SOU's Dustin Walcher discusses insurrection and history

Notes on a day of insurrection: SOU’s Dustin Walcher

“Yesterday the President of the United States incited an armed insurrection against America,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained on the afternoon of Jan. 7, calling for President Donald Trump’s removal from office for sedition either through the 25th Amendment or by way of impeachment. On Jan. 6, the president had called on his supporters to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” and “show strength” to the Congress, which was engaged in the task of counting electoral votes. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, declared that the president’s spurious charges of election malfeasance should be settled through “trial by combat.” An insurrection ensued. The resulting images of a mob overrunning and ransacking the United States Capitol shocked the conscience, but should not have been a surprise.

Reflecting on the attack on the Capitol, historian Jill Lepore lamented that “we are off the grid of the trajectory of American history.” We are not. In the first place, though yesterday’s assault by a mob of U.S. citizens was unique, the Capitol has been attacked a number of times before. Most notably, in 1814 a British army occupied and then set the building on fire. In 1950, four Puerto Rican nationalists fired on the House Chamber from the visitors’ gallery, wounding five members of Congress.

More to the point, we have seen the tactics employed by Trump’s mob throughout our history. In an effort to overturn the results of the presidential election, the insurrectionists constructed a noose, raised a cross, marched with the battle flag of the Confederacy, destroyed property, terrorized bystanders and assaulted those who stood in their way, all while calling themselves “patriots.” These are the same tactics that were used in the massive resistance to civil rights launched by white nationalists of an earlier generation, and by all incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan. Such behavior, and the ideas that motivate it, are part of the fabric of the country. This is, at least in part, who we are.

As we move beyond the era of the Trump presidency, it is up to us to reckon collectively with the unsavory elements of our history. Historian Douglas Adair explained that “History is a conversation in the present with the past, about the future.” What happened yesterday was stoked by President Trump, but was so very much bigger than President Trump. To understand the mob’s rage requires coming to terms with the reality that the same country that produced John Lewis also produced Joe McCarthy and George Wallace. Although the events of Jan. 6 represent a significant part of who we are, they do not come close to comprising the entirety of who we are. But before we can defeat our national demons, we must first name them, face them and confront them head-on. That is the challenge of history, and that is the challenge of our time.

SOU's Amber Reed publishes book on apartheid

SOU anthropologist’s book: Black South Africans wary of apartheid reforms

(Ashland, Ore.) — Post-apartheid reforms in South Africa have failed the country’s rural Black citizens and led to a longing for some aspects of life under the system that once oppressed them, according to a newly published book by Southern Oregon University anthropologist Amber Reed.

“Nostalgia After Apartheid” examines the reluctance of teachers and students in the Eastern Cape province to embrace South African democracy, which they see as restricting their cultural practices. Democracy has imposed a brand of freedom whose liberal standards clash with the customs and traditions favored in the former rural homelands.

“When I started research in this region, I was interested in the role non-governmental organizations were playing in youth political activism,” said Reed, who has done fieldwork in the country off-and-on over the past 11 years.

“The project took on a life of its own, however, as people kept steering our conversations away from the future of politics and back to nostalgic renderings of the past,” she said. “Why would Black South Africans wax nostalgic for life during one of history’s most racist and repressive regimes?”

Reed’s book answers that question by showing that many Black South Africans embrace conservative ideologies and are opposed to reforms that don’t align with their beliefs, such as the right to abortions and a ban on corporal punishment. The country’s Department of Education requires the teaching of ideals that include civic responsibility and liberal democracy, but both teachers and students often see it as the imposition of “white” values.

“’Freedom, it turned out, did not feel so free; instead, it rested on Western ideas of personhood and subjectivity that felt confining, imposing and alien,” Reed writes in the preface to her book.

“Nostalgia After Apartheid” was published last month by University of Notre Dame Press as part of the Kellogg Institute Series on Democracy and Development. It is available in hardcover or as an eBook.

The book has been praised by other authors and researchers of South Africa and apartheid.

“Amber Reed compellingly reveals how the transition from apartheid to liberal democracy has failed the rural youth who now regard the Mandela miracle of 1994 as a betrayal and have developed a bizarre sense of nostalgia for life under apartheid,” said Leslie J. Bank, co-editor of the book, “Migrant Labour Under Apartheid.”

Reed has been a professor of anthropology at SOU since 2017, and has taught a variety of anthropology and African studies courses. She received her bachelor’s degree from New York’s Barnard College, and her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of California at Los Angeles.

-SOU-

SOU's Chacon studies representations of violence in Latin culture

SOU’s Enrique Chacón researches representations of violence in Mexican music

SOU Assistant Professor Enrique Chacón enjoys teaching Spanish language classes, but his focus is on teaching how violence is represented in Latin culture – and how those representations have changed.

