Oregon State University Libraries and Press

Miriam Orzech Oral History Interview, February 13, 1980

Oregon State University

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´╗┐IF: First of all, when and where were you born?

MO: You really want to know when?

IF: (Laughs) Yes!

MO: I was born March, 1931 in New York City.

IF: How did you come to Corvallis?

MO: During the second World War, my family moved to Oregon. I finished high school in Portland and started College in Portland, at Reed College. Then I went down to the University of California at Berkley to finish up. There I met my husband to be. We got married down there and we were looking for a permanent place to settle we thought it would be nice if we could be near my parents, since his parents were abroad. But not too near my parents! Corvallis was 90 1:00miles from Portland, and it seemed like the right distance. Not too far, but not too close. So, we came here and we just stayed.

IF: When did you become involved with EOP, or the Educational Opportunities Program?

MO: Well, the Program was founded in 1969, here on campus, and that's when I became involved with it. I was one of the first people hired by the director, who was hired a couple of weeks before I was. I happened to be in the right place at the right time, I guess. I pursued a long standing interest that I had had, which was in the area of academic advising and help to minority populations. I had finished my Master's degree here on the campus in June, there was a lot of talk about establishing a program of this kind at this time. So, I went after it.


IF: What was the purpose of the program when it started?

MO: Basically, the same as it is now. Some of things that we do and some of the subfocuses have changed, but the basic program is still the same. This is to find minority students, make it possible for them to enter the University, and make it possible for them to succeed and graduate. Sounds like nothing in a nutshell, but it is a lot of work for a lot of people.

IF: How many students were in the program when it started?

MO: 42 or 43.

IF: Were they from all over Oregon?

MO: Mainly they were from Portland. That was because the program was established at the end of the school year, in June. The mechanism was set up to have such a 3:00program. A committee was established to find a director. Well, that took until August. He was hired in August, I and another person were hired in September. School started in the end of September. Between August and the end of September, this gentleman had to go out and find students. He was from the black community in Portland, so he had sources there and referrals. He was able to go out and literally within a month, recruit a student group. The group was not entirely Black, but white students, Chicanos and a Native American or two. But in that short amount of time, it was amazing that he could get 40 students for college.


IF: Were there any disadvantaged, like handicapped people?

MO: Physically handicapped, no.

IF: How was the Program funded when it started in 1969?

MO: I think out of somebody's paper clip fund. I'm not kidding, it was established after the University budget had been established for the year. So there was no line item for EOP. But the program had to be established and to find salaries for two people and a secretary and administrative funds, etc.. So, 5:00about $18,000 was gathered together from, I don't really know where, but various Deans kicked in funds. That's how the program got started. Since then there have been constant additions to the budgets.

IF: What were your impressions about the program, did you think it was going to be successful?

MO: I didn't really think about that at the time. There was an overwhelming job to be done and I had a part of it. I just jumped in and started doing it. I wasn't being director. It wasn't my job to worry about things like that, obviously, we all did though. But, that was somebody else's task to worry about that. I think all of us in the program then felt that it had to be successful. 6:00It was one of those no choice situations. We knew there were too many people who were just waiting to see it fail. Not to see us fail, particularly, but to see the students fail, the whole program fail. You have to remember that when we started in 1969, this was the tail end of the civil rights movement, with the cities burning down and all the rest of it. So, there was a lot of political activity and political awareness and hostility and all kinds of emotions floating around. Today, there are lots of people who would love to see EOP evaporate and go away someplace. But, now we are solidly established and there is no way that we're going to disappear.

IF: What did you do originally in the program?


MO: Originally, and actually throughout most of the time that I have been associated with the Program, except for the last few years, I did what amounts to academic advising to individual students. I set up an academic assistance program which involved a series of developmental classes, what some people would call remedial classes, but we don't call them that. What we call developmental classes in study skills, reading, vocabulary building, English language skills, math, etc.. Additionally, I set up a tutoring program that evolved into a full scale learning center, which we now have. There I tried to find individual 8:00tutors for students who came in and asked for them. So all that, coupled with a lot of personal counseling, which goes on all the time, severe personal problems or routine personal problems.

