The Student News Site of Central Oregon Community College

The Broadside

The Student News Site of Central Oregon Community College

The Broadside

The Student News Site of Central Oregon Community College

The Broadside

Rocking Out with Gina Vanderburg: Her Path of Perseverance

Submitted by Gina Vanderburg
Vanderburg at her graduation from OSU Cascades in 2017, celebrating the culmination of more than a decade of college coursework

Gina Vanderburg always wanted to be a country music star, but when she found out she was pregnant at the end of her senior year at Bend High, she dropped out of school to focus on finding a job and raising her son.

Vanderburg, a human resources specialist at COCC, beat the odds despite her challenges as a teen mom without a high school diploma.

Her first connection with COCC was at Bend Senior High School, where she took a culinary class through COCC for college credit.

“After the dream of becoming a country music star expired,” Vanderburg laughed, “I went on to wanting to be some sort of chef. Specifically in baking.”

Vanderburg landed a job with the Bank of Cascades in Bend, Oregon where she stayed for nine years, working her way up from bank teller to branch manager.

But at 28, Vanderburg realized that without an education, she’d gone as far as she could in her career at the Bank of Cascades.

In 2003, Vanderburg began taking classes at COCC, “Then, pause… 2005, 2006, pause again. 2010, big pause. Back in 2014 and finally stuck it out until graduation in 2016,” Vanderburg said.

“Sometimes as a student, I felt like, why does all this stuff happen? I feel like a lot of students are in that situation. It can make you super depressed, and whatever the case is, I think a lot of students are going through the same thing.”

Vanderburg continued to juggle the responsibilities of being a young mom, work, and homework the best she could, but school always seemed to be the last priority.

“I just worked a lot. I tried to take a college class here and there, but it was too much with having a small child, working full time, and sometimes working an extra job here or there…. I tried, but I failed miserably. A few times when I was a student, I’d ask myself, do I take care of my son, or do I finish this class?”

Vanderburg, now a human resources specialist at COCC, was once a student on campus, juggling single motherhood and other responsibilities while trying to complete her degree. (Christina Mclaughlin)

It wasn’t until Vanderburg gave her full attention to school that she began excelling in her classes.

“There were times when I just had to throw in the towel because I was just too far behind or sometimes because of financial aid. I was like, if I don’t quit now and I fail the class, I’m going to lose financial aid… I was strategic in quitting. At times, I paid for classes but I never finished.”

One of the biggest lessons Vanderburg learned while attending COCC was how to be a better communicator, especially with her instructors.

“I’m sure it just looked like I was failing a class and didn’t care, so I thought, Why would they give me anything or do anything to help?”

Vanderburg adopted new communication tools and styles based on what she learned from her instructors and fellow students.

Vanderburg also learned how to be more open with her instructors. She leaned on supportive staff members like Mike Artus, a communications professor at COCC, and Lynn Hart, who worked at the COCC library when Vanderburg worked there as a part of her work-study.

Hart, Vanderburg says, “Was really engaged with the students… She could tell if you were having a bad day, and she’d pick up the phone and call financial aid with you.”

Mike Artus, who passed away in January, taught public speaking, interpersonal communication, small group communication, and listening.

“He was just encouraging and genuinely excited for everyone,” Vandenburg said.

While raising her son, and attending classes at COCC, Vanderburg also participated in a work-study for the District Attorney’s Office Victim’s Assistance Department, quickly discovering that a career in social work wasn’t for her.

In 2017, Vanderburg completed a Bachelor in Science from OSU Cascades, attributing her increased confidence to the skills she learned at COCC and her education, especially after getting her GED.

Gina Vanderburg posing outside of The Barber Library at COCC (Christina Mclaughlin)

“Some jobs have very specific minimum qualification in some sort of degree or an equivalent in experience … “Getting a degree has made it easier to fill out that credential when I was applying for things, versus, ‘Please look at my experience, and lack of anything else.’ It’s made a bigger impact on applications,” she said.

Vanderburg’s advice to her younger self at COCC would be to utilize the campus more, “I wish I would have just come to school and done my studying here, did my note taking here, reviewed things before classes here, and utilized the library instead of coming to class directly from home. I would have spent more time connecting with the physical things available here. Even like the track and the gym,” she said. “Just getting away from home, and being here on campus would have helped me.”

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About the Contributor
Christina Mclaughlin
Christina Mclaughlin, Staff reporter
Christina McLaughlin is a staff reporter and photographer for The Broadside. McLaughlin attended The Culinary Institute of America in New York, is a dual citizen of the U.S. and México, is a mother of twins and enjoys both competitive and recreational sports. A returning student, she is currently studying journalism at COCC in pursuit of her dream to write full-time.

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