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News Releases
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Ekubo Sawaura builds her English skills at PCC to pursue dream at Cornell (Photo) - 01/17/18

SOUTHEAST PORTLAND, Ore. -- After World War II, Ekubo Sawaura's grandparents turned their passion for farming into a business. Thirty years after that, her father began what would become one of the biggest organic farms in Japan. In 2018, she is using that same energy to take Cornell University by storm in the world of agribusiness.

The 22-year-old, who hopes to kick start her own career in farming, recently learned she was accepted into Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Her story is one of overcoming language and cultural barriers, to succeed in her academic pursuits. In 2015, Sawaura began her journey by enrolling at Portland Community College, taking Level 5 English for Speakers of Other Languages classes at the Southeast Campus.

In two years, she completed a General Studies associate degree, which was awarded to her last summer. Sawaura then began the application process to the Ivy League school, which was capped by an email from Cornell on Dec. 5 announcing she had been accepted.

Throughout, there were a few moments of hand-wringing.

"I thought I wasn't accepted because the email's title was not 'congratulations,'" she said. "My hands were shaking as I registered on their website to view the message. I was scared to see the results. But when I logged in, the page said 'congratulations!' and I cried."

The tears didn't last long. Sawaura was so excited by the news that she immediately called her parents in Japan, where it was about 2 a.m. local time. The time of the call due to the time difference didn't seem to bother her family.

"They were so proud of me," she recalled. "We never thought I'd get into an Ivy League school. But the program fits perfectly with my academic interests and offers some of the best agricultural courses in the world."

Her interest in agribusiness makes sense. Her father runs four agriculture firms that have exported low-calorie and organic pasta products to seven countries in Europe and now is looking to expand to the U.S. She once accompanied her dad to promote shirataki pasta at the world's leading trade fair for organic food, called BIOFACH in Germany. And while at PCC, she wrote a research paper about how to expand Japanese agribusiness based on social, environmental and economic sustainability, which nabbed her Japan's 27th YANMAR National Thesis Contest for College Students Award in the process.

"The experience gave me the idea to study agribusiness from an international view in order to solve the world's agricultural problems," Sawaura said. "And to bring what I learned from other areas of the world back home to Japan."

After living in Portland a few years, she wants to eventually use her skills and that passion to open a local ice cream shop.

"I love ice cream like what they sell at Salt & Straw," she laughed.

Getting to that point would be an amazing accomplishment considering the obstacles she's overcome. After working briefly at her dad's company, Sawaura learned through her high school teacher that Japanese universities rejected her applications due to her lack of English skills. Determined to overcome that barrier, Sawaura moved to Happy Valley from Gunma (near Tokyo) to live with her great uncle, which was when she enrolled at PCC to improve her conversational skills.

"I was pretty frustrated by English in high school," she recalled. "It was my weakness. So I chose to come to America to learn it rather than taking classes back in Japan. Not being accepted into a Japanese university was frustrating, but it gave me the motivation to be successful."

At PCC, Sawaura sought to improve her skills by conversing often with native English speakers at the tutoring center. Plus, she took advantage of working on campus by serving in student government and at the career exploration center, as a peer advisor. This further developed her English language skills and gave her a sense of community at the Southeast Campus.

"These experiences helped me a lot in improving my English and building relationships with others," she said. "And, it further opened my eyes to other cultures."

Jen Poinar, Southeast Career Exploration Center coordinator, was Sawaura's supervisor during her peer advising and international student ambassadorship. Poinar said Sawaura is very goal-oriented, determined, creative, empathetic, and hardworking with a positive attitude, all of which contributed to the center's success.

"Having once been an international student in France, I know personally how rewarding and challenging the experiences of studying in a foreign culture and learning a language can be," Poinar said. "I have seen her grow tremendously in both her leadership abilities and her confidence. I am very proud of her and excited for her journey to begin at Cornell this coming year.

"Ekubo is a natural 'people person' with a passion for wanting to help others, especially our diverse Southeast Campus population," Poinar continued. "She was instrumental in welcoming students to our center and helping them feel a sense of belonging and connection by sharing her personal journey with them and helping them to see they can succeed, also."

In her years at the community college, Sawaura earned scholarships through the PCC Foundation, performed hours of community service with the likes of Sisters of the Road Cafe, Oregon Food Bank and others, and assisted her Phi Theta Kappa chapter.

Sawaura, who considers Portland her second home, is focused now on getting settled at Cornell, diving into her agricultural sciences classes, and starting her career in food management. Sawaura has already brainstormed new ice cream recipes in preparation for her business career.

"Starting at a community college was the best choice I've ever made," she said. "My English skills were very poor, and I wasn't getting into a university if I applied as freshman. Not only was PCC financially cost effective, it gave me time to think about which university I really wanted to go to. Now, I have the confidence in what I'm supposed to be doing and have worked hard to overcome my language obstacle, which is why Cornell accepted me."


About Portland Community College: Portland Community College is the largest post-secondary institution in Oregon and provides training, degree and certificate completion, and lifelong learning to more than 75,000 full- and part-time students in Multnomah, Washington, Yamhill, Clackamas, and Columbia counties. PCC has four comprehensive campuses, eight education centers or areas served, and approximately 200 community locations in the Portland metropolitan area. The PCC district encompasses a 1,500-square-mile area in northwest Oregon and offers two-year degrees, one-year certificate programs, short-term training, alternative education, pre-college courses and life-long learning.

