Alexie to Whatcom County for several speaking engagements with local high schools and colleges.

The aim of WhatcomReads!, as stated on their Web site, is “a community-wide reading and discussion program intended to encourage all Whatcom County residents to read the same book and create a county-wide book club experience.” It was modeled after the Seattle Reads program, which began in 1998.
Last year, the Bellingham Public Library and its partners won a $15,000 Big Read grant from the National Endowment for the Arts after establishing the program in 2008 with two federal grants totaling $14,000.

As for why “Old School” was chosen to be read, Whatcom library director Linda Lambert said the selection for WhatcomReads! was influenced by the possibility of a Big Read grant, the purpose of which is to revitalize the role of literary reading in American culture.

“It costs a lot of money to put on programs like these,” said Lambert in an e-mail. “None of the libraries on this committee are resource-rich…so we have to fund raise.” Lambert added that Wolff’s appearance cost $5,000 plus expenses.

General criterion for selecting the book states that the author must be available to visit Whatcom County and be an “interesting and engaging” speaker. The book must have a general appeal for many types of readers as well as “cultural, historical, or local appeal.”
The WhatcomReads! committee, which makes the decision, is made up of about 20 representatives from a number of community organizations including Whatcom, Bellingham Technical College, the Whatcom County Library System, Western Washington University, the Northwest Indian College, and Village Books among others.

Lambert said a core group of seven or eight members, including herself, attends every committee meeting and carries out the necessary work, which includes public relations, as well as the “read and release” portion of the program, in which several hundred copies of the chosen book are released “into the wild,” where anyone can read them and then either pass them on directly to another person or leave in a public place. Six-hundred copies of “Old School” were designated for release throughout Whatcom County.

In addition, Whatcom has two copies of the book available for checkout from its library. The Bellingham Public Library also has an audio tape of the book. Those interested in finding “wild” copies can go to www.bookcrossing.com and find the WhatcomReads! profile.

In addition, there are two writing contests, several film screenings, as well as book and plagiarism discussions held at locations throughout the county. “Personally, I liked that there were some interesting spinoff activities we could do,” said Lambert.

Lambert said she actually enjoyed Wolff’s memoir “This Boy’s Life” more than “Old School” due to it not only being true, but because it has many references to Whatcom and Skagit counties, including Wolff stealing from a Bellingham drug store.

Still, she liked the book. “I must admit that one reason is because it’s about my generation and the authors that were popular in the 60s—[Robert] Frost, Hemingway, Ayn Rand,” she said. “Also, the whole idea of a boarding school for boys, a school that is consumed with literary fervor, is such an anomaly in my world. I loved learning about it.”

-Editor’s note: The Horizon attempted to contact Tobias Wolff for an interview but was unsuccessful in doing so. Wolff’s visit to Whatcom will be on Monday, Feb. 8. He will speak in the Syre Student Center Auditorium from 7:30 to 9 p.m. The event is free and will be open to the general public.

What faculty and staff are saying about “Old School”

Bob Winters, division chair for arts and humanities at Whatcom, said Tobias Wolff’s novel sent him on an enjoyable nostalgia trip.

“Having been a student in a graduate fiction writing program myself,” he said in an e-mail, “I recognized the bravado and banter, the posing and back-biting, the deeply hidden ambitions and insecurities of being a young writer among other young writers. The protagonist’s struggle to discover an honest voice was deeply perceptive and accurate—it had to have come from Wolff’s own experience.”

Although Winters said he was disappointed by the last two sections of the book, which to him felt disconnected from the rest of the book, he’s recommend “Old School” to students, especially those who are “young, gifted, literary-minded.”

“It has lessons to offer,” Winters said of the book, “that might not be learned so pleasurably in personal experience.”

Many faculty and staff said they’d also read Wolff’s memoir, “This Boy’s Life,” and really enjoyed it. Ron Leatherbarrow, vice president for instruction at Whatcom, said he thought Wolff drew on a lot of the same material for both books.

