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Arizona students chasing dreams in PSU wood tech program

October 25, 2013 4:15PM

Arizona students chasing dreams in PSU wood tech program
Back row, l-r: David Jirrels, Brendan Wood, Zack Swauger and Ryan Oaxaca. Front row, l-r: Daniel Kimball, Michael Morrissey and Steven Tran.

Mark Roberts never attended Pittsburg State University. He never taught at Pitt State. He has no direct ties to the university. And as a longtime technology teacher at Chandler High School in Chandler, Ariz., he spent much of life hundreds of miles away from Pitt State.

“But he had this giant split face gorilla poster in our wood shop class,” said Steven Tran, a Chandler High School graduate and current wood technology major at Pittsburg State.

Roberts, who retired from CHS and now teaches at Mesa Community College, learned about Pittsburg State while doing research on quality technology programs in the nation.

“There are no programs in Arizona for students who really have a passion for wood technology and related fields,” Roberts said. “So, I started looking around the country to find places that I could recommend for our students here who really want to go into that field. I ran across PSU and quickly realized that no other school could top what it offers.”

Ever since, Roberts has been an “unofficial recruiter” for Pittsburg State’s wood technology program in Arizona.

Student works on wood project“I was thrilled to find out that a program like this exists,” Roberts said. “We don’t have anything even close to this in Arizona, and I make sure the students down here know about Pittsburg State.”

His efforts have worked. The wood technology program at Pitt State has received an influx of Arizona students in the past few years, and the students echo what Roberts says almost daily about the university.

“There really is nothing like this in Arizona,” said freshman Zack Swauger, who graduated from Chandler High. “I came out here and took a six hour visit of the campus and the technology center, and I knew this is where I wanted to go. I absolutely fell in love with this place.”

Michael Morrison, a junior from Chandler High, found his passion for wood working at a young age. He said the Pitt State program “is exactly what I was looking for.”

“Arizona is so big, and I was expecting to find this place to be a little boring,” Morrison said. “I mean, we have Arizona State right down the street. But once I came here and saw what it was all about, I immediately made up my mind. There is that small-town feel, but the outcome is just as good as you could get any other big school.

“It’s probably better here, actually,” he added, “because you get so much hands-on experience and one-on-one interaction with your teachers. You wouldn’t get that at Arizona State or other big schools.”

Doug Hague, assistant professor of wood technology, said Pittsburg State is working closely with Roberts to continue recruiting efforts in Arizona.

“The work Mark Roberts is putting in down there is very beneficial not only for us, but also for those students,” Hague said. “There are a lot of students in Arizona who are looking for programs like what we have here, and we’re starting to see that as more and more students from Arizona make that pretty big leap to move here and enroll in our program.”

Roberts said the high placement rate among Pitt State graduates and the College of Technology’s state-of-the-art facility and equipment make the university “too attractive not to tell students here about.”

“My passion for wood working is equaled by my passion for student success,” Roberts said. “Combining those two always leads me to Pitt State. There is no better place to attend for students who want this career. They’re almost guaranteed to get good jobs after college, and they’ll enter the field far ahead of students from lesser programs.”

Ryan Oaxaca, a freshman out of Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix, said he looked at many university options nationwide before choosing Pittsburg State.

“I looked a lot of places,” he said. “I went into the process very open-minded, keeping my options open. During my senior year at Paradise Valley, I visited Pitt State. By the end of the day, I knew that if I wanted a career doing what I love, I had to come here. It was really the only option after my visit.”

©2013 Pittsburg State University