Campus Pride rates SOU at top

SOU rated at the top for eighth year in a row by Campus Pride

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University has been recognized for the eighth year in a row as one of the nation’s Top 40 LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges and Universities by Campus Pride, a nonprofit that supports and improves campus life for LGBTQ people on more than 1,400 U.S. campuses.

SOU earned five out of five stars overall on the Campus Pride Index, which ranks universities in each of eight categories: policy inclusion, support and institutional commitment, academic life, student life, housing and residence life, campus safety, counseling and health, and recruitment and retention efforts. SOU drew five-star rankings in six of the categories and four-and-a-half stars in the other two.

The Campus Pride recognition is meaningful for prospective and current LGBTQ students, particularly during a period of political polarization and pandemic-related isolation.

“LGBTQ youth and families want to know what campuses are doing when it comes to inclusive policies, programs and practices,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride and creator of the Campus Pride Index. “The ‘Best of the Best’ highlights the Top 40 this year across six regions throughout the country.”

SOU was also ranked 21st among the 50 best colleges for LGBTQ students by the online publication College Choice, which released its 2020 rankings in July.

The Campus Pride list of the top 40 LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities in the U.S. included three Oregon institutions – SOU, the University of Oregon and Portland State University. A total of eight in the West region received the organization’s “Premier Campus” designation.

SOU addresses sexual orientation and gender identity in the university’s non-discrimination policy and offers gender-inclusive housing options, the stand-alone Queer Resource Center and LGBTQ-related academic offerings through the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program. SOU also participates in LGBTQ-specific college fairs and its counseling and health staff provide queer- and trans-friendly services.

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SOU's cohort of first-year students is diverse and smart

SOU’s first-year cohort: diverse, smart and persistent

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University’s 2020 cohort of first-year students is fairly evenly split between Oregon and out-of-state residents, much more diverse than either Jackson county or the state as a whole and has a wide variety of scholarly interests, with students in 19 academic majors.

The freshman class of 570 – not including transfer students – is also smart, with an average high school grade point average of 3.34. Another 380 first-year transfer students have enrolled at SOU this fall, along with nearly 3,000 continuing, returning and non-admitted students.

“We have a really good group of first-year students this fall, and great students who are continuing their educational journeys with us,” said Neil Woolf, SOU’s vice president for enrollment management and student affairs. “The COVID-19 pandemic, the recent wildfires and other external events have been huge distractions. All of our students this year have persevered. They want to learn and succeed.”

The pandemic and a resulting shift to mostly remote classes at SOU and most other universities resulted in dire predictions of enrollment declines in the 10 to 20 percent range for higher education institutions across the country. Official enrollment figures for Oregon’s public universities won’t be available until about halfway through fall term, but preliminary data suggest that SOU’s losses will be under 10 percent.

“We certainly would have preferred to hold steady on enrollment or even gain some students,” Woolf said. “But given this year’s realities and obstacles, this is far from a worst-case scenario. The dedication of our faculty, staff and the students themselves has been phenomenal.”

SOU’s freshman cohort is 56.6 percent female, 41 percent male and 2.4 percent non-binary. About 56 percent identify as white, just under 16 percent as Hispanic or Latinx and 28 percent as multi-racial, unknown or other people of color. By contrast, the most recent demographic data from the county and state suggest a white population of nearly 89 percent in Jackson County and 85 percent statewide – although Hispanic or Latinx residents are not separated from those figures.

Oregon residents make up 56.6 percent of SOU’s freshman class, with non-residents at 43.4 percent – led by California at 25.9 percent. Students from a total of 16 other states or territories are included in the cohort. More than 73 percent are living in SOU residence halls or other campus housing, and just under 27 percent are living off-campus.

One in five SOU freshmen have not yet declared an academic major. For those who have decided on majors, the top choices are psychology, theatre arts, biology, creative arts, pre-nursing, business, and criminology and criminal justice.

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wildfire respite is moving to Stevenson Union

SOU exploring all options to help students, employees and community through wildfires

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University has been exploring for the past week how its facilities and resources can best benefit students, employees and community members who have been affected by the recent wildfires.

SOU is currently offering daily respite and support from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Lithia Motors Pavilion for those who need to regroup in an air-conditioned facility with bathrooms, water and WiFi. Those services will transition to the Stevenson Union’s Rogue River Room on Thursday, Sept. 17.

