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Santa Rosa Junior College transforms into colorful bazaar for Day Under the Oaks

About 5,000 and 7,000 people attended the event, which featured science exhibits, performances and booths showcasing the campus’s diversity.|

After a one-year hiatus, Santa Rosa Junior College opened its campus to the community Sunday for the annual Day Under the Oaks education fair.

The 100-acre Santa Rosa campus’s meandering walkways were transformed into a colorful bazaar with science exhibits, performances and booths showcasing the diversity of scholarship and pursuit by staff members and students.

The community carnival was canceled last year as the school was celebrating its 100th year and also dealing with a $6.5 million budget gap and declining enrollment. On Sunday, President Frank Chong said the college pledged to hold the all-day open house this year because it has been the best way for the school to showcase all it has to offer.

“We really need to attract students,” Chong said, adding the event has become a tradition. “The community expects it, they deserve it. And it’s a perfect day. The weather couldn’t be better.”

Event organizers estimated between 5,000 and 7,000 people attended the event, which was first held in 1978. About 26,000 students enroll each semester and study everything from dentistry to debate at the college, which boasts a strong general education program and 160 certificate programs.

In the quad and along the walkways, Kung Fu students gave demonstrations, science students helped children use wands to create gargantuan bubbles, and prospective medical assistants checked visitors’ blood pressure.

Culinary student Jill Lee taught about two dozen people in the audience to always add a little salt before adding the oil when making vinaigrette.

The festival’s heartbeat was the Native American Spring Celebration, an all-day, family-focused showcase of native songs, dance and ceremonies from a variety of tribal traditions. Pomo tribes lived on the land where the school stands now, and the land holds historical and spiritual significance.

Sunday’s event was a return for Lynn Wilgus, who graduated from SRJC in 2014 with a nursing degree. Today, she works at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Kaiser Medical Center, and her 18-year-old daughter is enrolled to start her first semester at SRJC this fall.

“We have a great resource here in Sonoma County,” said Wilgus, 35, of Santa Rosa.

Wilgus brought her younger daughters and a niece to have some fun and show off her old campus Sunday. Dylyn Wilgus, 11, is interested in nursing as a career, but not so for 9-year-old Layla Wilgus, who was most impressed with the baby ducks on display from the Western Farm Center.

Why? “They’re cute and fuzzy,” Layla Wilgus said.

Inside the Bertolini Student Center, a standing-room only crowd watched models showcase couture designed by students in the fashion studies program.

The outfits included practical dresses and flamboyant designs, such as a rainbow dress with a hood and intricate laces. But 9-month-old model Fia Heaviside stole the show when she toddled down the runway, pushing a wooden walker in a handmade blue jumper made to match the dress worn by her mother, instructor Hilary Heaviside.

A quick study, Fia Heaviside turned and waved just before exiting the stage, causing the crowd to roar. In the words of one observer, merchandise student Shannon Sierra, 52, of Santa Rosa: “Oh my god, my ovaries hurt.”

Outside at a booth near Pioneer Hall, SRJC Police Chief Robert Brownlee watched as two police cadets and a cadet recruit twirled cotton candy and passed it out to children.

Brownlee oversees the cadet program and a full-time police department, which currently has six officers and is recruiting four more to reach staffing goals. His mission is to encourage those with an interest in a public safety career to join.

“We’re always recruiting,” Brownlee said. “I see this as an opportunity.”

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