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Staff at Oregon Coast Community College weren’t sure if they were shooting for the stars when they sought independent accreditation. But now, after six years of hard work, they are ready to party.

The second annual Pearls of Wisdom benefit on Saturday, March 7, will give them a way to relax and celebrate their success among friends and supporters at the Central Campus in Newport. The evening will include exclusive, behind-the-scenes views of several degree programs, a banquet and entertainment.

It is also a fundraiser for students like Haley Dean, who is getting foundation support to take her research to NASA.

“I was a kid who went to OMSI every year,” she said. “I had half of the hemisphere mapped in glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling.”

But the stars aligned in a way that wasn’t what she had pictured. As a young woman she became a single mother of two boys, struggling to hold down two jobs in Portland.

“Finally, my parents asked me to move to the coast so they could help me,” Dean said. “It was the best decision I could have made.”

The extra support gave Dean the space she needed to sign up for classes at the OCCC.

“At first I just planned to finish my bachelor’s in teaching just to pay the bills,” she said. “But then I signed up for a class called Environmental Science from a Geological Perspective, and my life changed again in ways I’m still not always able to wrap my head around.”

The instructor, Bill Lilley, gave Dean a packet for the Oregon Space Grant Consortium award, which funds independent research by transfer students, and planted the seed for the study of micrometeorites, a field only about five years old at the time and not being done at the coast.

“Most collections had been on rooftops,” Dean said. “I didn’t want to just follow other people’s work. I hypothesized that we could find material with remnant magnetism on the beach using magnets and I was right. We found tons of it.”

Haley prepared the award proposal for “Project Stardust; the search for micrometeorites on the Oregon coast,” then prepared to have it lost among the roughly 10,000 other submissions.

Instead, she won.

“Dave Price, OCCC director of marketing and community engagement, posted on the OCCC twitter feed about the project and award and Dr. Mark Fries, cosmic dust curator at NASA, saw it and contacted the school offering help.”

Dean sent him her proposal but then didn’t hear back.

“I reached out again,” she said. “No one ever got something by just sitting around.”

The effort paid off and Fries again asked if there was anything NASA could do to support Project Stardust.

“The college has a high-powered electron microscope but nothing that would give us the mineral composition of the micrometeorites,” Dean said. “So I proposed hand delivering some of our samples and using their equipment.”

Lilley applied for OCCC Foundation funds for travel expenses to support the project, an example of the possibilities available to students who dream big.

Dean has now been accepted into OSU Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences Program and has been encouraged by staff at NASA to apply for an internship.

“My kids are my top priority but I’m still moving forward,” she said. “I make them help me with my project but they aren’t that impressed to be honest; they were more excited about my NASA stickers.”

Pearls of Wisdom is a celebration of success stories like this and a star shot toward the future.

“On this evening we shine a spotlight on the incredible accomplishments of students at OCCC,” said President Birgitte Ryslinge, “also on how the college’s vibrant programs are relevant to all of Lincoln County.”

The event is happening just a month after OCCC earned independent accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Previous accreditation for the 33 years of programs offered at the college came via other institutions like Portland Community College, and graduates received diplomas from those schools.

Independence gives the college more direct control and the ability to create programs tailored to meet specific needs and opportunities in Lincoln County. Faculty will be empowered to make determinations about resources and the college will maintain and manage federal financial aid for students from Lincoln County.

Hosted by the OCCC Foundation, Pearls of Wisdom begins with tours and demonstrations in the areas of Aquarium Sciences, Early Childhood Education, Chemistry, Art and Nursing. Guests will enjoy adult refreshments and appetizers as they visit different areas of the campus.

Following the tours and reception, guests will gather for dinner provided by Side Door Café and a program featuring the voices of students, faculty and alumni. A paddle raise will begin after dinner and provide another fun opportunity to support the college. Price will guide the evening’s festivities and likely has a surprise or two up his sleeve.

“We’ve worked so hard alongside our supporters to achieve the goal of independent accreditation,” Price said. “It’s wonderful that our second-annual Pearls of Wisdom is coming when it is, so the community can join President Ryslinge and the rest of us in celebrating this critical milestone in the life of Oregon Coast Community College.”

Tickets are available at oregoncoastcc.org/foundation. Only 100 tickets will be sold by advance purchase only. The evening begins at 5:30 pm at 400 SE College Way.

For more information about Pearls of Wisdom or the OCCC Foundation, contact Kathy Andrews at 541-867-8532.

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