“The memoir is a very painful account of adolescence, a challenging time of transition under the best of circumstances,” he said in an e-mail. “The novel captures a good deal of the pain of Wolff’s life, but the focus is more on the educators in his life and not the home life. I think it’s a good choice as a college-wide read because the content and the themes have impact for all of us.”

Ara Taylor, who runs the circulation and reserve services at the library, said her favorite parts of “Old School” were the ones which focused on the odd interactions the narrator has with some of his classmates.

“There are some vivid characters,” she said, but added that she was not particularly taken with the portrayals of Robert Frost or Ayn Rand, two of the three famous authors in the book.

Heather Williams, who works in the library as the technical services assistant, said she connected to “Old School” because she really enjoys writing, as well as the notion of meeting famous authors.

Williams said she’s personally had the privilege of meeting science fiction author Neil Gaiman, and looks forward to seeing Wolff in-person, whom she says touches on a lot of universal themes for people, including “wanting to be somebody and not really figuring out how to do that.”

Williams added that she identified with the main character’s case of writer’s block. “He’s always thinking about writing but not actually doing it,” she said. “If you’re a writer, you just need to sit down and write.”

A number of community events are scheduled for both before and after Wolff’s Feb. 8 appearances at Western Washington University and Whatcom Community College:

Jan. 27
3 to 4 p.m.
“Old School” brown bag discussion with WCC library staff members Ara Taylor and Linda Lambert in Cascade Hall, Rm. 104. Chocolate, cookies, and drinks provided.

4:30 to 6 p.m.
“The Art of Plagiarism,” a student and faculty panel discussion exploring the “appropriation, homage, and ‘borrowing’ in art.” At Western Washington University in the Wilson Library Presentation Room (WL164).

6 to 7 p.m.
“Old School” book discussion at the Sumas Library.

Sumas Library
451 2nd Street
Sumas, WA

Jan. 28
7 to 8:30 p.m.
Discussion of works by Robert Frost at the Lynden Library.

216 4th Street
Lynden, WA

Jan. 30
1 to 2:30 p.m.
“Old School” book discussion at the Blaine Library.

610 3rd Street
Blaine, WA

Feb. 1
7 to 9 p.m.
“Old School” book discussion at Village Books in Fairhaven.

1210 11th Street

Feb. 4
7 to 8:30 p.m.
“Old School” book discussion at the Lynden Library.

216 4th Street
Lynden, WA

Feb. 8
7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Tobias Wolff LIVE—“Old School” author Tobias Wolff will give a free presentation in the Syre Student Center Auditorium at Whatcom Community College.

7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
“Old School” book discussion at the Lummi Island library.

Island Library
2144 South Nugent Road
Lummi Island

Feb. 17
6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

“Old School” book discussion at the Fairhaven Library.

1117 12th St

Feb. 21
4 to 5:30 p.m.

Author’s reception for winners of the “Deception” student writing contest for WhatcomReads!

Village Books
1210 11th Street

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Down but not out

by Reed Klein
HORIZON Reporter

Every seat is filled at the 8:30 a.m. Dislocated Worker’s orientation in downtown Bellingham, where men and women of all ages listen to a promising alternative to unemployment: Worker Retraining.

Brian Davidson, Worker Retraining coordinator at Whatcom Community College, talks briefly at the orientation about who is eligible for receiving free tuition for college classes in a new career field. Anyone who has lost their job due to a plant closure, layoffs, foreign competition, or lack of demand for their skills, or an unemployed or underemployed person dependent on an income of another but is no longer supported by that income, is eligible. This also includes vulnerable workers who work in a field that is not in demand, like masseuses or automotive factory labor.

Davidson and others within state-funded job training organizations have been working to remodel people’s skills or create new ones to help spring the unemployed back into the workforce.

Since 2007’s mortgage crisis started to appear, programs such as Worker Retraining have had a surge of activity. Enrollment has increased more than 200 percent in the last two years, Davidson said.

