The success story of Vyla Grindberg: How a student became a teacher

Published by Rian Berriman on

A 2020 UCC graduate who is regarded by many as a friend, fierce protector of human rights and hard worker extraordinaire became a 2022 UCC teacher this spring.

Vyla Grindberg, the spring GIS 235 instructor, moved to Douglas County in June of 2018 to be closer to family and start fresh after her company closed the North Dakota office she had been working at. She had a bachelor’s degree in communication, but had difficulty finding a job in her field, so she decided to update her skills by earning a UCC engineering certificate.

Vyla Grindberg celebrated pride at the Big Queer Party.
Rian Berriman / The Mainstream

But Grindberg didn’t just attend UCC. She added many employment opportunities to her resume while taking classes, including an internship with the city of Myrtle Creek, a position with the Green Sanitary District (now GAWSA), and a position implementing a GIS system with the Tri-City Water and Sanitary Authority.

Though these responsibilities, coupled with a full course load in Engineering and a spouse and two young children, consumed a lot of her time, Grindberg also worked for the student government of UCC. She was voted in as the ASUCC business manager for the 2019-2020 school year. During her tenure as business manager, Grindberg organized the redesign of the ASUCC logo to improve branding opportunities. She also led the creation and distribution of mask holders created on UCC’s 3D printers at the beginning of the pandemic, so local employees in professions which constantly required masks wouldn’t develop sores or discomfort on the backs of their ears. And she faithfully connected students to food and other needed resources.

Grindberg was also deeply involved with UCC’s Queer Students Advocacy group, a club that serves as a safe space for queer students and allies to find friends and discuss issues related to their rights and well-being. Grindberg, an openly queer transgender woman, continues to share her energy as a queer rights activist and supporter in Douglas County.

While her time as a student at UCC was spent carefully balancing classes, employment, and community service, Grindberg’s hard work did not end when she gained her engineering certification. Within about a year of graduation, she took a position as GIS coordinator with Douglas County government to work with the GIS systems that inform many of the decisions made about city development and rural mapping. Then, within about a year working for the county, her skills with GIS garnered attention, and she was asked to help fill in for the full-time GIS instructor here at UCC this spring.

“I’m grateful to be able to provide back to my community again, be on this outstanding campus, and do some learning alongside my students,” Grindberg said. “It’s been a great learning experience, with finding my teaching voice and learning some new GIS related topics that I hadn’t done before. It’s been a blast.”

While teaching at UCC part-time and serving as Douglas County’s GIS coordinator full-time, Grindberg continues to provide a substantial number of volunteer hours to the Umpqua Valley Rainbow Collective, which hosts parties, arranges support groups, and creates a sense of community for the queer residents of Douglas County and their families. Grindberg was instrumental in planning and organizing the Big Queer Party, an event held in Stewart Park on May 14 that provided free food, entertainment and prize drawings for guests. Over 280 people attended.

“Vyla is passionate about uplifting others into being the most of themselves, including stepping into their own leadership,” said Chi Mei Tam, a local activist and founder of the Umpqua Valley Rainbow Collective who worked with Grindberg in the recent event.

After starting over in a new state and struggling to find meaningful work, Grindberg found UCC. Then, when UCC needed help, it found Grindberg.

Dee Winn, department chair for science, technology, engineering and mathematics at UCC, says that Grindberg was chosen to teach in part because she did so well as a student.

“She is able to connect with students in a unique way, being a former student,” said Winn.

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