Rep. Tawna Sanchez, PSU alumna and advocate for Oregon’s most vulnerable, sees important role for educators

Representative Tawna Sanchez, Portland State University alumna

Portland State University alumna and Oregon House of Representatives member Tawna Sanchez (Democrat, 43rd District, N. and NE Portland) earned a Master’s in Social Work in a program designed for working professionals. The long-time Director of Family Services for the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) is a political advocate for children, families, elder support, Indigenous People, and women. In 2016, she became the first Native American to represent Portland in the Oregon Legislature, and only the second in history in the Oregon Legislature.

Now in her sixth year in public office, Rep. Sanchez has a strong list of priorities for the upcoming session. She is aware of the challenges ahead, and is prepared to meet pressing public crises. Homelessness, housing, mental health, and addiction are top of mind, as well as the environment. She asks, what could we have done better or differently, long ago? The need is obvious, but nothing can be assumed. She notes even simple things, like recycling, a Portland way of life, is not held to be a given in the state’s legislative assembly. 

“Environmental infrastructure is important. We want to recycle. We don’t want a negative environmental impact,” says Rep. Sanchez. “PSU is a good example of how important this is to the people of Portland. There are opportunities to recycle, reuse, and reduce all over campus.”

She is equally candid about the mental health crisis in Oregon, and how to fund solutions. “I’m not afraid to say it out loud,” she says. “Without a sales tax, and with the Oregon kicker checks costing the state billions of dollars annually, it’s absolutely necessary that we face the reality that we live in a state where beer and wine have not had taxes increased in 40 years.”

There is also the possibility to introduce a telecom tax for the new 988 mental health crisis number that was just approved federally. She sees it as a life-saving measure for all Oregonians to have access on their mobile phones just as they do 911. And then there is the Corporate Activities Tax (CAT), which she says, all added together, amounts to nowhere near the level of investment needed.

“We have to be able to respond more deeply,” she says, in reference to behavioral health. “When police respond, that is not what they are trained for. Measure 110 is a good start and fundamentally changes how we approach drugs and addiction, but it doesn’t give law enforcement the tools they need to have a trauma-informed response. We as a state must continue to prioritize sustained investments in behavioral health, mental health, street response, and addiction if we want to see a difference.”

“Republicans don’t like taxes, and any proposed measure for a new tax in the legislature, by law, requires a three-fifths vote,” she explains. “I have to convince my colleagues, and we still have to pass that.”

However daunting, that won’t stop her from trying. Her victories are stacking up nicely, including legislative policy and investments focused on protecting communities from climate change, equity and justice for all, access to healthcare and healthy communities, economic recovery, workforce development, education and childcare.

Thinking back to her college days, she recalls the struggle to pay for tuition while earning her undergraduate degree (BA in Psychology and Communications, Marylhurst University), for which she refinanced her home. At PSU, she received a scholarship from the School of Social Work, which inspired her later, as an elected official, to champion programs for adult learners in the workforce. At a 2021 conference, she learned that PSU and community colleges could provide credit for prior learning with more resources. She went to work on making these programs a reality.

She sees an important role for educators in creating a healthy future for Oregon. Now in her 25th year as NAYA director, she reflects on NAYA’s Many Nations Academy, which provides a culturally relevant, student-centered learning environment combining a high school and college and career-readiness curriculum. “It matters that the kids see themselves in the world and in education to succeed, invested in who they are,” she says. “That’s so important.”

Dr. Maria Tenorio, Educational Policy and Leadership faculty at Portland State University recalled early work with sisters Tawna and Johnelle, and others taking Native youth to basketball practice and to drum at a church in southeast Portland. Many in the community supported the next steps of forming a non-profit and Tenorio later helped NAYA develop its Many Nations Academy. “Tawna,” she states, “was active in so many critical issues for Native communities and many don’t realize the root of Tawna’s strength is her spirituality in all she does. It is one of the reasons she is such an effective role model and foster mother.”


