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LA GRANDE, Ore. – Embarking on a journey with her classmates through the bustling heart of Portland, EOU student and Pendleton, Oregon native Addison Bonzani experienced the rush of city life for the first time.
But getting here was not a simple process. Two powerful forces conspired to make her adventure possible: the Urban-Rural Ambassador Institute and the indomitable spirit of Scott Fairley.
The Urban-Rural Ambassador Institute is a collaborative effort between Eastern Oregon University (EOU) and Portland State University (PSU), giving students from both schools residential field trips to learn about commonalities and differences between Oregon’s communities.
The program aims to build a critical framework for understanding the nuances of the state’s urban-rural “divide.” Students from both universities participate in discussions with an array of elected officials and community leaders while building relationships among themselves and with people in different parts of the state.
“Portland State and Eastern Oregon students are co-enrolled in this class to learn about specific issues,” said Tim Seydel, Vice President for University Advancement, who helped launch the program with former EOU President Tom Insko.
“There are a lot of similarities in the demographics of PSU and EOU students: working, nontraditional, first generation. This is an opportunity for them to collaborate, to effectively experience first-hand the similarities and differences both urban and rural areas share.”
Each year the institute delves into key topics, including transportation, housing, food production/scarcity, healthcare, natural resources, and more.
This was Addison’s first exposure to a variety of issues and opportunities dealing with public transportation, both in Portland as well as in La Grande.
“The class demonstrated how issues of urban and rural areas are similar, but manifest differently,” Bonzani reflected. “I had never been to Portland before this trip. And, while I don’t want rural areas to become urbanized, we can take lessons from larger areas to build solid infrastructure in our rural communities.”
“We started discussions about a program to help close the urban-rural divide in 2017 and welcomed the first cohort in 2018. We wanted to make it a model for programs in other areas to bridge similar gaps,” Seydel said. “Scott just loved the idea of connecting students from different parts of the state on a common topic.”
Scott Fairley spent his career working to connect communities with resources through the Oregon Governor’s Office programs, including Regional Solutions and Business Oregon.
“When the governor began organizing Regional Solutions divisions across the state, we were eager to be a part of the program. We provided office space on campus for their staff and that’s when I started working more closely with Scott,” Seydel recalled.
Fairley was raised in Pendleton and dedicated himself to helping people and communities. According to friends and colleagues, he truly understood rural and urban issues and served the public across the state and in his hometown throughout his life. He unexpectedly passed away in December 2020 at the age of 53, but his legacy continues.
“He was such a kind, good person. He always found possibility instead of impossibility,” Seydel said.
“I knew Scott for several years before his passing,” Bonzani reminisced. “My sister and I worked in his home and occasionally walked his lovely dogs, Truman and Pearl!”
Scott was described as a devoted family man who was heavily involved in his community and his hobbies. He graduated from Pendleton High School and the University of Oregon before beginning his career in public service. Scott worked for the Department of Transportation, and Department of Environmental Quality served as an ombudsman in the Oregon Governor’s Office, and served on Pendleton’s City Council and Planning and Airport Commission.
Upon his passing, a colleague of Scott’s established a memorial scholarship at EOU to honor their urban-rural collaborations and their friendship.
“We are honoring Scott’s legacy in eastern Oregon,” Nate Lowe, Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, shared. “The responses we hear from students who take the course is that it far exceeds their expectations and that it has led them to better appreciate the nuances and complexities of diverse communities in the state. This scholarship supports more students building bridges of understanding.”
“I know the good he did in his life, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to receive this scholarship,” Bonzani shared. “He would have been so happy to create this opportunity for students like me. I’m grateful that even years later, Scott is instrumental in teaching me valuable life lessons.”
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