“I’m teaching this course on the representations of violence in Latin America and I think those kinds of topics are quite interesting, because they’re directly related to my research topics,” Chacón said. “What I do through these classes is I present some examples and some theory to my students, so we can approach art, literature, film, etc., and understand not the violence itself better, but how and why it’s represented as it is.”

His research coalesced into “La Estética Perversa del Movimiento Alterado, Violencia y Música Transnacional,” which roughly translates to “The Perverse Aesthetics of the Altered Movement, Violence and Transnational Music.” The paper combines Chacón’s interest in music and representations of violence by detailing how a specific genre of Latin music has shifted over time.

“There is a traditional music in northern Mexico that is very popular, and there is a tradition in the lyrics that comes from the (1910 Mexican) Revolution where these songs praise the heroes,” he said.

“There was a shift 30 years ago where they started talking about drug traffickers – narcos. So that shift from a hero to a narco, and then there was another shift 10-15 years ago that is not only praising narcos but are sung in first-person. I study the aesthetic implications of that shift.”

Chacón talked about his research at last spring’s César E. Chávez Leadership Conference, a gathering of regional Latinx high school students and student leaders that is hosted by SOU. He presented his research both to help educate SOU-hopefuls and to get more information on the topic from a younger generation.

“I played a song, and most of (the students) knew the song,” he said. “So I asked these students, ‘what is this? What is this kind of music?’ And one of them said right away, ‘this is the music from Mexico. That’s our music.’

“For me, that was very surprising because for my generation what TV and ideology and all those things sold as the music from Mexico were mariachi bands. But now young people perceive this to be the music of Mexico.”

Students at the conference participate in workshops focusing on leadership, cultural arts and college preparation. Chacón values the conference’s intent, hoping to see more Latin American students succeed in higher education.

“It’s very important that (colleges and universities) reach people from (minority populations) in general,” Chacón said. “It’s proven that the output of studying higher education is that you become a better citizen. I think it’s a way of transforming yourself and impacting the world in a different way.

“Just 2 percent of professors in the whole country are Hispanic. I think we need to change that.”

Chacón has personal experience with crossing cultures and succeeding in American academia. A first-generation immigrant, he earned a master’s degree in Mexican literature from the Autonomous University of Puebla before studying at the University of Pittsburgh for his doctorate in Hispanic languages and literature. Chacón’s studies across the continent give him particular insight into the differences between Mexican and American colleges.

“(In Mexico) you choose what to study from the very beginning, there was no general education or possibility for you to explore other topics,” he said.

“You had to make the decision of what you’re going to be specializing in for the rest of your life when you’re in high school … and that is good and bad. It’s good to have more information about one topic, but on the other hand it’s not that good because you don’t know anything about any other topics.”

Chacón’s initial pursuit of journalism led him away from what he wanted to do, and after some introspection he realized that he wanted to return to college to study Mexican culture and language. His research led to an opportunity to study in the United States. Chacón liked the diversity of US academia, and bounced around in different higher education positions before eventually settling at SOU.

“I’ve worked in the past in bigger universities, and you don’t really get to know your students,” he said. “For example, I had students at the University of Tennessee taking intermediate Spanish, they were going to be majors and minors, but we had so many professors that I didn’t see them again.

“That is what’s so important about SOU, that it’s a smaller community, and you get the chance to help students and help them better.”

Chacón teaches lower- and upper-level Spanish language and culture classes at SOU, and fosters an atmosphere of collaboration among students and faculty.

“It has been proven that people who speak a second language develop more cerebral connections, and it’s been proven (they) make more money,” he said. “At SOU, we offer different languages – Japanese, Spanish, French – and I think it’s important that people learn a second language.”

Chacón enjoys playing music, meditating, exercising, cooking and watching films in his spare time.

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

Student Sustainability Center Director Luis Berrios-Hayden wins scholastic award

Student Sustainability Center director, McNair Scholar wins Scholastic Achievement Award

Luis Berrios-Hayden – an SOU Environmental Science & Policy major, director of the Student Sustainability Center and McNair Scholar – has received the Northwest Association of Educational Opportunity Program’s Scholastic Achievement Award.

The NAEOP Scholastic Achievement Award is a $1,500 scholarship given annually to students in the federal TRIO programs who exhibit outstanding scholastic achievement while overcoming barriers to educational success. TRIO is a collection of federal programs that serve students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including low-income, first-generation and those who are otherwise disenfranchised.

Coming from a low-income background as a first-generation college student and a second-generation U.S. citizen, Berrios-Hayden ticks many of TRIO’s boxes.

“I grew up speaking Spanish at home and English everywhere else, and so I’ve had a lot of barriers in terms of just not having college be normalized in my world, in my upbringing,” Berrios-Hayden said. “I didn’t have anyone to tell me this is what to expect, this is what you should do.”