The university’s Student and Family Housing units are fully occupied and its residence halls are already beginning to receive a reduced number of new, appropriately distanced students for fall term, which begins Sept. 23. Emergency shelter is being provided in SOU’s remaining, habitable residence halls for employees and students who have been displaced from their homes. A fire relief fund has been initiated for those who would like to make donations to support SOU students affected by the wildfires.

SOU representatives are also actively working with city, county, state and federal agencies to determine whether additional shelter can be provided in other SOU facilities. However, the university must be able to ensure the well-being of those housed on its campus and is urging patience as those options are pursued.

All wildfire responses by the university are in accordance with state guidelines – including social distancing and face-covering requirements – that have been imposed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

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Program for non-traditional students receives five-year grant

SOU awarded $1.6 million to help first-generation and non-traditional students

(Ashland, Ore.) — The TRIO-Student Support Services (SSS) program at SOU, which helps non-traditional students succeed and graduate, has received a five-year, $1,627,990 federal grant renewal to keep the program in operation through 2026.

The U.S. Department of Education grant will provide $325,598 per year in funding for SOU’s Success at Southern/TRIO Program, which is limited to 190 students per academic year and has served more than 1,500 since 1994.

The SOU program offers services including academic advising, tutoring, personal education plans, career guidance, preparation for graduate programs and financial aid information. The program is free and intended for first-generation, low-income, disabled or other non-traditional students.

Students must apply to participate in the Success at Southern/TRIO-SSS program and those who meet eligibility requirements are invited to interviews about their educational goals, career ambitions and academic barriers. Students who are accepted into the program must each attend a mandatory orientation session and an initial personal education plan meeting, then become eligible for all of the Success at Southern/TRIO-SSS services.

The federal TRIO programs, which were created following passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965, are intended to help disadvantaged students progress through the academic pipeline from middle school through graduate school. There are currently eight sections of TRIO, and the SOU grant is part of the Student Support Services Program. SOU also participates in the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program – a separately funded TRIO program – which prepares eligible undergraduate students for eventual doctoral studies.

TRIO’s programs help students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those with disabilities, to negotiate obstacles that may hinder their academic progress.

SOU pivots toward remote classes

SOU remains flexible in pandemic, pivots toward remote courses

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University is making use of the flexibility built into its reopening plan, pivoting to a fall academic schedule in which most – but not all – classes will be delivered remotely. The shift is due to the continued spread of COVID-19 in southern Oregon and statewide, and will benefit from the university’s growing familiarity with online and remote classes.

“I shared some months ago that our reopening strategy would be flexible and allow for these kinds of adjustments,” SOU President Linda Schott said in a message to students. “I remain committed to delivering a customized and flexible ‘hybrid’ learning experience this fall, balancing academic excellence with our community’s health and safety.”

The president pointed out that COVID-19 continues to spread in southern Oregon and much of the state, and that SOU recently learned of some initial cases involving members of its campus community.

The university has updated its safety and health protocols – including strict capacity standards for indoor spaces and a requirement for face coverings both inside and outside where adequate social distancing is not possible – to exceed CDC guidance. SOU is working with Oregon’s other public universities, community partners and Jackson County Public Health to plan for and respond to positive COVID-19 cases when they occur.

“I want our students to continue their studies in safety,” President Schott said. “I want SOU employees to continue serving our students without putting their health in jeopardy. And I want our neighbors and community members to recognize that we are moving ahead with appropriate caution.”

The university’s planning teams have worked to develop educational and student experiences that ensure both academic progression and improved quality of remote delivery courses. Many faculty members are taking advantage of professional development opportunities this summer to enhance learning environments for students in the coming academic year. SOU’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning has helped upgrade the university’s online and remote offerings.

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About Southern Oregon University
Southern Oregon University is a medium-sized campus that provides comprehensive educational opportunities with a strong focus on student success and intellectual creativity. Located in vibrant Ashland, Oregon, SOU remains committed to diversity and inclusion for all students on its environmentally sustainable campus. Connected learning programs taught by a host of exceptional faculty provide quality, innovative experiences for students. Visit sou.edu.

SOU's Small Business Development Center

SOU Small Business Development Center helps local businesses weather COVID-19

Southern Oregon University’s Small Business Development Center, in Medford at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center, has done more than its part to make sure businesses in Jackson County survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown declared a state of emergency in Oregon to address the virus outbreak on March 8, and President Trump declared a national emergency five days later.

“We noticed a marked increase in the number of calls into our SBDC Center immediately upon the president’s declaration of the national emergency,” said Marshall Doak, the center’s director. “Initially, our volume doubled, then continued to rise until we were dealing with a ten-times increase in our workload, trying to respond to the panic we heard in the regional business people’s voices.”

