O the Places You Will Go

November 1, 2016 - 12:00am

As most Ducks know, “throwing your O” is a universal expression of UO pride. But not all who throw know the origin of the gesture.

The hand signal was created in the 1980s by Steven Paul, director of the Oregon Marching Band, because Autzen Stadium was too loud for the musicians to hear him yell “Play ‘Mighty Oregon!’”

Cut to 2001. Joey Harringon—student, athlete, musician—takes his last walk ever through the Autzen tunnel. Waxing nostalgic, he throws an O so he can hear the fight song one last time. An Oregonian photographer captures the moment, and a symbol is born.

Today, the O transcends a simple fan gesture. It’s unique for every individual, but also something we all share in common. In this story, three recent grads share their version of how they ”throw their O.” Each had considerable support from scholarships, and each has started down the road to success, defining it on their own terms.

Scholarships enable the university to recruit top students from across the nation and around the world. They also help students who could not otherwise afford college. Since the start of the UO’s current $2 billion fundraising campaign, donors have contributed more than $260 million for student support. That’s a lot of deserving students who get to throw their Os—at Autzen, on campus, and out in the world.

Pay It Forward

The sights, sounds, and smells of Street Fair probably evoke more memories for Katty Kaunang, BEd ’16, than most alumni. During her senior year, she was in charge of running it—just one of several campus jobs she held while earning her degree in family and human services. Today, she’s returned to give some advice to first-year PathwayOregon scholars who are in the same boat she was in just four years ago.

As she walks down 13th Avenue—recalling fond memories, checking out the vendors, stopping often to greet old friends—she seems like a fish back in water.

“I miss being on campus,” says the first-generation college student. “My schedule was always from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. I appreciate the opportunity that the UO offered me, and am grateful for all the student jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities I had.”

Each opportunity led to others, she explains. For Kaunang, building networks and working with professionals turned out to be more important than the degree. “All those experiences will lead you to what you really want to do,” she tells the new students. “You never know who you’re going to meet.” She also tells them to manage their time. Use a planner and a to-do list. Prioritize. “Make the most of it,” she says. “Use the resources that are available. Once you graduate, you’ll miss it. Somebody is paying for your education. You don’t want to waste it.” She starts by telling the PathwayOregon freshmen about her circuitous, four-year path, the mentors she discovered, and the organizations she joined—the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence, the Asian and Pacific Islander Strategies Group, the Student Alumni Association, and the Associated Students of the University of Oregon, to name just a few.

Kaunang lives in Beaverton, where she’s working part-time and applying to graduate schools. She hopes to start working toward a master’s degree in educational leadership and policy next fall, and eventually parlay her love for campus life into a career helping other first-generation and minority college students.

She also volunteers for Trio, a federal program that helps students from disadvantaged backgrounds. At Century High School, her other alma mater, Kaunang helps kids apply for college. “I’m just letting them know that college is possible. I don’t want them to go back to ‘My parents can’t afford it, so I’ll just work a minimum-wage job.’ It’s about breaking the cycle and not following your parents. Just because you’re a low-income minority doesn’t mean you can’t go to college.”

Kaunang has a few scattered, vivid memories of Surabaya, the Indonesian city where she lived until she was seven. The heat. Chicken satay from street vendors. Strict grade school teachers.

After her family of six moved to Redlands, California, her parents struggled to support the family, often working two or three jobs at a time—Pizza Hut, warehouse work, a retirement home kitchen. Kaunang was often their interpreter, translating English as well as explaining cultural nuances—a role she would continue well into her college years. In their cramped apartment, she shared a bed with her twin sister, Kally, and all four siblings shared one room.

Her family later moved to Beaverton and eventually bought a home of their own. But when she was 15, her dad left. They lost the house, and it was back to a cramped apartment. College was always a distant dream—financially, and also in terms of what she believed was possible. “I didn’t know about college, because no one in my family talked about it,” she says. “But a Trio advisor told me about it. The program gave me the courage to apply and helped me find an institution that was best for me.” 

Thanks to Trio—and a PathwayOregon scholarship—Kaunang found her way to the University of Oregon. In addition to the financial support, PathwayOregon advisors and other mentors helped her navigate college life, overcome academic and personal obstacles, and finish her degree. “Without Pathway I would not have gone to college and would have continued the cycle of working minimum-wage jobs like my parents,” says Kaunang. “PathwayOregon removed the barriers of the financial burden, but—more important—it removed the barrier of college access and success.”

Numbers Guy

Graham Simon, BS ’16, decided he would attend the UO when he was in the seventh grade—a surprising epiphany for a kid growing up in Appleton, Wisconsin, with no connections to the university. “I can’t explain it,” says Simon. “It’s one of life’s mysteries.”

His fascination with the UO was so persistent that his parents gave him a trip to Eugene for his 15th birthday. From the moment he set foot on campus, he says, it clicked. This was home.

The UO awarded Simon—a greater-than-4.00 student who graduated high school with 88 college credits already under his belt—a David and Nancy Petrone Dean’s Scholarship. The Dean’s Scholarship (now known as the Summit Scholarship) is a merit-based award that helps the UO recruit top students from across the nation. Simon received additional scholarships, enrolled in the Clark Honors College, worked part-time, and joined the Phi Beta Kappa honor society before earning his degree in mathematics and computer and information science last spring.