After surviving four rounds of layoffs from a pharmaceutical company, Peter Moore was finally laid off in January of 2008. He is now part of that surge in enrollment.

Moore thought he would be able to get another pharmaceutical job. “I looked for six months, and there was nothing in my field,” he recalled. He is married with three kids and found himself suddenly paying healthcare insurance and worrying about putting food on the table. “There was no way I could make it happen.”
Moore had always liked healthcare and nursing was always in the back of his mind, he says. “I didn’t think it was feasible, though,” he said. “It’s a catch-22: I had to have new skills to get a job, but I had to have a job to pay for the new skills. I was pretty much in dire straits.”

But Brian Davidson and Worker Retraining could prove otherwise. After signing Peter off for Worker Retraining state-aid, Davidson set up a plan that would get him his degree. “Brian was incredibly helpful. Not only did he expedite me into the program but he gave me advice along the way.”

When Moore thought he was down and out, without a job or money to pay for new skills, Davidson stepped in with $1,100, allowing Moore to continue his education. “That was huge,” Moore recalled with a sigh.

Being laid off or part of a declining industry is a common profile for students within the program. Construction, warehouse labor, timber industry, and real estate are just some of the backgrounds people come from to seek new employment.

Steve Cope, a former employee of ALCOA in Ferndale, lost his job in the massive layoffs of that company in October 2008. The aluminum company was losing money daily as some of its major buyers, like Toyota, were cutting back production. Cope, now a student in Worker Retraining, saw some logic in going back to school.

“The medical field is recession proof,” Cope said. “I’m getting my degree as a physical therapy assistant. Plus, when the economy is really back to normal, I’ll probably be able to get a job wherever I want.”

Some are even seeking new skills on top of their old ones for jobs that require their employees to keep up with “greener” industry standards.

Through the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, the state provides money to each Worker Retraining program based on the previous year’s enrollment within that program and the unemployment rate of its respective county. The money is often not enough.

According to the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), all but two Worker Retraining programs during the 2008-2009 year exceeded their budget. The two that didn’t exceed their budget still used 100 percent of it. Although the programs are allowed to carry over leftover funds from past year’s budget, the enrollment trends show that there will be nothing left for next year.

This year’s allocation is already spent, Davidson said, and there is nothing left to cover spring quarter. “The same thing happened last year,” he said, “I don’t know how we did it. It was magic.”

The program is supposed to cover all expenses of the student seeking new job training: transportation, books, lab fees, etc. But the only way Whatcom can successfully meet their budget is to cut these benefits and provide only the cost of tuition.

But the program gets results. According to the SBCTC website, the Worker Retraining program gets positive feedback from 90 percent of its graduates.
“Here, let me show you something,” Davidson says as he walks over to his desk to pick up a jar of plum jelly. He explains that an elderly couple that had recently gone through the program gave him the handmade jelly from their own tree as thanks. “It’s about helping everybody,” Davidson said.

For most students retraining is a sobering trek down a new path. The program itself is stressed by certain classes only offered in certain quarters, making it a potentially long wait for someone freshly laid-off and seeking training in a field that is not offered until next fall.

“Some of these people are making $60,000 to $80,000 a year…. It is a whole lifestyle change that can be very difficult,” Davidson says. “Navigating various bureaucracies; managing to put food on the table; rent!”

“Being laid-off really plays with your emotions,” wrote Katherine Carmichael, a full-time Worker Retraining student in her second term of the Medical Billing and Coding program, “especially your sense of self-worth. It is easy to feel as if you are in the position of retraining because you failed at what you did before.”
Carmichael remains optimistic though, seeing Worker Retraining as “an opportunity to grow, and to be better off in life than I was before.” Advisors like Davidson, she explained, have a deep understanding of an unemployed individual’s experience, which gives her tremendous support for success.