The flurry of calls from local business owners typically focused on accessing Small Business Administration programs or unemployment services, how to deal with landlords who wouldn’t offer rent leniency and the closure of businesses. Confidential, one-on-one business advising is a core feature of the national SBDC model.

One of the local businesses that reached out to SOU’s SBDC for help is the Talent Café, which focuses on a diverse selection of breakfast and lunch comfort food. The walls of Talent Café showcase owner Denise O’Brien’s paintings, which she creates while working there.

“I moved to Talent from Kona, Hawaii,” O’Brien said. “I had owned salons for 30 years but got really tired of the dynamic. I saw the cafe for sale in Talent, got a job as a hostess on the weekends and then bought it.”

Then the pandemic hit Oregon. Gatherings of 25 people or more were banned, along with on-premises food consumption at restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

O’Brien’s dedication to her customers, some assistance from the SBDC and some changes in direction have enabled the Talent Café to stay afloat.

“(COVID-19) closed us down for three months, right as it was getting busy,” O’Brien said. “I have completely redone the café to be more geared to to-go food.”

Her cafe isn’t the only local business to benefit from the SBDC’s assistance. Even with the increase in calls, the center has maintained its caller satisfaction rate, according to surveys of clients. 

“Our SBDC has distinguished itself in the amount of client contact we have had,” Doak said. 

The SBDC itself was also affected by the coronavirus, beyond the increase in calls. Doak and others take pride in the SBDC’s one-on-one meetings with business owners, and in-person training such as the “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” and “Grow your Business/Grow your Online Presence” classes taught at the HEC. A Zoom webinar to help business owners “Develop Your Unique Post-COVID Strategy” will be held at noon on July 23.

But with the cancellation of all non-essential meetings, the SBDC had to adapt its offerings to remote delivery.

“We went to a virtual delivery method before our peers around the nation were able to,” Doak said. “The SOU IT Department was absolutely fantastic in getting us up and running, so we (didn’t) skip a beat.”

The Medford SBDC has also been able to leverage its connection to the Small Business Administration – the only cabinet-level federal agency fully dedicated to small businesses – to help its local clients. About 900 SBDCs operate across the country, usually located at colleges or universities and funded by a combination of state and SBA support.

“We have extensive resources for SBA lending programs, for updated information for the CARES Act, and the accumulated knowledge of over 120 highly-educated and experienced professional business advisers across the state at our fingertips to assist our client businesses,” Doak said.

The SBDC’s business expertise and familiarity with the CARES Act were critical resources for O’Brien and as her Talent Café struggled to survive the COVID-19 restrictions.

“I have greatly valued the advice of Marshall, my (SBDC) counselor,” O’Brien said. “He guided me through loan applications and let me rant.”

Doak and the Medford SBDC are committed to the one-on-one approach that sets the business assistance agency apart from other organizations of its type.

“In the immediate past and present, the most important work we do is to keep entrepreneurs and business owners solvent so that they are able to rebuild their businesses post-COVID,” Doak said. “Knowing how fast businesses can go from prosperity to poverty or bankruptcy has been a shocking revelation to us.”

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

Commencement week, virtually, at SOU

SOU offers various Commencement recognitions in lieu of ceremony

(Ashland, Ore.) — Raider Stadium will be strangely empty Saturday, when Southern Oregon University’s traditional Commencement Ceremony was planned until the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily ended all mass gatherings in Oregon. But SOU remains in celebration mode this week with a variety of displays and program-level virtual, video and drive-through acknowledgements.

And all 1,000-plus Class of 2020 graduates will be recognized with small, individualized signs placed in the campus lawn – after President Linda Schott and the Rocky Raider mascot congratulate each graduate by posing for a photo with their sign. The lawn sign photos will be posted on the university’s website Saturday as a slideshow tribute to the graduating class.

“College graduation is a remarkable milestone for any student,” President Schott said. “I commend this year’s graduates for their hard work and determination, and for the grace with which they have negotiated the challenges of these past few months. They have prepared themselves well for future success.”

Visible displays to honor this year’s graduates will begin showing up on campus later this week, including a large Class of 2020 banner, signs at various campus locations and a commemorative display on the Churchill arch – traditionally a favorite spot along Siskiyou Boulevard for graduation photos.

At least 31 SOU programs are offering graduation observances specific to their graduates. Most of the program-specific events – which began last week and continue through this weekend – are virtual graduation celebrations. At least two programs are holding in-person but socially distant ceremonies, three created drive-through graduation events, four prepared video celebrations for their graduates and one – the Digital Cinema Program – streamed a live “Student Film Festival and Senior Celebration.”

