Sue Mach has a new idea to give people the chance to follow their dreams. Mach is a playwright and has been a professor at Clackamas Community College for the last 25 years. Mach proposed an idea of a “Transition Year” to Tim Cook, the college president, at an 11@11 meeting. Her idea is to have the college offer free or reduced cost classes for incoming students to dip their toes into the college experience before committing fully. Her idea would be available to anyone who has a desire to learn, find their passion, and make a career out of it.
The Clackamas Print: First, would you like to give me a little background information on yourself, what did you do before teaching and anything else you want people to know about you.
Sue Mach: I am a playwright. I work in the theater. Before I was teaching, I did everything in the theater from a little bit of acting, stage managing, then started writing plays. Zooming through my life here, I went to graduate school at Boston University in Boston and got my degree there, then my master’s degree and then came back and started teaching part time at Clackamas in the English department, I was hired full time a couple years later, and I’ve been here for like 25 years.
TCP: Were you born in Oregon?
Mach: No, I was actually born in Wiesbaden, Germany. My father was in the military, he was in the Air Force, and he was stationed there. I then moved around a lot when I was little. My mom was raised in this little town called Chewelah, Washington, which is north of Spokane, Washington, a rural town. So when my dad was in Vietnam for two years, we lived there when he was away, and then we moved to Florida. And then then he retired. He retired from the military at like, 40 years old. Then we moved back to Chewelah when I was in fifth grade, I then graduated from high school and I went to Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, then went away to graduate school, but came back and have lived in Portland ever since.
TCP: What classes are you teaching right now?
Mach: Right now I’m teaching digital storytelling, Shakespeare; I also teach comp classes, you know, the Writing 121s and 122s.
TCP: You proposed a program to Tim Cook at an 11@11 meeting, for incoming students to be able to try classes at a free or reduced price, tell me more about this idea.
Mach: I think Clackamas should put together and advertise a gap year program. It wouldn’t be just for high school students. But let’s talk about high school students first. Some graduate thinking, “I’m not sure what I want to do”. We could create a cohort of people who are who are struggling with this uncertainty. Then, we could sit down with them, and the very first thing we would do is create a digital story. And I’m really into creating digital stories. The cohort members would think and write about change, and then create a digital story and share them with each other. Like if someone said, “I don’t know what to do”. Well, let’s start with a story. In their story if they said, “I really like gardening”. We could say “oh, check out the horticulture class, why don’t you go observe?” Maybe we could somehow come up with ways to offer one free class, so people could dip their toe in, so they can try it. Or if they’re interested in creative writing, and they’re like, “everybody told me I could never make a career out of creative writing,” I would tell them “yes, you can”, you can be an author, editor, there are so many things you can do, and make a living. Let’s give them a year to explore it. A lot of times, people are working full time, but you can be like, you’re gonna dip your toe into this gap year, and if you like plants and creative writing, we can say, “do you want to try both?” Sit in on a few classes, and it’s, no pressure. And maybe within that gap year, you have things like study abroad. So many people are suffering right now as a result of wildfires and pandemics and maybe there’s a volunteer program that we do. You do all this stuff in the year, where you’re sort of trying to figure it out and dipping your toe in academically. There are lots of ways you can make a living and you can make a difference in the world. Call it a transition year, there can be people of all ages. We have all sorts of these programs, maybe you could take one class per term, or just shadow classes and think, is this something I want to do? Is it doable? Can I make a career out of this thing I’ve always wanted to do? My idea would be that you would start out with maybe 15, 16 people, kind of small, and then if this works, let’s build on it. And it could be a signature thing that Clackamas could do and I love that. The classes are already there, the advisors are there, we have these EFA programs, which are our Educational Focus Areas that the college is very much dedicated to working through. And so it’s like, “oh, you’re into the humanities? Take the Creative Arts, Communication and Humanities EFA! The college also offers Business, Health, Industrial Tech and Automotive, Social Science and Criminal Justice, Education, and STEM EFAs. What are you interested in? What do you love?” So that’s my idea. I presented it at one of the 11@11a.. I’m like, “Hey, what do you think”? And Tim was just like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a good idea.” But that’s all, that’s where it is.
TCP: Who would be eligible for this? Or would it just be available for anyone?
Mach: That’s a great question. I think you would just go into the high schools or just put out something like, who would be interested? Just advertise, “We have a gap year program! If you’re interested contact me, or whoever we decided was the contact person.” I’m hoping that it would be super low cost or mostly free. I’m happy to teach the Digital Storytelling workshops for nothing just because I believe in this so much. Like I said, this is still the idea. I don’t know if they would. But I would say, “Okay, if you’re really into this, and you do this, and this and you complete the Digital Storytelling Workshop, or if you see a counselor, you can get a free class or two.” Yeah, that would get you on your way.
TCP: Yeah, that’s so nice. It makes you work for it, but still, there is less pressure.
Mach: Definitely, that’s my thing, there’s no pressure. But, I think because of funding using the completion rate there’s so much pressure that gets put on students to complete, and complete fast! I just want to say, “Stop it.” As a parent, I see my kid. She’s always wanted to be a musician since the age of six. People always told her “Oh, that’s not practical. You have to have a backup plan.” and I’m like “thank God I never did” just do it, do it.
TCP: Would students receive credit for taking this class?
Mach: That’s a great question. We’d have to figure it out through the curriculum committee through hours. I mean, I’m hoping that the student could receive credit. Yeah, that would be great. The year would be exploratory, and it’s very gentle. You could also meet with financial aid people. it’s a year of just figuring it all out, with help.
TCP: I love this. If there was some sort of community that you could build within a school and figure all that stuff out? I could just see the success rate being fantastic.
Mach: Yes! A lot of times when you’re doing your financial aid, there’s that deadline, okay, but what if you figured it out the year before? Or even in like, here’s how to step by step by step, so then when the deadline comes It’s not this heart attack, you’re just good, you’re gonna do this. You got it. Like I said, there’s no pressure. Maybe by the end of the gap year, you might have one or two credit classes under your belt. Maybe by the end of it, you’re like, “Okay, I’m going to reduce my work to 30 hours and take some classes halftime” Or maybe you’re like, “Oh, I can do this. I got it. I’m gonna dive in” and you can quit that job you hate and dive in and go to school, you know?
TCP: I had read an interview that you did with Willamette Week. You said, some words that you live by are “the only way out is through.” Do you believe this mantra is one that goes hand in hand with the program you’re proposing?
Mach: Yeah, absolutely. I say that to my daughter all the time, everything that you fear, as a writer, staring at the blank page building. I don’t know, the only thing to do is start writing, right? What is my life? Your life is a blank slate, and the only thing to do is put your foot in and start walking through it. And I really, really believe that.