• Nick Atwell: From the Halls of MHCC to the Port of Portland

  • In the late 90s, Michigan native Nick Atwell was drawn to the Pacific Northwest and the natural beauty that came with it. With a keen interest in the mountains, ocean and lush forests that Oregon was home to, he set out to attend Mt. Hood Community College (MHCC) to soak up all the knowledge he could about the natural environment. 

    Nick Atwell
    Nick Atwell, class of 2000
    Nick Atwell
    Atwell demonstrating a laser used to
    haze wildlife away from the airfield
    John Hiltebrand
    John Hiltebrand, class of 2009, is a Wildlife Technician
    on Atwell's team at the Port of Portland.

    As a full-time student who worked to put himself through college, MHCC’s courses provided Nick with a cost-effective way to get the right education to serve his long-term career goals. His days were spent attending class and studying while at nights he worked the midnight shift driving a forklift in a warehouse to pay for school.

    Despite the challenges, Nick’s mindset in school was to do his best and to not cut corners, a quality he says was recognized and respected by his professors.

    “I was blessed with a lot of high-quality professors at the time who took the time to invest in me,” Nick says. “It was not the easiest path, but it was definitely worth it in the end.” 

    While at MHCC, Nick completed a work-study internship program with the Port of Portland. At the time, this entry-level internship was simply to satisfy a course requirement needed for graduation but would later prove to be a stepping-stone to Nick’s long-term career with the Port.

    His education from MHCC, he says, laid a solid foundation for continuing his education and refining his trajectory of study. He earned an Associate of Science degree in Natural Resources from MHCC and transferred to Portland State University to pursue a degree in organismal biology before starting a full-time career with the Port of Portland after graduation.

    “[MHCC] provided me a smooth transition to a four-year university, which is incredibly important when you’re a student paying for your education,” Nick says.

    Nick has been with the Port of Portland for more than 20 years and is now the Senior Natural Resources and Wildlife Manager. Although his job requires him to wear many different hats, his main duties include managing two separate programs, the first being Conservation & Mitigation and providing oversight on conservation efforts on all Port-owned areas and mitigation sites.

    The second is the Wildlife Hazardous Management program, where Nick’s team is made up entirely of MHCC graduates.

    Within the aviation Wildlife Hazard Management program, Nick manages a team of five MHCC graduates. This team’s responsibility is high, as they identify any safety issues that may pose a risk to operations for Portland International Airport and the Troutdale and Hillsboro airports. Rain or shine, they are out on the airfield every day of the year ensuring all operations are running smoothly and safely.  

    Not only is Nick still connected to MHCC with his teammates at work, but he keeps an eye out for future talent coming out of the college. He attributes MHCC as the starting point of his career, ultimately giving him a foot in the door to the Port of Portland, and he looks for the chance to pass on similar opportunities to MHCC students when he can.

    “If it wasn’t for MHCC, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing,” Nick says. “That’s why I continue to invest in MHCC and look for opportunities for MHCC students to participate in work-study programs with the Port.”

    Nick’s journey from a hard-working student at Mt. Hood Community College to where he is today as Senior Natural Resources & Wildlife Manager for the Port took hard work and a true dedication to succeed. What began as an interest in the natural environment has turned into a full-time career through the stepping-stones laid by his MHCC courses and his continued education at PSU.