SOU’s 2020 graduates have been told they should also expect to be invited back to campus for a full Commencement Ceremony at Raider Stadium as soon as an event of that size is allowed and the safety of participants and spectators can be assured.

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Esports management minor is coming to SOU

Esports team and esports management minor coming to SOU

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University will be among the first universities on the West Coast to offer both an academic program and a competitive team in esports when both are launched this fall. Esports is a billion-dollar global enterprise, and the programs will position SOU students for future employment in the burgeoning industry.

The University of California, Irvine, has an existing continuing education program in esports and a growing number of universities are exploring academic or team esports programs. SOU’s academic minor in esports management will be one of just a handful nationally.

The combination of competitive esports and the academic minor may help to attract more nontraditional students to SOU, President Linda Schott said.

“By offering a new academic minor, the university can meet the needs of students and the demands of a rapidly growing industry,” the president said. “Our new esports team will provide competitive, non-traditional sports offerings to students, which has the potential to increase student recruitment, engagement and retention.”

The academic minor – offered through SOU’s Business Program – will include curriculum in business, marketing, digital media and communication. Preliminary plans for the program call for new courses including Introduction to Esports Management and Contemporary & Ethical Issues in Esports.

SOU business faculty member Jeremy Carlton is organizing the esports management minor. Students can enroll for classes that begin this fall.

“The minor will help prepare students to be an integral part of the action in a field that values quick and strategic thinking, mental agility, intellectual curiosity and creativity,” Carlton said.

The university will also open an Esports Lab in its Student Recreation Center. The lab will house multiple computer gaming stations, one of which will be reserved for streaming and esports commentating – known as “shoutcasting.” The lab will be used for intercollegiate competitions, intramural gaming and open play for all SOU students and SRC members.

The university anticipates that its intercollegiate team will compete in the Collegiate Starleague (CSL). Collegiate esports started with CSL, which hosted the first collegiate competition in 2009 and has grown to include teams from 1,800 college campuses across North America. The CSL offers leagues across several titles and platforms, for players at all skill levels.

The CSL’s leagues and tournaments award scholarships to top-rated student gamers each year, and the organization is expected to eclipse the $1 million mark in scholarships in 2020.

SOU has elected to have members of its intercollegiate team help choose which games it will play. A survey conducted earlier this year indicated that students were most interested in “Apex Legends” and “Call of Duty.”

An important focus of the SOU team will be on health and well-being.

“This is a new sport, which means we have asked our campus recreation program to ensure that our players can perform at the highest levels,” Schott said, noting that there is a wellness and physical activity component required for students who participate on the competitive team.

“Our team members will engage weekly as part of a mandatory wellness component,” she said.

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Student teachers in SOU's School of Education are working remotely

SOU’s graduating student teachers provide value in varied settings

(Ashland, Ore.) — Even the most seasoned educators are currently navigating uncharted territory. But for student teachers in Southern Oregon University’s School of Education, unusual classroom circumstances are coinciding with the culmination of college journeys.

Teaching placements have gone ahead as scheduled – though not exactly as planned – for 110 SOU students who are either seniors or on track to complete the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) or Special Education programs this spring. They’re spread across 60 K-12 schools in 12 different districts, from Coos Bay to Klamath Falls and all over the Rogue Valley – with all learning delivered through a variety of remote formats.

John King – SOU’s director for the Division of Education, Health and Leadership – was among those figuring out logistics as the extent of disruption caused by COVID-19 was becoming apparent prior to spring term.

“Fortunately, we have great relationships with the districts and principals, and these (student teachers) are the people they’ll be hiring in the fall, so we’re working towards the same goals,” King said.

“What we’re trying to do is ensure our student teachers are providing added value for schools and students,” he said. “They need to satisfy degree requirements, yes, but we want to make sure they’re not just an extra burden because these schools are already under such enormous pressure in having to redesign a lot of their own work.”

Under normal circumstances, student teachers spend full days during the spring in their respective classrooms, delivering instruction and developing original curriculum. They’re now limited to remote instruction and finding classroom-to-classroom variations in approach, from face-to-face video instruction to packet pick-ups and online work.

MAT candidate Lauren Perkinson falls closer to the latter category in teaching anatomy and physical sciences at North Medford High School. Though she records herself giving lectures, the majority of her work goes into a weekly “learning grid” of activities that includes six options, from which students are asked to complete two.

