With a degree in marketing from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, Deron Fort returned to his hometown of West Chester, Pennsylvania, for a sales job at a titanium manufacturing plant. “It was not inspiring work,” he says. “We wore badges to measure radiation from the electron beam furnaces.” Fort quit two years later to study for a master’s in education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, then taught middle school for two years.
In 2001, he and his brother spent five months hiking the Appalachian Trail. “End-to-end, 2,160 miles,” he says. “It was a life-changing experience.” Fort returned to UNCW for a job coordinating student teachers in area schools, and later became its first early-college liaison for high school students. “Early college works,” he says. “Many students have a transformed view of their potential when they experience a college campus.”
Fort kept an eye on job openings in certain geographic areas and, in 2011, was hired as director of High School Connections at Lane Community College. HSC opened its Early College and Career Options (ECCO) High School on campus in 2013. “My wife Shelly also likes hiking and camping,” he says. “We try to see as much of Oregon as we can.” Recruited by officemate Patty Hine, a co-founder of 350 Eugene, Fort took part in last summer’s Hike the Pipe protest of the proposed natural gas pipeline and terminal in Southern Oregon. “I hiked about 50 miles, from Shady Grove to Tiller,” he says. “We had to alter our route because of wildfire. Those pipes leak methane. It’s a recipe for disaster.”