Instructor says RCC is his
“favorite teaching gig”
Having the opportunity to work with students such as returning Iraqi War vet Chris Cooper makes teaching an “incredible pleasure,” declares RCC Humanities instructor Chip Phillips.
“I deeply appreciate having students like Chris who have a lot of life experience,” Phillips said. “Chris is a motivated student who brings a lot to the table. He’s accessible and funny…a good guy. I always appreciated his attitude and desire to learn more,” Phillips continued.
“The nontraditional students are really directed in what they want to learn,” Phillips added. “It makes my work at RCC truly wonderful.”
Cooper, who found inspiration and motivation in Phillips’ class, also sharpened writing skills that had gone unused during four years in the Marines. Those skills and have proven important in his current job.
Returning to civilian life was difficult for Cooper, and Phillips helped him work through issues through his writing.
“Chip Phillips inspired me as a writer and artist. Being able to put what I felt inside on paper was huge,” Cooper said. “I don’t think I could have passed writing without him.”
Phillips, who has taught at San Diego State University, Mt. San Antonio College, Chaffey College, San Diego Mesa College, and Southern Oregon University, joined RCC’s faculty in 2000, teaching composition and literature classes. He said it’s his all-time favorite teaching gig.
Phillips holds a bachelor’s degree in English from University of California, Los Angeles, and a master’s in American literature from San Diego State University. He earned a doctorate in American literature from Claremont Graduate University.
“RCC is a true community college, dedicated to making southern Oregon a better place,” Phillips said.
RCC helped veteran Chris Cooper adjust to civilian life
Chris Cooper’s Marine unit was the first to enter Iraq in March 2003, immediately engaging resistance from enemy tanks. Coming home in 2005 posed another kind of challenge.
“As a returning vet, and one of the first in the Rogue Valley, I kind of stuck to myself,” Cooper said. “I didn’t know much but the Marines and Iraq.”
But after enrolling at Rogue Community College, Cooper says his instructors helped him adjust to civilian life, while RCC’s welcoming atmosphere made him feel safe and able to communicate again with noncombatants.
Cooper especially found inspiration and motivation in a writing class taught by RCC Humanities instructor Chip Phillips. “I was blocked, and Chip really helped me express myself,” Cooper explained. “He knew I wouldn’t talk in class, so he called on me…made me do it. He challenged me. For me it was a crucial part of reintegrating into civilian life.” An avid drawer and watercolor painter, Cooper also credits Phillips with inspiring him as a writer and artist.
“Being able to put what I felt inside on paper was huge,” Cooper said. “I don’t think I could have passed writing without him. He even helped me with one-on-one tutoring,” Cooper continued. “As a combat vet it can be especially hard to ask for help.”
Now Cooper is helping other veterans, working as a readjustment counseling-technician at the Vet Center in Grants Pass. He assists servicemen and women returning from Afghanistan and Iraq learn about programs and benefits.
A 2000 graduate of Grants Pass High School, Cooper attended RCC before joining the Marines but realized his family couldn’t afford the tuition. Enlisting to earn college benefits, he was in boot camp on 9/11. “We knew right away we would be going to war,” he said.
After leaving the Marines as a corporal, Cooper first worked at a door factory and took RCC classes part time. When he decided to ramp up his studies to full time, he got student employment – a federal Work Study placement at the Vet Center – that ultimately led to a real job.
“The center was important to dealing with my issues including PTSD,” Cooper said. “Being around other vets helped me know I wasn’t alone. They understand what we’re going through.”
Cooper, who feels he’s found his calling at the center, is enjoying his work and his life. He’s married, with two daughters, ages 3 and 7.
The writing and computer skills he gained while earning an associate’s degree in business at RCC have proven useful in his job. Cooper is completing a bachelor’s degree online and aiming for a master’s in social work.
Cooper often refers vets to Brad Ross, RCC Vets Club advisor, and to veterans advisors Teri Smith at Riverside Campus and Nikki Johnson at Redwood. About 1,300 vets attended Rogue last year.
“I’m a big advocate for RCC,” Cooper said. “One of the first questions I ask is, ‘Are you in school?’”
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