The diploma was a milestone. But Simon actually started down his career path when he joined the University of Oregon Investment Group (UOIG), a student club in the Charles H. Lundquist College of Business. Supported in part by donors, the UOIG gives students opportunities to manage real-money investment portfolios.

Through UOIG, Simon landed a summer internship with Moelis & Company, an independent global investment bank headquartered in New York City—a stint that led to a job offer from the same firm. He moved to Manhattan in July with his wife, Haley Simon, BA ’16, who works for a Brooklyn public relations firm. “I know I’ve taken a very different path than most people,” says Simon.

He credits his math studies for his ability to handle big problems. “Our math department does a good job teaching abstract thinking. It’s about the thinking process—not mechanical answers. It helps clarify the thought process, so I can have better focus when the hours get long. When you see a big, messy problem, it’s not as daunting. I may be as discouraged or frustrated as anyone else, but I can break the big problem down into little ones.” 

Of course, all that practical experience with the investment club helped too. So did the lessons learned in the Clark Honors College. “It was a balance of liberal arts with practical, professional experience,” he says. “The honors college gave me clarity in communication. Even reading poetry was a benefit. I try to think a layer beyond the bullet point.”

Though he misses Oregon, Simon has made the transition to New York with the same resolve that brought him from Wisconsin to the UO. “Central Park has a little green, then you can go down to the financial district. I’m a big sucker for a good skyscraper. I take great pleasure from the fact that, 300 years ago, this was a swamp. Human ingenuity is remarkable to me. It’s the antithesis of Oregon, where nature did it over hundreds of thousands of years.”

Scholarships made it possible for both Simon and his wife to graduate college debt-free.  “I feel so blessed,” says Simon, who had the opportunity as a student to personally thank donors for their support of the UO.

In the future, he hopes to give back and transform lives in similar ways. “I don’t see money as a thing to be hoarded, he says. “It’s a thing you grow, like any organic substance. If you acquire capital, you understand how to give it away.”

Telling Stories out of School

Chloe Huckins, BA ’16, isn’t the first Duck to spend her summer seeking adventure in a camper van. But the journey she took after graduating last June was actually a freelance gig that helped the writer and producer launch a career in advertising.

Crisscrossing the state for 40 days, Huckins and a colleague documented 36 events for the Oregon Cultural Trust—shooting and editing video, interviewing subjects, and taking photos to promote myriad projects the organization supports through local arts commissions. Their multimedia tour de force led them to county fairs, museums, rodeos, and, as Huckins puts it, “community events celebrating everything from garlic to mules.”

“The most challenging part was the timeline,” she says. “We were editing on the road. So you’re exhausted after covering an event, and then you have to figure out what to do with the content to make a package. Then you camp, and you drive to the next event."

Huckins says that the best aspect of her summer job was getting to see all of Oregon—forests, mountains, beaches, high desert. “It was heartwarming to be fully immersed in Oregon culture,” she says.  “You can’t actually put your audience in a field in eastern Oregon with a rancher. But hopefully telling that story through words and pictures will bring it closer.”

Whether it’s for the Oregon Cultural Trust or her various student and professional projects, in pixels or print, through words or video, Huckins loves to tell stories—surprising, poignant, and true stories. Sometimes weird. Always challenging to the audience. Throughout her undergraduate years, the advertising and anthropology major from Portland sought out opportunities for adventure and storytelling (one often leading to the other).

“Luckily, I discovered my little independent spark long ago,” says Huckins. “It taught me that I’m going to be OK, if I just go for it.”

Huckins also studied in Vienna, helped friends launch an outdoor magazine, and joined fellow students to create a national campaign for Snapple, representing the UO in a regional advertising competition. Scholarships, including PathwayOregon, helped her keep debt at bay. “I think I would have been able to attend the university without the support,” she says. “But it would have been much more difficult for my family. It helped a lot, especially when my mother was unemployed while she took classes to get her CPA license. It was also rewarding to realize that my hard work was being recognized. It’s definitely been drilled into me from a young age that college is a privilege and a reward. You have to work for it.” As a writer for OR Magazine, one of the first tablet-based student publications in the country, Huckins helped create a multimedia piece about Coast Guard rescue swimmers and joined a group of elderly fly-fisherwomen on the Siletz River. She produced a series of short videos for Oregon Public Broadcasting that featured Governor Kate Brown, a marijuana farmer in Applegate named Pa Butt (and his pot-eating deer), and a taxidermy artist. As an intern with University Communications, she helped create “What Ducks Do,” an award-winning sexual violence prevention and education program, and served as Oregon Quarterly’s editorial intern.

Over the years, Huckins wrote many thank-you letters to the donors who helped fund her scholarships. “It was important for me to tell them why I was in school, how valuable I found my education, and how I was going to use it as a tool to better my life.”

This fall, she started a paid internship with the in-house video production team at Sockeye, a Portland-based agency. “It is really long hours, but it is constantly changing, very exciting, creative, and requires quick problem-solving,” she says. “I actually love my job.”

—By Ed Dorsch, University Communications