IF: Was the University faculty very cooperative when it came to working with the Program?

MO: Some yes, some no. Those who were very much in favor of establishing the program to begin with, who were politically aware and concerned about the situation that American minorities face, we could always call on them for all kinds of assistance. Not only the kind where we would send an individual student to a professor either for a problem or a career counseling kind of thing. Or, 9:00teachers that we knew would be sensitive to having students in their classes and would make an extra allowance in view of a language problem or if a student wasn't as well prepared, rather than simply applying standards arbitrarily and blindly. So there were a lot of people who were very helpful.

Also, the Program was established by the faculty senate; that needs to be remembered. The faculty senate said to the administration, in effect, we think that it is important that we have such a program established. So the administration established it. But since it was the faculty senate that was the impetus, there was established at the same time a special committee of the faculty senate to help the Program get established and through the bureaucratic 10:00tangles that we knew would be right there and to provide some guidance for the program and oversight. That committee was called the special services committee of the faculty senate. It does and did all of the things that I mentioned.

IF: So, in this position as academic advisor, you got to work directly with the students most of the time?

MO: Yes.

IF: Were you ever involved in recruiting students into the Program?

MO: Yes, some of them. But that wasn't the prime responsibility that I had. I went along mainly because I wanted to see what the process was, what kind of problems occurred. For the first two or three years there were only two or three people on the staff so we all did everything, pretty much. Except for the 11:00teaching. I didn't do any of the teaching at that point. I have recruited on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. I've been up at Portland at some of the schools with predominantly Black populations. I've been at church organizations for meetings with parents. I've been in Chicano recruiting situations. I've been in all of them. But that was never my prime responsibility.

IF: Has the number of students in the Program increased over the years?

MO: It increased steadily over the first five, six years from about 40 to 180. Then there was a quantum jump to about 200. It even went up to 225 one year. It's been right around 200 for the last five years. We're hoping next year we will go up to about 250. We're making a great effort to get more students.


IF: Has the scope of the program broadened since it started?

MO: Very definitely. At first we were primarily concerned with getting students here, convincing minority students that this was an OK place to come to school. That sounds like a simple thing, but you have to remember that OSU and Corvallis together never had a good reputation among Oregon minority populations. There was never any minority person or minority athlete on any of the basketball teams until about '70 or '71. Football wasn't quite in the same situation. Minorities felt that they weren't welcome here, at the school or in the town. There was no 13:00resident minority population in any of the three groups, Indians, Blacks or Chicanos. When students came here, they felt very much alone. In fact, in the first year or two we used to have meetings with students in this program. To try and find out how they were feeling here. Students were very uncomfortable, extremely uncomfortable. They felt that when white people smiled at them it was false, that they didn't really want to know them, that it was just kind of a way of saying "Well, I'm smiling at you, I'm friendly, but don't come too close."

When they were in class they felt that they were the one on view because it almost always happened that they would be the only minority in the class. So, 14:00the subject would come around to what Black people thought about something or another, the teacher would say "John, what do you think?" Then John, being the only Black student, would have to then be in the position of speaking for all the Black students. The same thing happened to the Indians and Chicanos. They all felt very uncomfortable. As a matter of fact, that is still a problem on this campus. Although the Program has grown, so has the student body, and proportionally things haven't changed. Most of the time any one minority student in a particular class that you may want to pick out is the only one there, unless it happens to be an EOP taught class. Students still feel that they need to be the spokesman. They don't like it, it makes them feel very uncomfortable.

