Homer’s college campus is pay-it-forward dividend

Forty years ago, the first college and community education classes were offered in Homer by KPC, and what a long way we’ve come since then. From a handful of students, our Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College has grown to serve nearly 750 online and campus-based students each semester. 

From the nomadic years when classes camped in one donated or rental space after another, we now have a beautiful campus that has become a major community and education center for the 14,000 residents of the southern Kenai Peninsula. From the milestone graduation of the first student in 1976, we now celebrate the accomplishments of 24 women and men who have earned and received diplomas and certificates during commencement earlier this month. 

For this community, Homer’s college campus is a return on the pay-it-forward investments of many people who have devoted hours, days, weeks and years to put top-notch post-secondary educational experiences within reach, financially and geographically, for people of all ages. Right here in Homer, students can earn a college degree and take advantage of abundant opportunities for job skills training, professional development, and lifelong learning in the arts, sciences, and technology. 

When we think of pay-it-forward investors in education, we remember, especially, Mary Epperson who died last month at age 93. Mary championed Kachemak Bay Campus, “KBC,” from its earliest days. She advocated tirelessly for the construction of campus facilities and for the development of programs of study, including some that remain relevant today. Even in the last weeks of her celebrated life, at an event held in her honor on campus, she was paying it forward for KBC and this community as she encouraged others to support the college and Homer’s future generations.

Mary was always quick to point out that she wasn’t alone in supporting the college. Dozens of others have paid it forward for KBC. Community members serve on the Campus Advisory Board, advocating for KBC in the community and during legislative sessions. Faculty and staff members pay it forward every day, going above and beyond terms of contract and employment so that many students tell us they accomplish more than they could have imagined possible. Certainly revered faculty members Beth Graber, Catherine Knott and Mike Hawfield, all retiring at the end of this academic year, have invested in KBC. So did the beloved Eva Saulitis, a scientist and adjunct faculty member who taught creative writing until her death earlier this year.  

So how can you pay it forward for Kachemak Bay Campus and our community?  

You can encourage people to enroll in workshops and courses, and do that yourself. You can earn a degree or complete a certificate program or enrich your life with a personal or professional development, recreational, art, or science course. Even those students, particularly younger people, who choose to complete a degree program elsewhere, can save tens of thousands of dollars by beginning college here in our supportive community.  

As many individuals have during this year’s legislative session, you can speak up for higher education in Alaska. This is not just about preparing people for a specific job. It is more about the development of critical abilities that provide people the capacity to acquire new skills and adapt to change that seems to come faster and faster. Nothing could be more important as our state enters a deep recession that will affect every one of us. 

You can join others in contributing to KBC’s Mary Epperson Endowed Student Support and Scholarship Fund. Proceeds from the fund’s $25,000 endowment, made possible by the pay-it-forward investments of dozens of individuals and businesses, will directly benefit local students. The fund will provide scholarships, reduce the extra fees required for field experiences that are a hallmark of the way we teach at KBC, and help purchase state-of-the-art equipment that enhances teaching and learning.     

However you pay it forward for your Kachemak Bay Campus — encouraging others to study there or doing that yourself, advocating for Homer’s local college campus and the University of Alaska system, contributing to the Mary Epperson Fund to support local students — you are investing in a prosperous and healthy future for the people of this community and the state of Alaska.  

Carol Swartz is the director of the Kachemak Bay Campus of Kenai Peninsula College. Genie Hambrick serves as a Kachemak Bay Campus Advisory Board member.