Photo of the latest RARE cohort outdoors with green trees and grass and arms raised in joy.

RARE Profiles from the College of Design

At the College of Design, there is a "rare" opportunity for graduating students and alumni looking to gain professional experience and make a difference in Oregon's rural communities. The Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) Program, an AmeriCorps program administered through the Institute for Policy Research and Engagement (IPRE), has been engaging and working alongside rural communities since 1994 to improve their economic, social, and environmental conditions. Linking the expertise of staff and faculty within IPRE with the resources of the University of Oregon, RARE members have access to tools and resources that ensures a one-of-a-kind service experience that is hard to match anywhere in the country. 

"Providing a topnotch service-learning experience while providing critical human capacity to our rural community partners is all a part of the RARE experience and the reason for our success," explained Titus Tomlinson, RARE Program Director and RARE alumni from years 13 and 16. "Match that with the tools, resources, and expertise found on campus at the University of Oregon, our partners at IPRE, and our relationships with each of our statewide partners, and it's easy to see how we are able to provide positive outcomes to our rural and underserved communities."

Common job placements find members working with local governments, rural nonprofitslocal tribes, state departments, and more, as each service year engages in unique projects and secures important resources for their host community. 

Members stay busy

Each service year features a cohort of individuals, some new and some repeat members, who are excited to serve. Thanks to the program's history and success, they know they will be a part of a group that is able to enact real change and impact for the state of Oregon. Each cohort's substantial impact is cataloged at the end of the year and the most recent service year is no exception, with service year 28 (2021–22) showcasing a large number of successes for our rural communities. The cohort organized over 238 community volunteers for a total of over 700 additional service hours, leveraged another $975,000 in grant funding for community-specific projects with $2,109,125 still pending at the end of their service terms, developed and/or implemented 120 planning documents, created over 355 pieces of social media content, and organized 136 events.

"The team and I are so proud of the 25 individuals in this year’s cohort that have given their all to serve rural Oregon," said Tomlinson. "At the end of their service year, these individuals provided over 40,000 hours of service, each leaving their mark on the communities we served. Whether it was a mural in downtown Cave Junction, the creation of an interactive planning map for the City of Roseburg, the development of a Climate Action Plan for Lane County, or the design and installation of a kayak launch on the South Coast, RARE members stayed busy and got things done for our rural communities."

With an incredible journey ahead for the cohort of service year 29, the College of Design will follow four of these passionate UO alumni as they gain important service and professional experience by helping to solve community and regional development issues during their service year with RARE. Join us as these four experience a fruitful service year and share their experience with the world. 

Meet Annie, Beny, Angela, and Willow!

Hi, I'm Annie!

I graduated from the University of Oregon with my Bachelor of Landscape Architecture in June 2021. I'm from La Grande and I chose RARE because it gives me an opportunity to explore how I could use my landscape architecture knowledge outside of the traditional design industry and give back to another rural community in my home state. 

I have four main projects this service year.  I will be designing a regional adventure map to consolidate and highlight our outdoor recreation assets and local history.  I am collaborating with the trail stewardship and education non-profit, the Trailkeepers of Oregon, to put on an event series to boost awareness of their organization and increase their volunteer base.  I will also be working with the Wild Rivers Coast Food Trail to support their social media content and presence.  Lastly, I will be designing a space in Bandon’s Old Town to spotlight the new marine debris sculpture by local creative non-profit Washed Ashore.

I am very excited to be working with the Port of Bandon on this design project to create a welcoming, educational, and cohesive space.  It is such an amazing opportunity to use my landscape architecture education and help a local entity achieve their vision. 

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Hi, I'm Beny!

I graduated from the University of Oregon with my Bachelor of Science in June 2022. I studied Economics as my major and picked up Planning, Public Policy and Management (PPPM) and Spanish as my two minors. My hometown is Springfield, Oregon and I chose RARE thanks to my many PPPM professors at the UO who often spoke highly of the program. RARE provides an opportunity to serve valuable communities in Oregon that are often seeking more capacity to better their community. Additionally, I know that participating will allow me to wildly expand my experience working in the public sector all while maintaining my support network from the UO and its vast array of resources.

