LBCC helps Peeta Palavera take on civil engineering | LBCC

LBCC helps Peeta Palavera take on civil engineering

Student's nontraditional path to education leads to a new feeling of belonging here in Oregon

Peeta Palavera

Peeta Palavera was born in Oregon, but it took many years to feel like she belonged.

Her parents, who had immigrated from Mexico before she was born, spoke Spanish at their home in Newport. When Palavera started elementary school, she knew almost no English - nor anyone else like her.

“That was a whole new world for me. I was the only Mexican kid in the classroom,” she recalled. “I had no one to talk to. I would sign most things, and just copy what everyone else did.”

Playing Catch Up from an Early Age

While all of Palavera’s classmates were learning their letters and sounds, Palavera was learning simply how to survive. By about third grade, she was more competent in English, but only then did she begin work on her own letters and sounds. By then, everyone else had moved on to reading and math.

"I really struggled, and my confidence was low,” she said. “A lot of teachers never saw me as a student who could achieve much of anything.”

But that, as they say, was then. Now, at 25, Palavera feels like she can achieve just about anything - and for starters, thanks to Linn-Benton Community College, she’s well on her way to achieving a degree in civil engineering.

She started her second year at LBCC this fall. When she finishes her associate’s degree, she’ll transfer to Oregon State University to complete her bachelor’s.

"I love LBCC's program and the support that they give. All the instructors have been great,” Palavera said. “Many times I told myself, ‘I can't do this, I’m not smart enough, it’s too hard,’ and they told me, ‘It’s hard, but you’re going to go through it. We're here to help you get over this hurdle.’ It was just so motivating, so motivating to hear."

A Nontraditional Path

Palavera didn’t take a traditional path to college. First, she had to get through middle school. When Palavera lived there, Newport had a magnet school for middle-school students, Isaac Newton. It was for students who wanted greater academic challenges. Palavera wanted to go. Her fifth-grade teacher wasn’t so sure. But Palavera loved the idea of pushing her own academic boundaries and persuaded her parents to let her apply.

She was accepted. The work was hard, but she persisted through three years, finishing on the honor roll with nearly a straight-A average. “It was the first time I ever felt like I was smart,” Palavera recalled.

However, when Palavera graduated from high school in 2016, she still didn’t feel like college was for her.

She worked for a little while as a bilingual tutor for Spanish-speaking students who were struggling the same way she had, then did some traveling and moved to California. There, she lived with a roommate who made her give higher education another look.

The roommate had studied architectural drafting, which fascinated Palavera. But the roommate suggested instead of following suit, that Palavera look into engineering. Better pay and more job opportunities, she said.

It would be a few more years, after marriage and travel to Brazil and Costa Rica, before Palavera would pursue that idea. But eventually she and her husband settled in Lebanon, where she enrolled in LBCC to begin her new academic journey.

She chose civil engineering because she loved the idea of working with buildings, water systems and other forms of infrastructure that don’t move. Civil engineers aren’t doing the design or the construction, but they are the ones trying to figure out whether that design or construction will work the way it needs to, which she found intriguing.

"Most importantly, I really want to be part of more renewable energy and more sustainability for our planet,” she said. “So I’m hoping I can get into a field that can help that.”

Math had been her nemesis, but Palavera credits LBCC’s Math Cafe for helping her cope. She signed up for a fast-paced math class taught through a computer, but went to the tutoring center to be able to ask questions of human beings.

“Weekends, Zoom, I lived and breathed math and probably will for the next four years,” she said. “I got to know all the tutors and they all helped me, showed me techniques and ways to do things better. I could not have done it without all of those tutors’ help.”

Palavera said she understands adults who are leery of going back to school years after graduation. She also gets it when she hears high school students say they don’t think they can handle college, or they don’t know what they would study.

Foundation Support Helps Along the Way

“I would definitely encourage anyone looking into college to not focus so much on the difficulties that are going to go with it,” she said. “I get it. But there are people who can help you adjust.”

The LBCC Foundation offers scholarships, assistance with food and utility payments, and other resources to help while working toward a degree. Peeta is the recipient of several foundation scholarships which she appreciates to take the stress off the family allowing her time to focus on her studies.

“I wouldn’t push out college for anything, academically or financially,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity, and we should grab it when we can. The Foundation is there to help support us to be able to focus on getting our education. You are supported along the way.”