After six weeks of classes, the first session of Bend Polytechnic Academy, known colloquially as “Bend Poly,” will conclude this evening with a series of group presentations and a graduation ceremony. The program was designed by creator Bruce Cleveland to bring college students and recent graduates from various backgrounds together for a series of classes on digital marketing.

Cari Baldwin, president of the Bend-based marketing agency Bluebird Strategies and chief instructor of the program, said Bend Poly brought in a variety of industry professionals to teach programs like Marketo, Salesforce and Nanigans.

Alex Spearman, one of the members of the digital marketing class, is a senior at Hawaii Pacific University, where she is on track to graduate in December. On the eve of Bend Poly graduation, Spearman fielded questions about her time at the program. Her responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How did you find out about Bend Poly and what drew you to the program?

A: The program sort of fell into my lap in a way. So just through networking and also through having a strong interest in marketing. I wanted to find outlets where I could expand my skill set. For me personally, my degree was definitely more on the creative side, so I wanted some real-world skills that I felt were a little more applicable to the job market today.

Q: What was your class schedule like?

A: Tuesday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. For most days, it was one speaker with one topic and we really dove in to get that expert knowledge. Because these weren’t just people coming in; these were experts in their fields. Our first class was with (Marketo co-founder) Jon Miller, who is, you know, the founder of digital marketing. So he kicked the class off and I think that energy really kind of took us the rest of the way.

Q: Were there any particular classes or programs that you learned about that stood out?

A: One that really stood out to me, we had a (search engine optimization) class. That was so in-depth that I just don’t know that you’re going to get it anywhere else, unless you’re working in that industry and you have 10 years of experience.

Q: Have you encountered a lack of focus on real-world experience in school?

A: The program at my school is really great, fundamentally speaking. But I think overall in higher education, we see a little bit of a lack of the vocational skills that you need to successfully transition from graduation to the job market. When you have a vocational skill, it’s going to take you a lot farther.

Q: Tell me about your experience in Bend.

A: My dad and his family live here in Bend, and have for about 20 years. I love Bend, and I’ve been coming twice a year for the last handful of years. But this is the first time I’ve spent a good chunk of time here, and there’s definitely something very special about Bend.

Q: Would you recommend the program to people?

A: Hands down. For me personally, it’s really only brought positives. I think, at the heart of Bend Poly, it’s about student success.

Q: Any job offers so far?

A: Yes! I accepted a job with Cari (Baldwin) at Bluebird Strategies.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818,