Teacher takes unique route to classroom

Mitch Lies/For the Capital Press Joleen Schilling, pictured in Chemeketa Community College's teaching gardens, is working to align the school's horticulture program with Oregon State University's so students can transfer credits.

SALEM — Joleen Schilling frequently tells her students that it’s all right to deviate from a career path.

“It’s not a straight path,” said Schilling, who began teaching in Chemeketa Community College’s agricultural sciences program in September. “That’s what I tell my students all the time. You don’t have to take a straight path through life. You can deviate.”

Schilling bases her comments on experience.

Although she knew at the age of 15 that she wanted to work with plants, Schilling deviated at one point into the environmental sciences, even getting a master’s degree in the field from Oregon State University and working for the Corvallis Environmental Center for a brief stint.

“I quickly learned that nonprofits are not for me,” she said.

Schilling has a bachelor’s degree in horticulture science, also from OSU.

She discovered her love for teaching while in the graduate studies program at OSU.

“I had a graduate teaching assistantship that helped pay for my graduate degree,” Schilling said, “and when I worked my first class, Biology 101, I thought: ‘This is amazing.’ That is when I realized I could combine the two, horticulture and teaching.”

Schilling went on to teach part-time at Linn-Benton Community College while working full-time at Garland Nursery in Corvallis. Then in 2011, Schilling spent a year working full-time in the agricultural sciences program at Linn-Benton, filling in for the chair, who took a one-year sabbatical.

“That is when I made it my goal to find a full-time teaching position, knowing that that is what I am passionate about,” she said.

Finally, in July of last year, Schilling had her full-time teaching post, taking over for horticultural instructor Gail Gredler, who retired after seven years in the post.

Joel Keebler, director of Chemeketa’s agricultural sciences program, said Schilling is a good fit to continue and expand the horticulture program that Gredler started.

“Joleen has been deeply connected with the nursery industry in the Willamette Valley for more than 10 years,” Keebler said, “and we are very excited about the experience and energy she brings to our up-and-coming horticulture program.”

One of Schilling’s first tasks, Keebler said, is to create a bridge between Chemeketa’s horticulture program and OSU’s so students can transfer agricultural science credits from Chemeketa to OSU.

The community college’s horticulture program currently offers only an applied science degree, one that is designed to prepare students for work, not for transferring credits.

“We see a good potential for growth in our horticulture program in connecting with Oregon State University,” Keebler said.

Schilling said she welcomes the challenge.

After all, she said, one thing a circuitous path teaches those who traverse it is an enthusiasm for embracing challenges.

“It feels sometimes surreal,” Schilling said, when asked how she feels about obtaining what she calls her ‘dream job.’ “I didn’t take a very straight path, which makes me feel pretty lucky.”

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