But the question that you asked me was about the scope of the Program. When the Program first started, that was the major focus, to try to get students to come. 15:00Then we were greatly occupied with working through that bureaucracy, the red tape that I spoke about. The admissions, the financial aid, a lot of procedures had to be worked out, a lot of rules and regulations. For instance, one of the things that were set up was a modified admissions standard for EOP students. So, that a student that didn't meet the admission requirement at the time, which was at 2.25, had some way to get into the University if the student could convince us that there was academic potential. That had never existed, that mechanism had never existed before so we had to work through all that. Now, 11 years later, it's a routine part of the admissions mechanism of the University. So, now we 16:00don't have to hassle it each time, we just have to apply it.

The other focus that we had was helping the students survive. Help academically, help them get through the mill, how to get through the system, how to work with the system. Now, 11 years later, things have really changed. Most of those bureaucratic hassles are routine now. Students are succeeding. They are getting better prepared and a lot of our work with them is in finding special opportunities that will enhance their academic programs, internships, special summer jobs, credit for this, that or the other things. Helping them to apply to graduate programs, helping them find good post-graduate jobs, those kinds of 17:00things. We help them to become less present oriented and more future oriented.

IF: When was the learning center created?

MO: 1973, I think.

IF: What services does the learning center offer?

MO: The learning center is primarily a tutorial resource. There is a full time coordinator there and that simply evolved out of my need as academic coordinator, which I was at that point. I was trying to do all the academic advising for the students which by then numbered around 150, and locate tutors. These tutors volunteered their services because we didn't have any money to pay them. I also set up these arrangements in addition to everything else. The 18:00number of students that we were doing this for, it was just impossible for one person. I just multiplied the job on myself, so we just had to do something else. I got support from the Dean, who at that time was Stuart Knapp (Dean of Undergraduate Studies), to set up a separate office, get some work study students to help me with this. Eventually that position just grew and multiplied for over 200 students and more people using the tutorial service, there's just much more to it. So, we have a coordinator at the learning center, who is a regular staff member. In fact, the coordinator is one of our graduates and works about .7 FTE. That person has work study students to assist her, each term they 19:00set up about 60 tutorial arrangements.

IF: Does EOP sponsor any extracurricular events?

MO: The ethnic student unions are under-the responsibility of the student services end of the University. BSU, CSU, Native Americans Student's Association, are student clubs, so they come under the student body government. I encourage my staff members to take part in this organization, some of them function as advisors. As such we don't sponsor that, though I try to encourage people to participate. The only extra thing that we do, are not in the sense 20:00activities that you had in mind, but extra things that we do for and with the students in recognition of their achievements or needs. There are two major things. We have an honor roll banquet or luncheon to honor those students who made either the University honor roll, which is a 3.5 for 12 graded hours, or the EOP Honor roll which a 3.0 for 12 graded hours. So there is always that kind of activity. Then, for new students during new student orientation each year we have a student-faculty retreat. We go off for a day and a half in the mountains and work and play and talk together. The aim of this being to get the students relaxed and comfortable with one another with our staff, administrators, helper 21:00types. In other words, people that they might need to know on campus to find out what some of the resources are, what some of the pitfalls might be.

IF: When did the retreats start?

MO: 1972 or 1973. They started with a $1000 grant from the Danforth Foundation. It was so successful and was such a good experience there, that we then applied to the OSU Foundation, because the Danforth was not renewable. Each year since then the Foundation has funded it.

IF: So you've participated in these retreats pretty regularly?

MO: You bet! In fact, it is a required activity for our staff. Unless somebody has an overwhelming personal problem or is sick or something, the entire staff takes part.


IF: When did you become director?

MO: 1974.

IF: What changes in the program have you initiated in the program since you have become director?

MO: I don't think I've really initiated any changes. I was involved in the evolution of the program from the beginning. I feel that most of the academic end of the program was my doing. The learning center was definitely my creation although I wasn't director at the time. The retreat was also my brainchild. The establishment of the ethnic student union or cultural centers was also my brainchild, again through a grant from the Dan-forth Foundation. It grew 23:00gradually into three separate centers for the three ethnic groups. So, I don't think I have made any substantial changes since I've become director, but I hope that I've brought some stability and some visibility on campus. Maybe the Newsletters are one. I don't remember when the first one came out or when we did it. But, I was certainly one of the people pushing it each time.

