Rene McKenzie urges students to challenge themselves
“What I love most about working at RCC is serving students and encouraging them to grow and take on new challenges,” said Rene McKenzie, director of RCC Student Programs.
McKenzie was a single mother when she began her studies at RCC. With the support of the Moving On program and working full time, McKenzie completed a two-year degree at RCC and then earned her bachelor’s degree from Northwest Christian College.
McKenzie went on to Oregon State where she received a master’s in education. She recently completed the coursework for her Ph. D. in community college leadership and is working on her dissertation.
RCC grad Sharon Bahr recalls how McKenzie helped her conquer her fears and learn how to succeed.
“Rene took me under her wing. I appreciated how she always made time for me. She’s a role model and inspiration, friend and mentor, all wrapped up in one — a remarkable woman.”
McKenzie’s past awards include Woman of the Year in Oregon Community Colleges, American Association of University Women Top Scholar, and OSU College of Education Scholarship. The RCC Foundation presented its 2011 Outstanding Alumni Award to McKenzie.
“When I came to Rogue, my goal was to become employable, continue my higher education, and find a career I was passionate about,” McKenzie said. “I have met all of these goals, and I am grateful for my colleagues, for RCC students, and all I have learned while working at Rogue.”
RCC helped Sharon Bahr on her journey to success
When RCC graduate Sharon Bahr embarked on a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology this fall at Howard University, she was taking the next step in a remarkable journey.
It’s a journey that has taken her from a domestic violence shelter to academic success and personal fulfillment. Bahr has received a full scholarship and living expenses to attend the prestigious university in Washington, D.C.
“I didn’t even know what graduate school was when I started at RCC,” said Bahr, the first in her family to attend college. Since then she’s earned an associate’s degree in criminology at RCC and two bachelor’s degrees (with honors) in criminology and psychology from Southern Oregon University. She also has presented a paper on human trafficking to the American Criminology Society conference.
“I’ve seen you can make anything happen if you work hard and have the right attitude,” Bahr said. Originally from Gold Beach, Bahr left home at 16.
“Due to an unfortunate family situation, I went out early in the world on my own. It was a bit of a rough start,” she explained. Landing in an abusive relationship, she had a child at 21. A domestic violence protection program helped her get to Dunn House, a shelter in Jackson County.
Eventually life settled down for Bahr. She became a stay-at-home mother for about 15 years, earning a GED at Rogue. And she married Hans Bahr.
“He encouraged me to return to school,” she said, laughing. “Little did he know that would take 10 years.” Her first day at RCC and feeling “shaky,” she met Rene McKenzie, then director of TRiO, a program helping first generation, low income or disabled students.
“Signing up for TRiO was the beginning of my journey here,” Bahr explained. “The feeling of family and caring and support in TRiO was wonderful. The tutoring services and scholarship application classes also were helpful,” said Bahr, who returns to speak to TRiO classes.
“Rene took me under her wing. I appreciated how she always made time for me. She’s a role model and inspiration, friend and mentor, all wrapped up in one — a remarkable woman,” Bahr said. McKenzie now is director of RCC Student Programs.
“I had a wonderful experience at RCC. I feel so blessed and so glad I came here,” Bahr continued. “RCC faculty challenged me. They placed a big emphasis on writing skills, research and citing sources, which gave me a leg up at SOU. I became an excellent student at RCC.”
Bahr also grew interested in criminology via instructor Ron Robson’s classes.
Along the way Bahr has made sacrifices, living in a van during the week for a while in Ashland and being away from her family. But she’s focused on reaching her career goal: to work as a research psychologist in a correctional facility.
“There are lots of misunderstandings about jail populations and a need for qualified, understanding people who care,” Bahr explained. “I feel like I could make a difference. From my own life experience I have some insights into connections between poverty, domestic violence and crime. That’s the reason I’m following this path.”
Bahr’s family has remained in the Illinois Valley, where husband Hans “holds down the fort” so younger daughter Cheyenne, 17, can complete high school there. Now, Bahr says, she’s come full circle.
“I got my degrees in Ashland and volunteered there at Dunn House, the same facility that saved me,” she said. “I had a little bit of a rough beginning, but I guess I’m stronger because of all those circumstances. I never dreamed I’d be a doctor.”
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