He first went to school at the University of Buffalo in New York, but had to stop his studies part-way through to deal with personal matters. Berrios-Hayden then went to a cooking school and got a degree in culinary arts. After working as a chef for several years, he realized he wanted to go back to college and get a bachelor’s degree, eventually landing at SOU.

He started his SOU journey as an interdisciplinary major – incorporating sociology, outdoor adventure leadership and communication – but transitioned fully into the Environmental Science and Policy degree program after a particularly noteworthy Raider Alternative Break.

“We went to Cascade Head (in Tillamook County) to help with trail maintenance in order to help establish and regenerate the habitat for the silver-spotted butterfly,” Berrios-Hayden said. “While I was on that trip I realized that everyone I was there with I had no connection to in terms of identity and background – we were all super different, from race to sexuality to actual ability to neural diversity – they were all very different.

“It was on that trip that I realized it wasn’t necessary for us to talk about our differences for us to feel like a unit, to feel like a team, to feel like a cohesion. All we needed was a common goal.”

The social justice aspect of SOU’s Environmental Science and Policy program curriculum wasn’t initially apparent to  Berrios-Hayden, but he was able to satisfy his passions for both sustainability and social justice by expanding his reach. He joined the Student Sustainability Center – then called ECOS – as a civic engagement coordinator, connecting students with community service opportunities in Ashland and the Rogue Valley. He put on workshops that focused on social justice issues relevant to the Rogue Valley, including an experiential sleep-out event designed to teach students about homelessness. Now the Sustainability Center’s student director, he runs equity round-tables, creating opportunities for the community to come together and discuss sustainability and social justice issues.

Berrios-Hayden threw himself into his work both with the Sustainability Center and in the classroom. Vincent Smith, an associate professor and chair of the Environmental Science and Policy program, is particularly impressed with Berrios-Hayden’s work.

“Luis is one of the most active class participants I have ever met,” Smith said. “He refuses to leave a topic or discussion without a stronger understanding of the topic. His questions demonstrate a remarkable capacity for critical thinking and a complete unwillingness to settle for no answer.

“Luis is going to find a way to contribute to a better future, regardless of how much effort will be required to accomplish that task,” Smith said. “Like so many of our students at SOU, Luis does not yet know his potential.”

The Environmental Science and Policy program teaches students about the complexity of natural systems, natural resource use and sustainability, enabling them to appreciate and solve dynamic environmental issues. Students research and address issues such as climate change, water resource management, energy use, sustainable development and the conservation of biodiversity.

Berrios-Hayden was accepted into the McNair Achievement Program, a TRIO program that helps students from underrepresented communities prepare for graduate school. Through McNair, he was able to do two summer internships. The first was an experiment with mycoremediation – the process by which fungi-based technology can decontaminate an environment. Berrios-Hayden’s interest was sparked when he learned that mycorrhizal fungi can aid in the growth of plants, pushing him to do a literature review on fungi remediation for his second internship.

“I learned a lot about (mycoremediation) and it augmented my interest in the science component of sustainability and environmental science,” he said. “So I’m hoping that’s the direction that my career goes in. I’m interested in regenerative ecology and restorative ecology.”

Despite his academic and extracurricular success, Berrios-Hayden still deals with the consequences of how the world treats him.

“Probably the biggest struggle that I have is self-doubt,” he said. “The images that I’ve grown up with of people that look like me are of thieves and thugs and rapists, and so a lot of that unfortunately really penetrates into our psyche.

“I think it’s pretty normal for individuals from marginalized populations to struggle with self-doubt and self-deprecation and not know their worth. Having faculty and friends reflect back the potential that they saw in me was really supportive and helpful.”

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

SOU Leadership Begins Here Header Logo

Image: Southern Oregon University Leadership Begins Here

Pavlina McGrady

Pavlina McGrady’s journey to teaching sustainable tourism

Pavlina McGrady, an assistant professor of business at SOU, has practiced what she teaches.

Sustainable tourism first caught McGrady’s attention as she worked on her master’s degree program at the University of Hawaii. “I have always loved the outdoors and traveling, but I was introduced to the field of sustainable tourism, specifically, during my studies in Hawaii,” she said.

McGrady served as a management trainee with the Fairmont Orchid Resort after graduating, then went to work for Marriott International. Her emphasis at both hotels was on the environmental or sustainability side of the business, but she eventually recognized that she wanted to sharpen her focus.

“I realized that I wanted to go even further and possibly make a bigger impact,” McGrady said. “That is when I decided to pursue a Ph.D. with a focus on sustainable tourism and found out about the (Human Dimensions of Natural Resources) program at Colorado State University.”