By Sherron Lumley

Eight Great Things About Being a Teacher!

Alumni of Portland State’s College of Education share what they love about teaching

Happy holidays to all of Portland State’s many College of Education alumni educators and students enjoying a nice Winter Break before the new year begins! Throughout 2022 we interviewed students and alumni to discover what they love most about their field, and here’s what they said.

Eight great things about being a teacher!
1. The Aha Moment
2. Making a difference
3. Work-life balance
4. Career flexibility
5. A lifelong calling
6. Professional salary
7. Community spirit
8. Changing the world for the better.

portland state university college of education alumni, 2022

The Big One: The Aha Moment

Teaching a student something new for the first time never gets old!

Rosa Floyd, the 2023 Oregon Teacher of the Year, is an alumna of the Bilingual Teacher Pathway program at Portland State. She describes the most rewarding part of her work as when the children in her dual language kindergarten classroom discover they can read or write or use the new language to communicate with others. “They acquire the language very quickly at this young age. This is their first experience, so you open a lot of channels for the future. It is an honor to work with these students and families, and it is a big responsibility, transforming lives. When they learn a second language, they learn to see the world in a different way,” she says.

2. Making a difference

Whether it’s special ed, or special circumstances, educators love to see students overcome obstacles to thrive and grow.

Kamala Arumugam earned a Master’s in Special Education in 2021 and now works for the Beaverton School District. “Special Education is a highly satisfying career that makes a positive impact on the lives of children with learning disabilities,” she says. 

Susan McLawhorn is in her 19th year of teaching and is currently earning a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at PSU. For the past seven years she has been a teacher in the Teen Parent Services Program of Portland Public Schools. “The best part about teaching is getting to see students – who society might have counted out — graduate high school, go to college, and be successful and happy and full of self-worth. It is unbelievably rewarding,” she says.

3. Work-life balance

A regular schedule and summer, winter and spring breaks are great for spending time with family, travel, and professional development.

Alumnus Juan Romero-Corral is a middle school social studies teacher in a Spanish immersion program in Portland. He was in the Graduate Teacher Education Program at PSU, and Dual Language Teacher Residency Program for Portland Public Schools. “Being a teacher was a change for the better in my life,” he says, adding that he finds teaching is good for his family because the profession provides a stable schedule, benefits, and life balance. Like many educators, there is more than one thing he cherishes about his profession. “What I really like best is to see the students growing and how important school is for some families,” says the father of three, who sees the life-changing impact for students and families.

4. Career flexibility

From Early Childhood Education to elementary, secondary, and college, teachers are in demand everywhere and some transition from teaching to administration or policy.

Early Childhood Educator Renata Andrez lives in Switzerland with her family and attended the PSU College of Education from Europe. She now works at the International School of Basel. The Early Childhood Inclusive Education program is all online, and Andrez, who had originally studied journalism in Brazil, was thinking about the future. “When my children are grown, I imagine being a part of a non-governmental organization, hopefully back home in Brazil, working to support families who face so many challenges to access good quality education for their children. One of the fascinating aspects of being an educator is that you might have many different ways to fulfill your aspirations,” she says.

5. A career to be proud of 

Education is a calling, and an honorable profession, one to devote one’s life to doing.

In Estacada, alumnus Ryan Carpenter, 35, is one of Oregon’s youngest Superintendents, and while completing his doctorate at PSU, was named one of the top Superintendents to watch nationally in 2021. As the son of an Oregon high school English teacher and coach, Carpenter says he knew from the 6th grade that he wanted to be a teacher and coach as well. In 2005 he was teaching social studies in John Day, Oregon, and coaching baseball. After teaching social studies for three years, he became a vice principal for two years, then a principal for two years, and then the superintendent of the school district. This year, he completed the doctoral program in Educational Leadership at Portland State University. “Really, it has been an honor,” he says. 

6. Community spirit 

Coaching, clubs and activities are important to educators who are excited about the world around them and the people in it.  

“Space Science and teaching are my passion,” says Jim Todd, OMSI’s star educator for 38 years, and presently its Space Science Education Director. “Every day, every week something is happening,” he says. After museum hours, he leads public star parties (check out the Rose City Astronomers, which has outreach and youth programs). “It’s a bright spot that brings people and family together to enjoy the view of the night sky, a beauty to escape to. Becoming an educator allows me to share this passion with the public and the media,” says Todd, whose advice to new teachers is as clear as a beautiful night sky: “Work with your passion, show your passion to your students, and it will carry you a long, long ways,” says Todd.

7. Professional compensation 

Educators earn professional-level pay with benefits that provide a comfortable living for buying a home, raising a family, and achieving life goals.

Kathleen Mahurin, a Special Education teacher in Bellingham, Wash. was the College of Education’s graduate student speaker in June 2022. Both of her daughters started college this year, one in Washington and one in Montana. She is happy to be a mother of two new college students. “I want to help my daughters, and getting my master’s degree means working at a wage that reflects my earning potential,” says the proud mom and teacher. 

8. Building a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion to change the world.

Teachers are the change agents in society, and leading an inclusive classroom is an important way to make the world a better place right now and in the future. PSU alumni are passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion in the classroom.

Ezra Whitman is an alumnus of PSU’s American Indian Teacher Program and is now in the First Nations Administrator and Knowledge Keepers program. He is a teacher in Portland at Roosevelt High School.

“I am so happy I am in a position to be with people who are making success happen, increasing attendance, and developing curriculum that is more engaging and reflects the community. This is empowering youth through language and literacy, making our communities vibrant so that we uplift them rather than escape them. It’s learnable, it is taking place, and people are doing it,” says Whitman.

Kamala Arumugam shared it this way: “Cultural representations matter in school and benefit all learners, both academically and socially. She added, “I imagine an educational setting that would reflect the real world of diverse abilities, experience,  languages, and cultures. An inclusive classroom is one where students grow to be more compassionate and responsive, and become caring citizens.”

Thank you to all of the dedicated teachers, educators, school counselors and administrators in the College of Education community, who make the world a better place every day.


By Sherron Lumley

Belonging: Author interview with Dustin Bindreiff, EdD, PSU alumnus

Here is a book for every transformative teacher and educator: Dr. Dustin Bindreiff’s new book will be out in January, called “Belonging: How Social Connections Can Heal, Empower, and Educate Kids,” (2023, Corwin).

“With the publication of this book, Dr. Bindreiff strives to bridge the gap between research and practice by focusing on a topic of critical importance,” says Dr. Randall De Pry, Chair of the Special Education department at Portland State University. “His work exemplifies one of the critical features of our doctoral program, namely doctoral level preparation focused on preparing scholarly practitioners,” he notes.

Now a policy consultant for the California School Board Association, Dr. Bindreiff works with the state’s legislature to translate laws into policies applied by some 977 school districts. The former special education teacher and program consultant becomes a storyteller in “Belonging,” bridging theory to practice for readers. The research-based strategies for educators unfold in vignettes that show just how important community is to the development of trust and safety feelings that strengthen relationships, essential for positive intervention and support.

PSU College of Education alumnus Dustin Bindreiff, EdD, is the author of a new book: “Belonging: How Social Connections Can Heal, Empower, and Educate Kids” (2023, Corwin).

Dr. Bindreiff recently sat down for an interview with his alma mater, Portland State University, where he earned his Doctor of Education in the Special Education department in the College of Education. He shared some insight into his sources of inspiration for his new book:

PSU: How would you describe your book, and what inspired you to write it?

Dr. Bindreiff:  My book makes a case for wellbeing and learning. It took much more than being a researcher to be a storyteller. My background is in working with the most challenging kids who have trauma, mental illness and learning disabilities, the most difficult cases. I wanted to take a chance and help. I want to bring issues forward, and show how small, subtle shifts can make a big difference.

Seeing the value of community in my own life, and seeing how so much of that is gone for students with disabilities – that was some of it. It came out of researching growth mindset, and how differently we think, act and behave in a community when psychologically we feel safe. This book is for  transformative educators who make a difference in the lives of marginalized students.

PSU:  Describe your doctoral work at PSU. What were your areas of research? 

Dr. Bindreiff:  Positive behavior interventions and support. There are passionate educators in the Portland State doctoral program who demonstrate how to go from an idea to a product, and the discipline of learning how to research, find answers, and real resources. I was eager to improve implementation of behavior interventions, to find supports teachers can consistently use.

In the doctoral program, we learn how to understand the process, as well as the impact and power of policy for systems change. Now I am putting my practical experience into strategies and solutions by working at the policy level, and also by learning to become a storyteller, sharing the real experiences of the kids and teachers I have worked with. Kids are not just a label, they are doing the best they can.

PSU: Why did you choose Portland State for your doctoral work, and what was your experience?

Dr. Bindreiff: PSU is practitioner-based – representing the bridge from theory to practice. It was a fun time at PSU after some years in the field, being able to spend eight hours a day at the library, working on reading the most books on mental health and behavior that I possible could. I value my time at Portland State, learning to be a researcher.

A few times, I thought I wanted to quit, but the Chair of the Special Education program and my advisor, Dr. Randall De Pry wouldn’t let me. I never thought of myself as a writer. It was Dr. De Pry who taught me to be a writer. I speak very highly about the experience and the faculty, such as Drs. De Pry, Loman, and Borgmeier.

PSU: Ultimately, the community and support he received at PSU played a critical role in helping Dr. Bindreiff write an important book at a critical time.

On behalf of the department of Special Education, congratulations Dustin
on this tremendous accomplishment!


By Sherron Lumley

Alumni spotlight: Wyatt Isaacs and Sawyer Viola featured in award-winning film “Moving Into Adulthood”

In October, “Moving Into Adulthood” premiered at the Seattle Film Festival. The short film featured two recent alumni of the Career and Community Studies (CCS) program at Portland State University. Wyatt Isaacs and Sawyer Viola are interviewed as well as Dr. Mary Morningstar, the CCS program director at PSU’s College of Education. The film takes the viewer on a journey into their lives, employment at Nike, and the ups and downs of adult life for two young men with autism and their families. The film won the award for Best Director – Short Film (Sarah Elizabeth Shively and Matt Park) at the Seattle Film Festival.

Just after Seattle, “Moving Into Adulthood” was also included in the Portland Film Festival, which hosts a virtual festival experience to view the film on its website

Learn more about Portland State’s Career and Community Studies program at upcoming virtual information sessions:

Nov. 15 and Dec. 1, 2022, 5:30 to 7 p.m.

“I think one of the unique aspects of this film is it portrays the real experiences of individuals with intellectual and developmental disability who challenge themselves and society to redefine inclusion and equity,” says Dr. Morningstar. “Sawyer and Wyatt were motivated when enrolled in CCS to push beyond the status quo and gain skills and experiences to achieve inclusive adult lives. Like so many young adults graduating from PSU, finding their place in the world comes with barriers and success. This film’s honest portrayal of their growth and setbacks establishes the essentiality of fully inclusive postsecondary education.”

The Career and Community Studies program at Portland State University offers an inclusive higher education experience for students with intellectual disabilities. CCS students take college courses, may live on campus in inclusive housing, participate in campus events and activities, do volunteer work, and by graduation from the four-year program, have secured long-term employment.

The model for the program, developed by Dr. Mary Morningstar, Professor Emerita Ann Fullerton and Associate Professor Emerita Sue Bert is one that Portland State hopes will gain the attention of the Oregon Legislature in the upcoming legislative session. The goal is to offer Oregon students with intellectual disabilities inclusion in public education beyond K-12, granted by federal law in 1975, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990.

Before this legislation, U.S. schools educated only one in five children with disabilities, often excluding students who were deaf, blind, emotionally disturbed, or had an intellectual disability. Five decades later, more is known, and today 7.2 million (15 percent of all public school students) receive special education services. The Career and Community Studies program at PSU helps these students take the next step to gain the skills necessary to reach their true potential as members of society.

Career & Community Studies is a pre-baccalaureate, non-degree certificate program with individualized support for academics, employment, and campus life. The PSU program is currently the only inclusive, post-secondary education program for people with intellectual/developmental disability in the state of Oregon. It was started in 2015 through a federal grant associated with Think College.

Interested in applying? Visit the CCS Admissions page to learn more or attend one of the upcoming virtual information sessions:

Tues., Nov. 15, 2022, 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Thurs., Dec. 1, 2022, 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Link to attend:


By Sherron Lumley

Alumnus spotlight: Dr. Alfonso Garcia Arriola will work on Science Education policy in Congress as Albert Einstein Fellow 

Dr. Alfonso Garcia Arriola, 2022.

Portland State University alumnus Alfonso Garcia Arriola, EdD, has been selected for the 2022-23 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship. Now in its 32nd year, the prestigious Fellowship is managed by the U.S. Dept. of Energy, (#EinsteinFellows22). For 11 months, he will be working on Science Education policy in the U.S. House of Representatives in the office of Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) in Washington, D.C. 

Dr. Garcia Arriola grew up in Mexico, and attended high school in San Diego, but it was a fateful conversation in Spokane that set him on the path to science education. None other than the young Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, was the harbinger of things to come. Alfonso asked him, “How does one get into that field?” And the advice was simple: “Learn science, speak French, have a teaching license.” 

He went on to earn his undergraduate degree in Biology and his teaching license at Gonzaga University before coming to PSU, where he completed his doctorate in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction from the College of Education in 2017.

Albert Einstein Fellows 2022-23. (Photo: Office of Science, U.S. Dept. of Energy)

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Fellowship Program (AEF) is coordinated by Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE). This year, it chose 15 teachers nationwide to apply classroom experience in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), to federal and congressional branch offices. Dr. Garcia Arriola has taught science in middle school for 24 years, and is currently a science educator in Portland Public School’s ACCESS Academy, a school for talented and gifted students. He plans to return at the end of the Fellowship.

There is something very exciting he wants to share with his students in the classroom, and it is part of what he will be spearheading in Washington. This is the narrative about partnerships between scientists and science educators. During the past two summers, through the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, he’s partnered with the Oregon National Primate Center’s Dr. Larry Sherman on multiple sclerosis research, looking for new treatments from plants. When he returns to Portland, his students will get to join in the research, too, looking at cellular slides from the center. “We take what we learn from our summer research experience into the classroom,” says Dr. Garcia Arriola, “and this makes the learning more real for students, seeing the greater purpose.”

Collaboration across disciplines, and trans-disciplinary learning is another project he is interested in championing in Washington. “For example, if we ask students to design and build a vegetable garden, there is math, there is environmental science, there is a social context, and there is the designing of the label if we are going to make salsa and sell it. The learning is much more real than the old way of doing things,” says Dr. Garcia Arriola.

While in Washington, he is one of five Fellows serving in a congressional office, and 10 Fellows are placed with other sponsoring agencies including the Library of Congress, U.S. Dept. of Defense, U.S. Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation, Dept. of Homeland Security, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It is an amazing opportunity to network with other Fellows, education leaders, and policy makers, key components of the program, along with professional development events every month.

His doctoral research at Portland State University focused on improving professional development opportunities for science educators. In 2022, he attended commencement at PSU again, this time for his daughter, who graduated with a degree in Bio-Chemistry. His younger daughter is studying economics at Santa Clara University in California. 


By Sherron Lumley

Alumnus spotlight:  Jim Todd, star educator for OMSI for 38 years

By Sherron Lumley

Jim Todd graduated from Portland State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Integrated Science in 1986. While still a student at PSU, he was also doing robotics for the Talented and Gifted program for Multnomah County, a year-long internship with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). 

Thus began his journey at OMSI in 1984, and 38 years later… “I’m still here,” he says, teaching all grade levels from pre-school through college level. I absolutely love being an educator,” says Todd.  

PSU alumnus Jim Todd, Director of Space Science Education at OMSI.

Although he intended to study architecture, a very unexpected opportunity came his way one day while he was flipping burgers at a football game. “My father was Vice President of Portland State University, so we went to all the home football games. One day, when I was at a game, flipping burgers on a grill, a woman named Beverly said, “I heard you have a new Commodore computer. How would you like to be a teacher of the Talented and Gifted at Multnomah County? That changed everything in my life.”

OMSI is not only where he established a very successful, lifelong career, it’s also where he would meet his wife Lisa, [Lisa Todd, now a staff member at the College of Education]. Their daughter Diana just graduated from PSU in 2022. Education figures prominently in the family’s story. “My father, mother, and both grandmothers were teachers,” he notes. 

It was another teacher, Dr. Zola Dunbar (1927-2015), professor and director of the Teacher Education/Certification program at PSU, who took him under her wing when he was a student. “If it wasn’t for Zola, I wouldn’t be where I am today. She was very important to me. She passed away a few years ago. Her daughter is a retired astronaut, Bonnie Dunbar, for NASA,” says Todd.

His story, he shares, includes lifelong hearing loss. “I’ve worn hearing aids all my life. Zola knew that would turn out to be a blessing. If you have the will, you have the way. Don’t let the naysayers stop you. Before Zola passed away, I gave her a tour of the planetarium at the OMSI. Zola Dunbar was somebody special,” he says.

“My first position at OMSI was as the outreach educator, traveling all over the Pacific Northwest with one other educator.  We were the only two for Alaska, Montana, Colorado, Washington, Idaho and Oregon, and we designed everything, and did all of the work.  I never went home.  I slept there, too. I knew then that informal education was right for me,” says Todd.  

While working at OMSI and attending PSU, he was also student-teaching at local schools such as Whitford Middle School to earn his teaching credentials. It was a challenging time that required strength of character, a hallmark of his journey.  

Always listen, and don’t be afraid of questions. You will find a way.

~Jim Todd, Director of Space Science Education, OMSI

As a child, it was the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 that was his greatest inspiration. “I was eight years old when President Kennedy said, ‘We choose to go to the moon not because it’s easy, because it’s hard.’ To overcome, I’ve used that NASA philosophy, and to work as a team to achieve those goals.”  

Fifty years later on the golden anniversary of the event, The Oregonian featured him on its front page: “Moon landing inspired OMSI’s Jim Todd to shoot for the stars,” (July 19, 2009). At that time, he had been the manager of OMSI’s Kendall Planetarium for 12 years. Today he is Director of Space Science Education at OMSI. 

“Space Science and teaching are my passion,” he says. “Every day, every week something is happening. People get empowered by it. I have the best job in the museum. It’s not so often that you get to have a hobby as a job. I’m also current President of the Rose City Astronomers.” 

The public star parties that he’s led for more than 25 years are about working with the diversity of the real sky. “The media helps me get the message out. It’s a bright spot that brings people and family together to enjoy the view of the night sky, a beauty to escape to. Becoming an educator allows me to share this passion with the public and the media,” says Todd.

After nearly four decades of sharing his love of space as an educator, his advice to new teachers is as clear as a beautiful night sky: “Work with your passion, show your passion to your students, and it will carry you a long, long ways. Find ways to be hands on with STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math]. Minds on – hands on. It’s challenging to be remote and teach astronomy online, but passion rises above all else. Always listen, and don’t be afraid of questions. You will find a way.”