After 20 years, I step down today as Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Engagement. I’m delighted to hand the reigns over to Dr. Rebecca Lewis and Dr. Ben Clark who will take over as co-directors and lead the organization into its third generation. Josh Bruce will serve as Associate Director of Applied Research and will take on a lot of the program development and administrative functions that I previously had. Titus Tomlinson will lead RARE into year 27 and beyond. Michael Howard, Aniko Drlik-Muehleck, and Victoria Binning will keep the programs going and Julie Foster will continue to serve as the glue that holds the entire operation together.
I could not have asked for a more capable team to lead the organization into the future. IPRE/CSC has been my life’s work up to now—continuing the legacy is a gift to me from the entire IPRE team. What we built is unique in higher education and stands at the intersection of the three pillars of UO’s mission: education, research, and engagement. Our work is important and impacts students, organizations, and communities throughout Oregon and beyond while making significant contributions to basic research.
It has been a privilege to lead the Institute and to be part of the larger PPPM community. While there are way more people than I have the time to thank here, I want to specifically thank Rich Margerum head of PPPM for his support and insight. Working with the dedicated faculty and staff of PPPM has been a pleasure. Interaction with elected and appointed officials and community members is in education in itself and has kept me sharp all these years. Working with the hundreds of students has been a joy.
Alas, the adventure is not yet over. Circumstances have convinced me that a phased retirement is necessary—which probably doesn’t come as a surprise. Starting tomorrow, I’ll take on a new role as Director of Strategy and Technical Solutions for IPRE. A big part of my focus for the next two years will be on community and economic recovery from COVID-19. It’s going to be a long road to recovery and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and continue to contribute to the overall effort. Moreover, I’ll continue my work with ECONorthwest.
I’ll close with a big thanks to all my colleagues in the fields of planning and public administration. The work we do is important and underappreciated. The people who do it are dedicated, courteous, knowledgeable, and fun. I look forward to continuing the journey.
By Tatiana Eckhart, Project Coordinator, Mid-Columbia Economic Development District
In the past three months I think one of the most important things I have learned is the importance of relationships and coordination. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, I saw through my work at MCEDD how strong relationships were the key to efficiently working with others and accomplishing set out tasks. Particularly in smaller, more rural communities, everything is based on the relationships and foundation of trust that are formed between officials, entities, and the community. And in the face of COVID-19, I have been lucky enough to see firsthand how coordination between agencies is having a direct impact on the level of support we’re able to provide communities throughout the region. Because of the efforts of MCEDD and other partners throughout the region, a coordinated team initiative has been developed in which local and state partners share information, resources, and updated news. Consequently there has been an increased capacity in the region to respond to the needs and worries of businesses and the community and get our region the help it needs.
Currently the biggest barrier in the way of my projects is the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted all aspects of regular and working life in Oregon and the U.S. Due to the current outbreak, all Oregonians are under an executive order to shelter at home and all public meetings and events have been cancelled and/or banned. A large portion of my work entails engaging in in-person meetings with a variety of people from around Wasco County. This is now of course impossible, which has rendered some of my activities and projects unable to continue in the same manner as before. In order to keep moving forward with my projects, I will have to shift strategies to adapt to the new, socially distanced reality we have found ourselves in. In the coming months I anticipate engaging in virtual Zoom meetings and/or teleconference calls with a variety of project partners as we continue discussing project needs as a way to continue moving forward on projects and tasks that are able to still move forward under current circumstances.
I have always considered myself to be a pretty independent person. I generally carry the mindset of not wanting to bother anybody with my issues when there are people out there facing a lot worse situations than me. Well 2019 taught me the hard way why keeping it all inside wasn’t a good idea, especially in a situation as unique as ours, in which many of us have traveled hundreds of miles away from home to serve in a community we’ve never been in, in a brand new professional position. It’s okay to admit it: there is a lot of potential for things to go sideways. Wonky roommates, feelings of isolation and loneliness, harsh winters, a lack of people to relate to in our communities; there are a lot of ways in which we as RAREs can feel like we’re spiraling with no end in sight. I experienced at least a few of the above afflictions myself, but didn’t tell any of my other RAREs at the time. I thought, “Well, we’re all going through the same experience and everyone else is doing fine, so I should be too.” I’ve since realized that it’s unfair to myself for me to compare my own situation with my fellow RAREs. We’re all unique individuals after all. Keeping quiet didn’t help me in any way; in fact, it ended up exacerbating a lot of the personal turmoil I was going through.
I embarked on a second year of RARE because, despite the personal strife I went through, I really enjoyed my position in the realm of economic development and I knew I loved the RARE program and all the incredible opportunities it provides. As I began my journey as 2nd year RARE, I began opening up to my RARE friends from my first service term about some of the struggles I endured as a first-year RARE. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was met with nothing but empathy, kindness, and the offer to reach out if I ever needed to talk by more than a few of these amazing individuals. In almost an instant, all the turmoil I had felt inside for months dissipated into thin air. I realized that the fact that we all went through this experience together was the very reason these people, an entire community of friends I had developed over the last year, were the perfect individuals to open up to. They understood my frustrations and were able to lift me up out of the funk that I had been in much longer than I needed to be, if only I had reached out in the first place. Looking back now, it seems silly to me that I would keep everything to myself, especially with a group of individuals as caring and empathetic as RAREs. RARE is a network enriched by some of the most hard-working, caring, and special individuals I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. People join RARE because they care; care about the well-being of fellow humans, care about their local communities, and care about making the world a better place. These are my people.
Reflecting on my second RARE service term, so much has shifted for me in terms of what I bring to the table in discussions with other RARE participants. I’m much more open, honest, and unafraid to be forthright about some of things I’m going through. Particularly during this chaotic time of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have never been more grateful to have an entire community of support around me. And what a system of support it has been! Regular check-ins, virtual socializing, and regular communication with each other has defined the RARE member response to the current crisis, and I believe it’s a huge reason I haven’t felt as panicked as I might otherwise be about the pandemic. We may not talk for weeks, but I know that my community of RAREs are always there and always willing to look out for each other. And I just feel so, SO lucky to be a part of a community that is truly invested in the well-being and success of its members. The RARE family is real. In this wild experience that is the RARE program, being able to engage and openly express myself with RARE members and staff is like being in a community within a community. And I think that’s something pretty special.
About the author, Tatiana Eckhart: Tatiana has BA’s in Sociology and Planning, Public Policy, and Management from the University of Oregon. She is originally from a tight-knit community in Hawaii and enjoys the sense of communal support that living in a small town provides. She loves exploring the great outdoors, especially hiking and camping, and has traveled to over a dozen countries! Tatiana is glad to be back in Oregon and serving in a rural region, learning new skills, and helping build strong sustainable communities.
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