This service year I will be working with Woodburn’s Economic Development team to elevate Woodburn’s unique downtown area. I will be connecting with the many small businesses in Woodburn’s center to connect them with North Marion County’s network of business service providers. Additionally, I will promote events and attractions for local tourism in the area to expand the market of who gets to enjoy Woodburn’s mixing pot of cultures. I hope to be able to help run events, maintain Woodburn’s online presence, expand career services and get to know the community.

Woodburn’s community is what excites me the most about my work this year. Woodburn is a growing city with a large population of Latine residents, many of whom work in the agriculture industry surrounding the city. Because of this, the community has come to embrace many aspects of Latine heritage, being home to some of Oregon’s best Mexican restaurants and hosting amazing events like Fiesta Mexicana. Woodburn is also home to a large group of Russian Old Believers Community who take great pride in their culture as well. I’m looking forward to making some great connections with my new community and learning how I can best support their success.

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Hi, I'm Angela!

In 2022, I graduated from the University of Oregon with my Master of Public Administration degree. As a native Oregonian from Clackamas County, joining RARE gives me an excellent opportunity to explore a new part of the state and learn from a different community than the one in that I grew up. RARE service years are great ways to not only explore different areas of the state but are great ways to learn and immerse yourself in communities

This service year, I am joining the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) as their Rural Energy Coordinator. ODOE helps Oregonians make informed decisions and maintain a resilient and affordable energy system, especially in our rural communities. The Rural Energy Coordinator works as a liaison between local government, tribes, and residents interested in community energy planning which includes implementing renewable energy, energy efficiency, and resilience projects and investments. Working with local partners, the Oregon Department of Energy is dedicated to creating a “one-stop-shop” model by connecting communities with incentives and funding, and supporting local engagement focused on rural cities, Tribes, and environmental justice communities.

While my office is in Pendleton, I will serve all of northeast Oregon, including Umatilla County. Umatilla County is the largest populated county in northeast Oregon and has a population of 77,319. It also hosts one of the most popular eastern Oregon cities, Pendleton. Other great features of the community include farming and agriculture, western tourism experiences such as the famous Pendleton Round-Up and wool mill, endless recreation activities, and thriving main street and historic district. I can't wait to work with my communities!

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Hi, I'm Willow!

I earned my Bachelors of Science in Planning, Public Policy and Management with minors in Nonprofit Administration and Economics this last year. I am a Rogue River native and am extremely excited to be a part of this service year. I chose to participate in the RARE program because I care deeply about rural spaces. Growing up in rural Oregon, I witnessed firsthand how lack of access to resources can be exacerbated by one’s distance from an urban center. As much as I loved my time in the PPPM program, I often found it focused heavily on urban spaces and lacking the voices of those residing elsewhere. The RARE program provides this voice.

I am currently placed with the Eastern Oregon Regional Educator’s Network (REN) as their Educator Housing Project Manager. The Eastern Oregon REN identified that there are two main barriers to recruiting qualified educators to the region: housing and childcare. My job is to systematically map each school district's assets and gaps in relation to educator housing, help develop a dual-credit Career and Technical Education (CTE) program that will teach construction skills to rural high-school students, and to plan a pilot project of building and placing tiny homes into the most vulnerable school district. 

I have always been a huge advocate for access to post-high school education, especially in regard to rural students and am very passionate about bridging gaps to homeownership for low-income families. This project, in a way, marries the two by providing access to college credits while allowing students to learn a trade and by reducing housing cost for educators, allowing them to save more of their income.

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These four cohort members are just a few examples of the passionate people who join a RARE cohort to help and improve our rural communities in Oregon. This year's orientation and kick-off saw one of the largest RARE cohorts in recent memory come together for fellowship, training, and a little bit of good food and exercise before the service year kicked off. 

As this year's RARE cohort goes through their service year, the College of Design will check how Beny, Annie, Angela, and Willow are doing with this year's work. We will celebrate their triumphs, obstacles, and unique story as they strengthen our rural communities with resources and expertise that might be not be available for these communities. A rising tide lifts all ships and RARE's work in our rural communities improves the lives of all Oregonians.