Erika Strauser’s science class at Summit High School received a guest lecture from Oregon State University-Cascades engineering professor Rebecca Webb on Tuesday afternoon.

The main purpose of the collaboration was teaching energy systems engineering. Strauser and Webb also hope the class would become more excited about OSU-Cascades’ engineering major.

“Because the university campus is so new, I think that it’s just not even on a lot of kids’ radars,” Strauser said before the lecture. “To put it right in front of their faces is great.”

OSU-Cascades, which opened its doors in 2016, is trying to raise its name recognition among local high schoolers. The university’s approach includes having professors lecture in high school classes, hosting workshops about college applications and building relationships with high school college and career counselors.

Strauser’s class showed how difficult that can be. After Webb’s lecture, Strauser asked whether anyone planned on staying in Central Oregon for their post-high school education, and only a couple of students raised their hands.

Strauser said many of her students prefer to apply for out-of-state colleges or the larger OSU campus in Corvallis.

According to Bend-La Pine school district statistics, nearly six times as many graduating seniors in the class of 2018 planned to attend OSU’s Corvallis campus over OSU-Cascades, and the University of Oregon was also a much more popular choice. Even the out-of-state Boise State University had more Bend-La Pine graduates planning to attend.

Brittany Preston, the university’s director of admissions and recruitment, is leading OSU-Cascades’ outreach. She has worked in similar departments at the University of Colorado-Boulder and Gonzaga University in Washington.

Preston said partnerships like Strauser and Webb’s are common. Professors have demonstrations in their field of expertise, from computer science to natural resources, at various Central Oregon high schools. The university hosts middle schoolers participating in computer science events, like the Make-a-Thon in December.

OSU-Cascades also holds financial-aid nights in high schools from Madras down to North Lake County and Gilchrist, where students and parents can learn how to file for financial aid and find scholarships.

Nearly 500 parents and students attended 12 financial aid workshops this school year, OSU-Cascades spokesperson Christine Coffin said.

Preston said she and her staff have visited high school classrooms to talk about the college search process.

“It’s about relationship building, because it gives students someone they can reach out to when they have questions about how much the process works,” she said. “There’s so much they don’t know, and we want them to realize there’s a lot of people to help them.”

Preston hosts college essay workshops, where students learn what to write and not write in their application essays, as well as college application workshops.

In those, high schoolers act as a college admission committee, and Preston brings them fake applications, showing students how universities look at the submissions and “de-mystifing the whole process.”

“This helps them see, ‘Oh, this is how they read my essay, and if I talk about this, this is what they think about me,’” she said. “They learn about grade trends, the importance of choosing good classes.”

Finally, Preston said she’s fostered close partnerships with high school college and career counselors.

Anita Moore, the college counselor at Bend High School, praised Preston for going “above and beyond” in making students aware of the opportunities at OSU-Cascades, particularly regarding unique majors, such as outdoor leadership and hospitality management.

“Those programs are piquing interest in a lot of students,” Moore said. “They don’t have to go very far to get state-of-the-art education in areas that they’re interested in.”

Rick Kroytz, Sisters High School’s college and career counselor, said he takes ninth-graders to visit OSU-Cascades’ campus, along with Central Oregon Community College. The new presence of a four-year university in Central Oregon has become enticing to some kids.

“When it’s here and they can see it when they’re driving in Bend … it makes (college) more real, it makes it more tangible,” he said.

OSU-Cascades could be beneficial for students who can’t afford out-of-state tuition, or would simply miss Bend after leaving, Strauser said. She said one of her former students went to OSU in Corvallis to study engineering, became homesick and switched to OSU-Cascades after a year.

“If he would have felt like, ‘There’s this great opportunity for me here … and I could still do the things I love, like skiing or mountaineering, and I don’t have to travel far, because it’s in my backyard,’ then he wouldn’t have had to go through that heartache,” Strauser said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854,