Learn Like A Pirate
Avast ye students! Climb aboard and batten down the hatches, as we chart a course on the high seas of higher learning. We’re talking, of course, about the hallowed halls of Orange Coast College – home of The Pirates, ye brandishers of Orange and Blue.
Since 1947, Orange Coast College has served local students in their quest to attain skills, discover passions and transfer to four-year universities. With a Costa Mesa history that spans almost 70 years, Orange Coast College is hands-down our most storied, local, collegiate institution.
Anyone who’s lived here for any length of time has either attended OCC, or has plenty of friends who have. It’s a cornerstone of youth culture and hands-on education, here in Costa Mesa. We swung by the campus to get a taste of modern-day “Coast” – and an overview of how they’re furthering life and learning in today’s age.
Founded in 1947, Orange Coast College Has All The History of a Distinguished Learning Institution – With The Modern Amenities Desired By Today’s Students
photographer: brandy young
Our first stop was to meet up with Orange Coast College Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Juan Gutierrez, for a brief overview of the college and comprehensive tour of the campus. Gutierrez – a smart, sharply-dressed and affable guy – was more than happy to spend the morning talking ‘college’ with us. His Pirate pride clearly runs deep; all the way down to his bright, orange socks.
“I want to start with some facts Costa Mesa might not know about their local college,” said Gutierrez. “We serve over 23,000 students per semester; that’s a lot of learning. We’re also the Number-One Transfer Community College – transferring more students to four-year universities than any other community college in Orange County. We are so proud of that.
“If you look at the Community College Score Card, which is a metric we’re all graded on, it shows that more than 70% of our students complete what they hoped to accomplish. We’re Top Five in the number of programs we have here; so basically, you can achieve whatever you want to do at OCC.
“Say you want to come here and hone your skills for the job market – get some technical education, get a certificate – you can do it. Or maybe you just want to save some money, get the first two years of college done, and then transfer to that four-year university you have your eye on. Well, this is the place to come.
“We have something for everybody here. Even ‘lifelong learning’ classes for the folks that are retired, or not retired. Someone who just wants something to do over the weekend. STEM camps over the summer for kids ages middle-school and younger.
“Really, if you want to learn it, we probably have a program to help you. I know that’s super ‘macro’ but we’d be here for hours if I detailed every little thing. You’ll see what I mean when I drive you around the campus.”
Through Juan’s Eyes: Gutierrez Beams With Enthusiasm For Orange Coast College – And The Pirates – As He Tours I Heart Costa Mesa Around The Campus
photographer: brandy young
In anticipation of the tour, we’d worn our walking shoes to the interview – but we were soon very grateful Gutierrez had suggested piling us into his zippy, little golf cart. Orange Coast College is HUGE! A sprawling, 164-acre campus that stretches as far as yer eye can see. With so many departments and building and programs and students – and the hustle-bustle of construction zones being razed or reconstructed – we were thankful to have a top-notch tour guide.
Everywhere we looked, the campus was being modernized, optimized, digitized. It was clear that, despite their long history and considerable comfort level within the community, Orange Coast College does not plan to take their future lying down.
“You know, community colleges sometimes get a bad rap,” said Gutierrez. “The old stereotypes that only low-performing, low-achieving students attend. Or that ‘you’ll be here forever’ and stall out. I have two things to say to that. First, your success rate completely depends on how hard you work and how you use what’s at your disposal.
“Orange Coast College has considerable resources. We have a thriving honors program. Student services are great. We have programs for veterans and foster youth. All of this leads me to Point Number Two… our admissions is 100%. And when you take 100% of students – when you make room for everyone who wants to be here – well, on paper your success rate is not going to look like a university who’s only admitting the top 3% of all students who graduate high school.
“But you know what? We’re so good with that. Our mission is much different from a university. They are primarily research institutions. We’re in the trenches, getting people into the work force – or on to the next level of learning – any way we can.”
We saw examples of this boots-on-the-ground solidarity in education all over campus. People of various backgrounds, skill sets and ages, partnering up to further mutual employment or educational goals. Like the curated art show in the Art Pavilion Gallery, or the way the Horticulture Department xeriscaped the Chem Building – or how students intently whispered their way through assignments in the Computer Lab or spotted each other through lifting sets in the Fitness Complex.
College President Dennis Harkins (Pictured Below With Einstein) Firmly Believes Education Is What You Make Of It – And That The Faculty And Staff Of OCC Are Why It’s Such A Unique, Successful Learning Institution
photographer: brandy young
We were fortunate to get the chance to meet the man at the helm of OCC, President Dennis Harkins. Running the show at the college for over six years has been a meaningful experience for Harkins, who has great respect for his students, along with big plans for the future of Orange Coast College.
“Orange Coast College is a place where people can dream and then see their dreams materialize,” said President Harkins from his office on the east end of the campus. “It’s a great place for students, faculty and staff members to work and achieve. I am constantly amazed and impressed by what happens here. The Sailing Center, Performing Arts, the Culinary Program… just to name a few. Yesterday, I was congratulating our Speech Team on their second National Championship. There’s always something to celebrate on our campus and I’m proud to go out and do it.
“It’s my opinion that we have the best of students. Unlike many who traditionally go straight to four-year universities, our students have more complex, multi-faceted lives. They have greater responsibilities, but also great aspirations. It’s a pleasure to watch them as they mature and progress through their education. OCC students are some of the best-prepared, academically, in the state. I think it’s because they take specific ownership of their goals and run with them.
“Nearly anyone who lives in Costa Mesa can benefit from an association with Orange Coast College – either through coursework for personal interest to plus their career, programs to help their children, or the means to pursue advanced skills when they retire. We have a spectrum of activities and a very broad student base. Anyone who’s in the area can find something to advance themselves personally, professionally or academically at Orange Coast College – and I think that’s unique.”
“I would love for everyone in Costa Mesa to connect with us in some way,” said Gutierrez. “Obviously, as a community college, we are always in need of funds. So if any of your readers can donate to the foundation, that is wonderful. But we just want more local folks to engage with the college. Come to our restaurant. Come to our sporting events. Come enjoy some performing arts throughout the year. Serve on an advisary board. Volunteer to tutor. Visit our new planetarium when it opens in a couple years.
“Or come and take a lifelong learning class. Take a culinary arts class. Come try something new. Where else can you learn from instructors of this caliber for less than $50 a unit? That’s a really good deal. We hope Costa Mesans will take us up on it.”
President Harkins has a more future-based, yet equally-moving message: “Orange Coast College has a long history of serving the local community and many of the people in Costa Mesa are part of OCC in some way. We have a high respect for that DNA – that lineage as both a college and a community.
“At the same time, as we’re ever-nearing the 100-year mark, we’re recognizing the need to have a broader vision for the next 100 years. We need to be persistent and work together to be able to make this city the type of place we want it to be for the next 100 years – for our children, our grandchildren and the Costa Mesans yet to come.” ♥
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