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Environmental sciences online alum finds support, family with on-campus Native community

“We are a close-knit community. We’re close to our families. We look up to our elders for guidance as mentors,” says environmental sciences alum Orman Morton III, featured above. “To have a facility like this established on the university grounds where you could go and be Native and connect with other Natives, it’s highly important.”

By Heather Doherty  
Oct. 25, 2018

Wrapped in the welcoming embrace of someone he had just met – a Native elder – Orman Morton III was right at home, right where he should be.

But in reality, he wasn’t even close to his home in Baltimore, Maryland. He was 2,400 miles away visiting Oregon State University’s Native American Longhouse Eena Haws in Corvallis, building on the virtual connections he had made with the university’s indigenous community as an online student.

From hopelessness to hope

You may remember Orman from Oregon State Ecampus’ commencement reception in 2016. He touched the hearts of many when he teared up in response to an interview question about what graduation meant to him.  

The emotions of earning his degree overwhelmed him as he thought back to where he was just a few years prior after suddenly being laid off from a decade-long stint working at a Baltimore steel mill.

“It was an intense situation,” Orman says. “I had a newborn baby. I’m a father of three. I had no job. Your life has no direction at that point, so it was a sense of hopelessness and things had to change.”

Orman found hope in the form of an environmental sciences degree online from top-ranked Oregon State Ecampus. That hope culminated with a feeling of true pride in his achievements that has lasted beyond graduation.

“The job I got just two weeks after graduating was a direct result of my education at Oregon State.”

As an environmental scientist, Orman assesses water quality and performs wetland delineations.

A degree that changed his life

Fast forward two years and things are going great for Orman: He has his dream job as an environmental scientist, working with stream restoration and water quality, a degree to back his hard work and, overall, a better life.

“The job I got just two weeks after graduating was a direct result of my education at Oregon State,” he says. “I sat down with the gentleman who’s now my boss, and he was asking me water quality questions that I had all the answers to from my education I had received here. Oregon State immediately had an impact as soon as I graduated.”

So when OSU President Ed Ray wanted to highlight the successes of an exceptional alumnus at the 2018 State of the University Address in Portland, Oregon, he knew the right person to feature: Orman.

Orman was invited to be the guest of honor at the event, where his achievements were touted in front of a large crowd of faculty, staff and friends of the university.

“The State of the University Address was an exciting time,” he says. “To meet the people that are behind the scenes and always working hard to make Oregon State University the great university it is was a great experience.”

His two-day whirlwind trip to Oregon was jam-packed with activities that also included face-to-face conversations with his former instructors and advisor and a guest lecture to the Environmental Sciences Club.

“It was an opportunity for me to talk to the club and address questions they had involving environmental science, career choices and tips they need to pursue,” he says. “To have the opportunity to interact with the student body here like that was incredible.”

A place to connect

Perhaps the most memorable experience for Orman, who is a Penobscot Indian, was his multiple visits to the Native American Longhouse. It was an opportunity he looked forward to since enrolling online with Ecampus.

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As an Oregon State Ecampus online student, you have access to the university’s on-campus clubs, recreational sports and cultural resource centers at the Corvallis campus – no matter where you live.

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“The Native American Longhouse is a physical structure on campus where the Native community can go and be Native. That blew my mind. That was one of the largest recruitment tools for me, even as an online student,” said Orman, who stayed connected to the Longhouse from a distance through their email listserv.

“We are a close-knit community. We’re close to our families. We look up to our elders for guidance as mentors. To have a facility like this established on the university grounds where you could go and be Native and connect with other Natives, it’s highly important.”

During his visit, Orman spent time with the Longhouse staff members, participated in a T-shirt screen-printing event with fellow Native students (pictured to the right) and got a chance to speak one-on-one with elders.

It was an experience he says he’ll never forget.

“It was very overwhelming to be on the campus in Corvallis and interact with the Native American community here and have that sense of community and family. I’ve only experienced that on my reservation,” he says.

“Any Native American who wants to pursue a degree online through the Ecampus program needs to be aware that the Native American Longhouse is a resource that they need to tap into.”

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