“I’ve never turned someone away,” Davidson said. “If you know someone who is laid off, start asking questions, because there can be a lot of help – better to ask and move forward than spin your wheels. Come see me.”

Moore hasn’t completed his nursing degree yet, but he is confident about the results. He is encouraged by WCC – “a higher quality of instruction and instructors. Their dedication to students is really high,” compared to his first college experience at University of California at Santa Cruz.

For most students and community members alike it is reassuring to have something to fall back on. But the idea, Davidson says, is to have to go to school only once, not twice.

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MLK Human Rights Conference

by Reed Klein
HORIZON Reporter

You don’t have to wake up too early to hear some of the most influential human rights activists in the nation at Whatcom Community College’s Syre Center. The 12th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Conference started at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, the 16th, kicking off a day of human rights awareness and workshops.

The speakers and the content are different each year, but the community is never disappointed. During the commencing ceremony the crowd sang “We Shall Overcome,” the diverse voices resounding in unison against the high ceiling of the auditorium.

Cynthia Zaferatos, who has come every year, sees the conferences as vital to the future of the community. “Equality across human classes won’t happen until we are aware of what is preventing it,” she said.

There were many surprised faces when James Bible, the day’s first speaker and last year’s keynote, brought a 14-year-old boy on stage.
“The youngest person ever to be given a life sentence was one year younger than this young man. Barry Massey, at the ripe old age of 13 was given a life sentence right here in Washington State. He was still afraid of the dark.”

Bible, head of Seattle’s NAACP, emphasized the importance of the example his generation sets. “What our children do is ultimately what we teach.”
Gerald Hankerson, the keynote speaker, took the stage next. The crowd listened with rapt attention as he explained the story of his imprisonment sentence for life at the age of 18 and his perspective from inside the high walls of Walla Walla’s state prison.
“The guys next to me were saying that dying was an advantage,” recounted Hankerson. “All I had to look forward to was some forty years isolated from the world and then dying. I had to get busy dying or I had to get busy living.”

Hankerson devoted himself to being an outstanding model prisoner who eventually gained release in April of 2009. “Although I’m out, I am still not free,” Hankerson said. “Freedom means I’m able to get on a plane without being judged by my skin color. Freedom means I am not questioned about the neighborhood I am from. No matter what the laws are, inequality is still in many people’s hearts and minds.”

Emanuel Cabrera, a 17-year-old from Nooksack High School, was inspired and joined in the loud, standing ovation to Hankerson’s speech. “As a young teenager these kinds of things could change your life,” said Cabrera. “It’s good to be around positive influences. It’s better than being on the streets. I think if a lot of kids could see this then it could help their situation.”

That is exactly the idea, said Barbara Rofkar, Whatcom Human Rights Task Force co-chairman and a coordinator of the conference. “People often feel overwhelmed by their own lives. Sometimes getting out of your own world and seeing others will better put your situation in perspective and may inspire you to really make a difference,” she said.

Following Hankerson’s speech was the workshops and an opportunity to get free food from Great Harvest Bread Co. and a $5 lunch special on Thai food. People nibbled on bagels and chomped over plates of Thai noodles as they attended short seminars on everything from language barriers to the war on drugs. Dave Nichols, former Superior Judge for Whatcom Community and one of the workshop’s instructors, considered the conference as momentous.

“The major changes in history come from the young generation stoking the fire on important issues,” he said. “Awareness is always first.”

Jeff Shaw, North Carolina Justice Center’s Director of Communications and the afternoon’s keynote speaker, is hopeful for the results of these human rights conferences. “I think the new generation is working hard, and understands the issues we face better than my generation does,” he wrote in an e-mail before the conference. “I talk to younger people and they have an understanding of, say, critical issues on race and gender that’s far beyond what my understanding was when I started doing this work.” The turnout of Cabrera and numerous other teenagers is encouraging to activists, and always provides good incentive to come back next year with even more difficult issues.

To Shaw, “That’s cause for optimism, to be sure.”

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The official student newspaper of Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington