July 8, 2014
Sara Viemeister loves all animals, but she is crazy about cats — and the wilder the better! Whenever she’s not at her job at Columbia Gorge Community College (CGCC) or studying for her bachelor’s degree, she’s likely to be feeding cats, saving cats, learning about cats, or even catching feral cats to get them neutered or spayed. In fact, her passion for both cats and other animals led her to volunteer at Home at Last (HAL), the local humane society, and she’s now serving on the HAL board and advocating for programs that, among other efforts, provide affordable neutering and spaying services.
“I always grew up with animals and have a real passion for cats, so it was only natural for me to get involved with Home at Last,” she says. “There are so many people who hate cats, yet I’ve learned through my prior psychology classes at CGCC that animals have so many benefits and uses other than just being pets. So I’ve become this sort of this crazy cat lady who will feed feral cats in my neighborhood and then take them in to get fixed. They are overpopulated, but it’s so easy to fix them and address this issue, which is out of control, particularly in rural communities.”
But Sara’s not just crazy about cats, rescuing animals, and loving her furry HAL friends. She’s also very passionate about helping people and, in particular, the many students she meets as one of the college’s financial aid specialists, a job that speaks to her professional and interpersonal strengths.
“In a way, CGCC saved my life,” she says. “I was pretty wild in my late teens and early 20s, so I can relate to students who seem as lost or worse than I was and who might need encouragement or just someone to listen to them as they let go of old ways and choose new, more positive directions. I try to help them see how CGCC can give them something great to focus on because that’s what it did for me.”
In 2012, Sara graduated from CGCC with three associate’s degrees: an Associate of Arts transfer degree, an Associate of Science transfer degree, an Oregon transfer degree, and an Associate of General Studies degree. As CGCC’s valedictorian, she was also honored to be named “Outstanding Graduate of the Year” and creatively delivered her graduation speech as a Dr. Seuss rhyme, complete with a giant scroll. Now, in addition to working at the college, she’s pursuing her bachelor’s degree in social sciences through Eastern Oregon University. Particularly fond of her anthropology and sociology courses, Sara says these classes teach her a lot about people, particularly their differences and commonalities. Consequently, Sara feels empowered to relate to others effectively, whether it’s on a personal or professional level, and she plans to use that gift of understanding to continue helping students wherever she goes.
Having also gained and sharpened a lot of skills in helping build CGCC’s financial aid program and, prior to that, serving as the president’s administrative assistant, she’s no doubt an asset to whoever hires her in the future. But for now, she’s thrilled to be part of the CGCC staff, an opportunity that’s given her career clarity and loads of confidence.
“If you would have told me 10 years ago I’d be doing what I’m doing now, I would have laughed,” says Sara. “Now, I’ll always see myself working for a college or post-secondary institution, and I feel really proud of myself because although I’ve had the support of family and friends, I’m very independent and am achieving my education and career dreams on my own.”
As Sara has gained greater transparency on what she wants and how she’ll get it, there’s no doubt that she’s become a little more “tame” than she used to be. However, she has not completely lost her wild streak and will literally “jump” at opportunities to do fun and crazy things — such as when she joined a roommate in skydiving just for kicks. She’ll also be the first to tell you that whether taking such legendary leaps in the sky or springing toward her career and education goals, she’s come a long way in effectively mastering how to harness and use what makes her exceptional and unique. More importantly, Sara’s now using all that to propel and support the highly productive, purposeful directions she’s chosen to pursue in life.
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