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Sept. 21, 2017 La Grande, Ore. − Transfer students, online learners and those attending classes at regional centers across the state have a new educational champion at Eastern Oregon University.
David Vande Pol joined EOU as executive director of Regional Outreach and Innovation (ROI) in July, and already has his sights set on big goals. Vande Pol oversees EOU’s 11 regional centers, its online courses and attends specifically to transfer students.
“The ROI team is unified by a common goal of helping students achieve their educational potential,” Vande Pol said. “More than 80 percent of EOU’s online students are transfers, many of whom are working adults, and ROI staff have a passion for these types of students.”
Vande Pol developed his own passion for working with nontraditional and transfer students as an instructor and advisor at a community college in Phoenix. He later started a company that partners with four-year institutions to provide upper division coursework online.
“I realized working adults weren’t getting their academic needs met,” he said. “We provided 300- and 400-level courses in organizational management so students could finish their bachelor’s degree at a community college.”
Within his first month at EOU, Vande Pol has already taken steps to remove barriers for working adults in pursuit of a degree. He plans to continue conversations with academic leaders to create pathways for online and transfer students.
But on-campus partnerships are just the beginning. Vande Pol hopes to build mutually beneficial relationships with community colleges, private organizations and local businesses across the state. In addition to EOU’s standing transfer agreements, Vande Pol aims to partner with dozens more community colleges in even more coordinated ways.
“I’d like to see us create the type of relationships where faculty from both institutions are working together to make sure academic programs meet the needs of a changing society,” he said.
EOU’s strategic plan outlines goals to increase enrollment across platforms, including an aspirational aim to enroll 5,000 online students annually by 2029. As of 2016, more than 500 EOU students take classes solely online and 60 percent of students take at least some online classes. Vande Pol entered the world of online learning the mid-2000s, and said online and on-campus enrollment often go hand-in-hand.
He also noted that EOU’s regional centers have potential to reach new and current students across the state.
“I’ve been part of several universities, but never one with 11 regional centers,” he said. “I’d like to see our regional centers become recruitment and retention vehicles for online and on-site students.”
Regional center directors and advisors play a key role in engaging students virtually and in person as they work toward academic and career goals. Vande Pol said many of these ROI staff members are already doing recruitment and retention work.
He said leading ROI efforts at EOU is “spot-on” to his career experience, and coming to La Grande has been the biggest surprise of his life.
“I’ve been an urbanite for more than 30 years, so moving to a small town is a big change,” he said. “But it’s been an absolute delight. We’ve found people so gracious and open.”
Vande Pol, his wife and their two dogs don’t miss the hassle of city life, and are enjoying the abundance of local produce and natural beauty in the Grande Ronde Valley. Looking ahead, Vande Pol has high hopes for ROI and the university as a whole.
“I’ve been really impressed with what’s already present at EOU,” he said. “I believe we can make EOU highly recognized — regionally and nationally — as a university that truly serves its students.”
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