IF: Does EOP operate out of Oregon State only? Are there similar organizations around Oregon?

MO: Portland State University has one that is similar to ours, in fact, it's modeled after ours. They had a two year program that was highly unsuccessful and they finally abolished that and re-did their program along the lines of ours. 24:00The University of Oregon used to have a program, but it had great political problems with it for a variety of reasons. Now they have nothing. They have ethnic minority students, but they do not have any program, really, to help them. Southern Oregon College has a very small program like ours with a director. It is very small, 20-30 students. Eastern Oregon State College has a program which deals with Micronesians and Chicanos. They have a very capable director. Community Colleges don't really have a program, some of them have minority counselors for just EOP type students. Others have not much of anything, it really depends on the commitment of the administration.

IF: Do you still find time to advise and counsel students?


MO: I think that it is extremely important for a director of a program like this not to get removed from the students. So, although counseling is not my prime function, most of our counselors who work at least half time in the program will have a case load or counseling load of somewhere between 30-40 students. I couldn't begin to handle that. But, I usually have two to five students and I'm available to any students at any time for a problem if they want to come in. They can come either on their own or on a referral from one of the counselors.

IF: What are your duties as Program Director?

MO: To make sure the Program runs smoothly and efficiently, so that students continue to come in. To remove the obstacles, whatever they are, from the staff, 26:00so that they can do their job. Also, to make sure we have enough resources, mainly financial, to do the job that we need to do. Seek extra sources of money, seek extra supplies, make sure that we are meeting the needs of the students.

IF: How large is your staff now?

MO: I think now we have 15-16 people. About five or six of them are full time, the rest are part time, three are graduate assistants.

IF: What are the number of students involved in EOP now?

MO: We have just over 200 students.

IF: Are you really pleased with the effectiveness of the Program?

MO: Yes and no. The Program has obviously grown, it's on solid footing. I think it has a pretty good reputation on campus. It has an excellent staff, capable, 27:00well qualified. But, I think the Program can do a lot more. I know it can be bigger, I think it is important to make these opportunities more widely available.

IF: Do you get a good feeling of satisfaction from your work with the Program?

MO: I sure do. It is very satisfying. We're obviously not successful all the time. We have some real down times. But when I see students going off to graduate school, especially when I hear that they've graduated from grad school, or going off to good jobs, that has to be a good feeling. When I see our graduation list grow from year to year. We had 29 students graduate last year. 28:00We expect something like 40 this year. That's a good feeling.

IF: What plans are you making now to continue the success of the Program?

MO: We have, this year, increased our recruiting substantially. I hope we have 250 or more students, but it is a little too early to tell. We have a problem with financial aid, making sure there are students that get enough aid to come to school, that we are now working on. I haven't had anything encouraging to say about that score right at this minute since we're right in the middle of the problem. I'm trying to organize the graduates of the Program into being active in helping the Program. In fact, last year the graduates did form an alumni 29:00association. But, we haven't been able to get really active. One of the newest projects I have, which I'm hopeful will bear fruit, is a fund raising campaign to raise money for the extra programs that we would like to do with students, like this retreat and so forth. I'm not sure that we can continue to depend forever on the Foundation, so we're going to go out for some of our own money. Also, we're going to try to raise some scholarship funds for students that have financial aid problems. So, I'm getting just now in gear to mount a campaign.

IF: Sounds like you have the world by the horns!

MO: I don't know about that, but it is a rewarding place to work. It is 30:00frustrating as hell sometimes, but it is never dull.

IF: Thanks a lot Mrs. Orzech, it's been a real pleasure talking with you.