Young and Old Students

Students Islam Elwefati, 16, and Bob Steffens, 77, sit together at the OSU-Cascades campus in Bend.

Bob Steffens and Islam Elwefati, Oregon State University-Cascades’ oldest and second-youngest undergraduate students, respectively, don’t have much in common at first glance.

Steffens, 77, is studying writing, while Islam, 16, is studying biology.

When Steffens graduated from Corvallis High School in 1960, the Beatles didn’t have a hit song yet.

When Islam was born in Bend in 2003, two Beatles had already died.

Steffens eventually wants to write crime novels. Islam eventually wants to grow potatoes on Mars.

But Islam and Steffens have one crucial thing in common — they’re loving their first year at OSU-Cascades.

“I’m just having a great time,” Steffens said. “This is my next life.”

“I feel like OSU-Cascades has a really welcoming environment, so it was pretty easy to fit in there,” Islam said.

Bob SteffensThis fall marks Steffens’ first attempt to earn a college degree in his nearly eight decades of life.

After graduating high school, he immediately enlisted in the Navy, where he did code-breaking for the National Security Agency. His military work took him around the world, from a remote Alaskan island to Berlin.

Steffens later worked in the marketing department for an aerospace company.

He started his third career once he moved to Central Oregon in 1990, taking a management position at a computer corporation.

After retiring near the turn of the century, Steffens became involved in local politics. He said he was the chairman of La Pine’s chartering committee, helping incorporate the city in 2006.

He served as the chairman for La Pine’s budget committee for the city’s first three years of existence.

Throughout Steffens’ careers, much of his writing was technical and for his career, whether it was analyzing code or penning marketing plans.

But now that he’s retired, he wants to write something different: novels.

“When I grow up, I’m going to be a writer,” he joked.

Steffens’ goal is to eventually get into OSU-Cascades’ master’s degree program for creative writing and start publishing novels. He said he was inspired to write after the 1987 murder of Diana Moffitt, the daughter of a family friend and a prostitute.

“The exploitation of young women really grabbed me,” Steffens said. “Then, I found out about the master of fine arts program last year (at OSU-Cascades), that’s when I decided, ‘Hey, I’m going to go back to school.’”

Despite being older than all his classmates, Steffens said he was quickly welcomed by his younger peers. He frequently studies with them, and they have a lot of fun together, he said.

“The students have adopted me,” Steffens said, laughing. “I’m not the old guy in the corner; they made me part of the group.”

Islam ElwefatiIslam, who was born and raised in Bend, is two academic years ahead of his peers.

The first year he skipped was eighth grade. At that time, he talked with his school counselor at Cascade Middle School about the possibility of jumping to the high school a year early, so he could receive more academic rigor. The school obliged.

“I wasn’t quite being challenged, like the way I want to be,” Islam said of his middle school academic experience.

Islam was thrown into Summit High a year early, which he admitted was tricky at first, socially. But his two older brothers, Taha and Mo, were also at Summit and helped him adjust.

“They had a lot of friends, so through them, I met a lot of people,” Islam said. “It’s kind of nice having your brothers with you through school.”

Islam received his high school degree from Summit at the age of 15 this June, earning his credits in three years instead of four. For college, he decided to stay in Bend and attend OSU-Cascades, partly due to its cozy campus and small class sizes.

The fact that the college was close to home didn’t hurt, either.

“I’m young, so ... a college experience where I’m all by myself, in a completely different town with huge crowds of people, I didn’t want to quite jump into that yet,” Islam said. “It’s like high school all over again, but with more freedom.”

Islam said being younger than most of his classmates wasn’t too hard to adjust to, as he’d already practiced befriending older peers while at Summit. And because he lives in OSU-Cascades’ dorms, constantly seeing people at the college cafe and in classes also helps.

“I just really enjoy living with a bunch of people that are all doing the same thing that you’re doing,” he said.

Islam said he became interested in his subject of choice, biology, through a computer game called CellCraft he played in elementary school. Once he earns his necessary degrees, he said he wants to eventually grow food on Mars for future colonists.

Islam is also involved in OSU-Cascades’ student government, serving as the Student Fee Committee’s treasurer. He said the position allows him to play a role in the young university’s future.

“I know how small OSU-Cascades is,” Islam said. “And I want to be a part of its growth.”

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