Johannah Hamilton

Oregon State University student Johannah Hamilton walks Kiba, her 1-year-old Husky, near her north Corvallis apartment on Wednesday. Hamilton struggled to find suitable housing when she arrived in Corvallis to work on her doctorate in public policy, but OSU's Human Services Resource Center was able to lend a hand. 

College isn’t always a bed of roses. Not everyone lives in a new four-bedroom, four-bathroom apartment. Sometimes the challenges are more daunting than deciding what kind of beer to haul out of the cooler at the convenience store.

And sometimes students need a little help to successfully navigate through the maze.

Johannah Hamilton, 26, grew up in Louisville, Kentucky. She picked up a degree from the University of Kentucky in agricultural economics with minors in business and Spanish and added a master’s in agricultural economics from Auburn in Alabama.

Then she was recruited to enter a four-year doctoral program in public policy at Oregon State University.

And the challenges began. The transmission went out on her car when she was driving her belongings from Auburn back to Kentucky. Ka-ching! New car plus a $600 towing charge.

She drove west with her parents in August to find housing, staying at motels in Albany and Corvallis during the search. Ka-ching! There goes $70 to $80 per night. The housing challenge was exacerbated by the fact that Hamilton was toting her 1-year-old Husky, Kiba. And Kiba damaged the carpet at one of the motels while Hamilton was at an all-day orientation session. Ka-ching! There goes the pet deposit.

So Kiba went to a pet hotel in Albany. Ka-ching! $20 per day.

“I was running up my credit cards,” she said. “It involved so much money and time just in getting here. I didn’t know (the) housing (situation) was so bad.”

There are times in which paying for housing or paying for food becomes a sobering choice for a student such as Hamilton. She finally found an apartment, but it wasn’t going to be ready until October.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she said. “There is so much that goes into it … especially if you are not at home.”

She found about the “meal bucks” food security program run by the university’s Human Services Resource Center and applied for assistance. That made her eligible for food pantry service at the center, which occupies the remodeled Avery Lodge building on Southwest Madison Avenue. More importantly, that application put her in the center’s database.

Ka-ching! Help was on the way from the Resource Center, which has offered assistance to thousands of OSU students.

“When she completed the application she indicated that she was temporarily without housing so my team reached out to her,” said Nicole Hindes, the assistant director in the Office of Student Life who coordinates the resource center. The facility also features a gym, locker space, a textbook library and coordinates referrals for other services. The center is paid for by student fees.

“Because she’s new in town, like many grad students, she didn’t have friends and family locally that she could ask for support,” Hindes said. “She continues to live on a graduate student stipend, which is challenging, particularly when you have just moved across the country.”

Hindes added that more than 50 percent of the individuals she serves are "first generation" students, which is twice the rate of the student body as a whole.

"These students are not looking for a place to party," she said. "They are looking for a place to study and get things done."

Hindes’ office has access to dorm rooms in Sackett Hall for emergencies. So Hamilton moved in there until the apartment was ready. And she hasn’t had to move again.

“You never know where life will take you,” Hamilton said in an interview at Strand Agricultural Hall. Her grad student stipend requires her to serve as an adviser for Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.

The advising work and her studies keep her hopping in the typical overscheduled college student manner. She just got back from a training conference in Atlanta, part of the 20 hours per week she is required to work in her advisory role.

But …

“It’s always more than 20 hours per week,” said Wanda Crannel, her academic adviser. “She is generous with her time, always involved in community service and soliciting donations.”

“The people here have been super-friendly,” Hamilton said. “They don’t even tell me I have a Southern accent. This was a big lifestyle change for me. Everybody is big into the environment and the outdoors. Trails are everywhere.”

And so is the pollen.

“I have the worst allergies here ever,” she said. “My nose is always stuffed up.”

Looking ahead, Hamilton mentioned the Peace Corps, the U.S. Agency for International Development and foreign service as possibilities.

“Fast forward 15 years … maybe I will be in politics and implement some policies that will help change things," she said. "We’ll see. What I’ve learned from being here is that it’s one day at a time and one term at a time.”

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.