House Postsecondary Education & Workforce Committee Visits Grays Harbor College

Posted on: May, 24, 2024

Grays Harbor College Logo


Charlie Choker wraps his arms around the shoulders of four people dressed in business wear. They all smile towards the camera and three of them are wearing sunglasses to account for the bright day visible behind them.

Members of the House Postsecondary Education & Workforce Committee pose for a photo during recent visit to GHC. From Left: Rep. Alex Ybarra (R), Rep. Cyndy Jacobsen (R), GHC Mascot Charlie Choker, Rep. Vandana Slatter (D), and Rep. Mari Leavitt (D).


Members of the House Postsecondary Education & Workforce Committee visited Grays Harbor College and GHC’s program at Stafford Creek Corrections Center on Wednesday, including representatives Alex Ybarra (ranking member), Cyndy Jacobsen, Vandana Slatter (Chair), Mari Leavitt, and Gerry Pollet. Staff members from the State Board for Community & Technical Colleges (SBCTC) also visited GHC.

The visit began at Stafford Creek, where the group toured the Welding classroom and discussed the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to reinstate federal Pell Grants for incarcerated students.

“It is such an honor to host this delegation,” said GHC president Dr. Carli Schiffner. “I am so proud we get to showcase our college and our students!”

After touring Stafford Creek, Committee members visited GHC’s Aberdeen campus and were greeted by Student Life leaders, including Joshua B. Young, Liam Torres, Ayo Adigun, Naomi Chavez, Monica Davis, Peja Springer, and GHC Mascot Charlie Choker.

Together with the students, the delegation toured GHC’s new tulalW Student Center before hearing presentations about Guided Pathways, financial aid, and how recent legislation has affected students. 

Dr. Schiffner thanked the legislators for their work to support students, especially those in rural communities. She told the group that programs that support students’ basic needs, specifically the free/reduced-price food program that GHC is piloting through Second Substitute House Bill 1559 (2023), have been “game changers” for GHC and its students. In a recent survey of students’ basic needs, one in two GHC students reported experiencing housing or food insecurity in the past year. Thanks to the free/reduced-price food pilot program, more than 200 GHC students now have access to free or reduced cost healthy meal options on campus.

Guided Pathways & the Student Experience

Monica Wilson, director of SBCTC’s Student Success Center, and Julie Randall, executive director of project management & strategic initiatives at GHC, updated the group on Guided Pathways, a student-centered, equity-focused framework designed to increase and diversify community college graduates by providing a clear, structured educational journey.

As part of the presentation, Emily Fry, a student in GHC’s Nursing Program, reflected on her experience as a student in GHC’s healthcare pathway.

Fry attended GHC before transferring to Eastern Washington University, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in Biology. After graduating from EWU, Emily began working as a Certified Nursing Assistant and quickly realized she wanted to return to school to pursue a Nursing degree. She researched different colleges and universities, before deciding to return to GHC for Nursing.

As a GHC student, Fry said that she found John Hillier’s Calculus Based Physics class to be challenging, but she took advantage of his office hours, visiting daily at 11 am.  According to Fry, the small class sizes and personalized attention made a real difference in her success at GHC and beyond.

When Fry returned to GHC, she was welcomed by familiar faces. “Monica Baze and Tom Kuester recognized me and said ‘we’re so excited to have you back!’”

In addition to feeling like she had instructors who genuinely cared about her success, Fry said Nursing program coordinator Karen Carriker and counselor & transfer advisor Brian Shook made her transition into GHC’s Nursing program easier. Fry also expressed gratitude for the organizations that helped fund her education and allowed her to complete her degrees without taking on any debt.  

This year, Fry was named a 21st Century Workforce Scholar and ranked second on Washington State’s All-Academic Team, an honor that recognizes students who demonstrate a commitment to academic success and community service. Fry will graduate from GHC this June. She has already accepted a position at Harbor Regional Health.

Navigating Financial Aid Challenges & Resources

Yokiko Hayashi-Saguil, student services policy associate at SBCTC, and Laurie Franklin, interim vice president of student services at GHC, spoke about their experiences as financial aid professionals.

Hayashi-Saguil shared information about updates to the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) application process and how the changes are presenting challenges for students throughout Washington.

Franklin expressed gratitude for the legislators’ support of the expansion to House Bill 1835, which has provided funding for GHC to hire two financial aid outreach specialists to assist local high school students with financial aid applications. 

“When I started this work, my dream was to work myself out of a job. I wanted to see college be free,” Franklin told the legislators. “With the provisos and other forms of support, you’ve made it possible for so many students like Emily to graduate debt free,” Franklin said, referencing points Fry made earlier in the presentation. “Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart, for doing that.”

After the update about financial aid at a statewide level, GHC students Sara Burkhart and Maranda Van Hoy spoke to the legislators about financial aid and their recent experience with the free/reduced-price food pilot program.

Sara Burkhart is a Running Start student who is currently studying Music at GHC. She will graduate this June and plans to transfer to Baylor University in Texas to pursue a degree in Piano Pedagogy.

Burkhart explained that between living 45-minutes away from campus, her finances, and a busy schedule, purchasing food off-campus was simply not feasible. “Before the food grant, a granola bar in the middle of the day was my whole meal for the day. My ability to focus and learn is significantly better when I’ve had an actual meal.”

In addition to a noticeable difference in her studies, Burkhart credited the free/reduced-price food pilot program with an increased sense of community at GHC. “Everybody needs to eat,” she explained. “Through the food grant, I’m interacting with all sorts of people, students and faculty. I’ve met people and made connections.”

Maranda Van Hoy is a Welding student at GHC, a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and a recipient of the Hughes Tool Scholarship and the Washington College Grant. Like Burkhart, Van Hoy has found great benefits to the free/reduced-price food pilot program.

With classes running Monday through Friday from 6:00 am to noon, Van Hoy said some of her peers in Welding have not been able to access resources and support on campus, because they need to leave for food.

“Any money that I can save on food goes directly to gas because I live 30 minutes away,” Van Hoy shared, highlighting another challenge faced by many students living in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. “The food grant also makes me feel included and like I am a part of campus.”


A group of 17 stand and smile for the camera in a brightly lit lounge space. Charlie Choker, GHC's mascot, stands front and center, giving two enthusiastic thumbs up to the camera.

GHC students and staff pose for a photo with Representatives Alex Ybarra, Mari Leavitt, Cyndy Jacobsen, Vandana Slatter, and Gerry Pollet.