“Everyone is affected differently and struggling to some extent, especially when it comes to students you have no contact with, but it’s a good lesson in the importance of adaptability as an educator,” Perkinson said. “One of the biggest takeaways is seeing teachers work together and support each other and students however they can, because they care so deeply about them.”

That support extends back to SOU, where ideas and experiences are shared in weekly Zoom classes.

“We’re trying to give them a menu of possibilities based on what each school is doing,” King said. “We have 110 different examples, so it gets incredibly complex very quickly, but that means they’re being equipped not only for their own classrooms, but also hearing experiences of others and seeing how these systems can work together.”

With subject knowledge testing centers closed, King is working with the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission to offer alternatives for soon-to-be-graduates to complete their state licensure requirements.

“We certainly haven’t figured everything out,” he said. “But we’re trying to approach the situation with generosity and grace and patience, and we’re all learning together.”

Story by Josh McDermott, SOU staff writer

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SOULA staff work on Oregon Chinese Diaspora Project

SOULA wins Oregon Heritage Excellence Award for Chinese immigrant research

(Ashland, Ore.) — The Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology (SOULA) has won a 2020 Oregon Heritage Excellence Award for its work on the Oregon Chinese Diaspora Project. Students worked with faculty on the project as part of a Sociology and Anthropology (SOAN) summer archaeological field school in 2019.

“The (Oregon Heritage Excellence Award) recipients represent the extraordinary efforts to preserve Oregon’s heritage,” said Beth Dehn, coordinator for the Oregon Heritage Commission. “They also serve as models for others on how to develop new ideas, approaches and innovations.”

The Oregon Chinese Diaspora Project is one of only 10 projects to receive the award. The grassroots archaeology partnership of federal, state and local agencies examined the Chinese diaspora – or dispersed population – in Oregon, and challenged stereotypes that have been historically assigned to the immigrants.

The project is led by Chelsea Rose of SOU Laboratory of Anthropology, who partners with archaeologists from state and federal agencies on archaeological sites across Oregon.

The ongoing project has involved digging, interpreting and touring nine archaeological sites where Chinese immigrants worked and lived; and searching historical records such as censuses, community records and data from the Kam Wah Chung Museum in John Day. Research findings have been publicized through lectures, tours, theses, digital “story maps” and will be presented in an upcoming volume of the Oregon Historical Society’s quarterly journal. Local involvement with volunteer projects has been encouraged through the cultural heritage program Passport in Time and other public archaeological events.

“It is exciting to see how far this project has come, and how much can be accomplished when agencies work together toward a common goal,” Rose said.

SOULA started the partnership with the Malheur National Forest, and it has since expanded to include Oregon State Parks, the Medford District of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Oregon Historical Society, and other local and regional organizations.

The lead editors of the Chinese in Northwest American Research Committee – Chuimei Ho and Bennet Bronson – wrote one of three letters recommending the OCDP for the Oregon Heritage Excellence Award.

“Very few heritage efforts in other places have been as effective and innovative,” the letter from Ho and Bronson said. “Nothing like it currently exists in California or elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The OCDP’s research subject is vast, still largely untouched, and of great importance to all Chinese Americans.”

The historic population of Chinese immigrants in rural Oregon was high, but there are few descendant communities because of anti-Chinese violence and the federal Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The OCDP offers Oregonians a deeper sense of their shared heritage by discovering and publicizing Chinese achievements.

Don Hann, project co-director with the Malheur National Forest, has used innovative Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology to document historical Chinese mining sites. LIDAR, which sends a laser pulse through the surface of the ground, has allowed OCDP archaeologists to map over 1,000 acres of mining complexes hidden in the forest within an accuracy of 10 inches. The new maps highlight a system of dams, reservoirs and ditches that provided water for mining.

These complicated water systems reveal a picture of 19th century Chinese immigrants as entrepreneurs who had experience organizing gold mining operations in foreign countries.

SOU students participated in the OCDP last year by taking the class SOAN 375. The four-credit, four-week course – the archaeological field school – introduced methods of excavating, mapping, recovering and recording artifacts from prehistoric or historic sites.

“It was an incredible project for SOU staff and students to be a part of, and we are continuing to work and expand our research across the state,” Rose said.

She and other members of the SOULA staff have also worked on the Cangdong Village Project, a Stanford-led transnational research project looking into the five-county area that was home to most Chinese Immigrants during the 19th century. SOULA partnered with the Hannon Library and PAR Environmental in 2018 to create the Chinese Material Culture Collection – a digital archive of artifacts commonly found on 19th and 20th century Chinese archaeological sites in the American West.

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

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