Visit PCC news on the web at http://news.pcc.edu/

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Cascade Festival of African Films starts 28th year on Feb. 2 (Photo) - 01/08/18

NORTH PORTLAND, Ore. -- The worldview of many Americans is shaped in large part by what they see on the evening news -- but the news can be an imperfect lens that provides an incomplete picture of peoples, events, and cultures. And too often, where the nations of Africa are concerned, the picture is even less complete.

In Portland, though, there is a remedy -- the Cascade Festival of African Films (CFAF). Now in its 28th year, the festival offers audiences the rare and edifying opportunity to see Africa through the lenses of its own people. As always, the festival is free and open to the public.

The film festival features an exciting slate of new films, 25 in total, from across the African continent. The longest-running African film festival in the United States draws in excess of 4,000 attendees each year, and has become a fixture of Portland's cultural calendar.

For complete screening information and director appearances, visit www.africanfilmfestival.org.

This year's festival opens with back-to-back screenings of "'76" (Nigeria, 2016), with visiting Nigerian director Izu Ojukwu in attendance. "'76" is a political thriller and love story -- inspired by true events -- set against the backdrop of an attempted 1976 military coup. It will show twice at the festival's opening-night gala at 6 and 9 p.m., Friday, Feb. 2, at the Hollywood Theatre, 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd. Each screening will be followed by a Q&A with the director, and to cap off the opening night gala in style, a '70s-style Afrobeat dance party will follow the second screening of "'76," starting at 11:30 p.m.

"'76" sets the tone for a vibrant CFAF calendar, which showcases more than two dozen feature, documentary, and short films throughout the month of February. Most CFAF screenings take place at the Moriarty Auditorium at Portland Community College's Cascade Campus, 705 N. Killingsworth St. Each Saturday the screening is preceded by the popular "Saturday Social Hour," starting at 5 p.m., and features live music, food, and an African marketplace.

Seventeen nations from across the African continent are represented in this year's lineup. This year's centerpiece film is "A Season in France," a 2017 French-Chadian co-production about a high school teacher who flees the war-torn Central African Republic for France.

"Our centerpiece film is one of many this year that bring understanding and empathy to immigrant and refugee stories around the world, whether they are fleeing war, political persecution, or just searching for a better life," said festival coordinator Tracy Francis.

Other films with an immigrant or refugee lens include the family friendly film "A Stray" about the struggles of a young Somalian boy in the U.S. who befriends a stray dog, or "Zainab Hates the Snow" which follows a Tunisian family's journey for five years as they immigrate to Canada.

The Cascade Festival of African Films' acclaimed Thursday Night Documentary Series kicks off Feb. 8, with a special appearance by comedian Bassem Yussef -- described as the "Egyptian Jon Stewart" -- who will hold a Q&A and book signing after the screening of "Tickling Giants" (USA/Egypt, 2016). This is the documentary about how Dr. Youssef, a heart surgeon, became the host of "Al Bernameg" -- Egypt's first political satire TV show. The series became the most watched show in the Middle East before its cancellation due to censorship and his subsequent exile.

New to the festival will be the participation of PCC students who were either born in Africa or who have immigrated to the United States. The students will be paired with films from their country of origin, and will take part in post-screening discussions about the films and about the culture of and conditions in their native countries.

"We are excited to find ways to connect students to the festival and to give them a platform to teach others about their countries and cultures," said Francis.

Returning to the festival this year will be staged readings of original plays by African writers featuring local actors. A highlight of the series is the play "Her Portmanteau," by Mfoniso Udofia, which recently had its off-Broadway premiere in New York and follows the struggles of a family of Nigerian immigrant women in the United States. The readings are scheduled for 2 p.m. on two successive Saturdays, Feb. 10 and 17.

Film Festival Highlights

Opening Night at Hollywood Theatre -- The festival opens on Friday, Feb. 2, with two screenings of "'76" (Nigeria) at 6 and 9 p.m. at the Hollywood Theatre and visiting director Izu Ojukwu in attendance. A special '70s-themed Afrobeat dance party will follow.

Student Fest Matinee -- Timed to fit into the busy schedules of PCC students, the matinee features a free pre-film pizza party with the showing of two short films: "Coz of Moni 1" and "Coz of Moni 2" (Ghana, 2011 and 2013). The films follow the misadventures of a pair of young men as they embark on an evening of clubbing and partying.

Family Fest Matinee -- CFAF's annual family-friendly matinee showcases a film that may be familiar to American audiences: "Queen of Katwe" (Uganda/USA, 2016), hosted by master storyteller Baba Wagué Diakité of Mali. The film tells the tale of a poor girl from the slums of Kampala, Uganda, who rises to be a top chess player. "Queen of Katwe" shows at 2 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 24, in the Moriarty Auditorium.

Women Filmmakers Week -- An annual film festival tradition, Women Filmmakers Week showcases female-directed films during the festival's closing week, March 1-3, in the Moriarty Auditorium.

Saturday Social Hours -- Starting at 5 p.m. each Saturday during the CFAF at the Moriarty Auditorium, featuring an African market, food, and live music.


About Portland Community College: Portland Community College is the largest post-secondary institution in Oregon and provides training, degree and certificate completion, and lifelong learning to more than 75,000 full- and part-time students in Multnomah, Washington, Yamhill, Clackamas, and Columbia counties. PCC has four comprehensive campuses, eight education centers or areas served, and approximately 200 community locations in the Portland metropolitan area. The PCC district encompasses a 1,500-square-mile area in northwest Oregon and offers two-year degrees, one-year certificate programs, short-term training, alternative education, pre-college courses and life-long learning.

Visit PCC news on the web at http://news.pcc.edu/