The degree program at CSU focuses on the social aspects of ecosystems and tourism, along with sustainability research and actions. It leans toward the understanding, stewardship and appreciation of natural resources as a means of preserving environmental health while gaining some human benefits.

McGrady worked as a teaching assistant while completing the CSU program, then joined the business administration faculty at SOU in 2016. She coordinates the business school’s tourism management concentration and its certificate program in sustainable tourism.

Her favorite course remains sustainable tourism, which features guest speakers, case studies and overnight field trips – although those have been canceled during the pandemic.

“I like teaching the class because it is exciting for students and for me – there are always so many interesting new things happening, so many opportunities and challenges,” she said “It keeps me on my toes, but it is very exciting, and I hopefully pass that excitement to students.”

McGrady focuses on preparing students to continue learning after they’ve finished at the university, which aligns with McGrady’s personal goals.

“I would be a student for the rest of my life if I could,” she said. “I love learning, and I certainly see how the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know.

“My goal is to continue growing by learning more about the topics I am passionate about, as well as other topics, because sustainability is such a complex phenomenon and everything is connected to everything.”

McGrady has continued her research while at SOU, delving into topics including ski resort sustainability, bark beetle disturbances and cannabis tourism. While recreational marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, many states have legalized it. That has created a niche market of “cannabis tours,” where groups are shown the marijuana production process and given production samples.

“I find this new niche market in the travel industry very interesting and I think it is fascinating to see how policies will shift in upcoming years,” McGrady said. “I am collaborating with colleagues from Colorado, comparing local perceptions on cannabis tourism – it is exciting to identify similarities and differences and to stipulate how things will shift in time.”

McGrady has recently begun a new study on corporate sustainability in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Change toward sustainability in the business world is happening, but not at the level and pace that is needed,” she said. “I think that only a few companies are doing really well in terms of sustainability, while the majority are lagging…. Businesses are in ‘survival mode,’ and sustainability has moved out of the priority list.

“Nevertheless, I am still hopeful that this ‘quiet’ time, especially for the tourism industry, will allow destination leaders to rethink policies and management so that a true sustainable tourism is practiced around the world – the environment and culture is preserved, the industry is providing local economic benefits and local communities’ well-being is considered, while tourists enjoy authentic travel experiences.”

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

SOU Leadership Begins Here Header Logo

Image: Southern Oregon University Leadership Begins Here

New esports website brings academic and competitive information together

Everything esports: new SOU website covers academic minor and esports gaming

A minor in esports management? Information about the soon-to-be-launched Esports Hub in SOU’s Student Recreation Center? The university’s new esports website brings all the information about SOU’s trend-setting programs together in one place.

The university is launching both an academic program and a competitive team in esports this fall, becoming one of the first institutions on the West Coast to offer both. Esports is a billion-dollar global enterprise, and SOU’s combination of programs will position students for future employment in the growing industry.

The new website offers details about both the academic and competitive sides of esports at SOU, from course descriptions and faculty profiles to timely information for those interested in joining the university’s esports teams.

SOU’s academic minor in esports management is one of just a handful that are offered nationally. It is offered through SOU’s Business Program and includes curriculum in business, marketing, digital media and communication. The minor consists of two core courses – Introduction to Esports Management and Contemporary & Ethical Issues in Esports – and four elective courses.

The Esports Hub in SOU’s Student Recreation Center will feature 12 top-end computer gaming stations, one of which will be reserved for streaming and esports commentating – known as “shoutcasting.” The hub, which will be open before Thanksgiving, will be used for intercollegiate competitions, intramural gaming and open play for all SOU students and SRC members. The computers are in place and an order of chairs for the facility arrived recently; painting touch-ups, installation of the main video screen and other detail work will occur over the next few weeks.

Esports team tryouts will begin Oct. 26. Students who are interested in joining the SOU team are invited to sign up online.

SOU’s intercollegiate Esports team is expected to compete in the Collegiate Starleague (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 under several titles and platforms, for players at all skill levels.

Student Quinn Barrabee credits SOU's University Coaching and Academic Mentoring program

SOU’s University Coaching and Academic Mentoring program brings results

SOU student Quinn Barrabee was nearly finished with a term paper but couldn’t quite get over the hump, so he turned to his academic lifeline – the University Coaching and Mentoring (UCAM) program and academic coach Jade Severson.

“Jade said that ‘If you come in first thing tomorrow, I bet we could finish it,’” Barrabee said. “I did just that and an hour later I finished and turned in my paper, and got an ‘A’ on it.”

The University Coaching and Academic Mentoring (UCAM) program is a small, closely knit campus initiative that provides one-on-one support to a group of roughly 50 students. It can take students from their transition into college all the way through to their capstone, and no program like it is offered at any other West Coast university.

“We help students in planning their term, breaking large tasks into manageable pieces, learning time management, organization and how to study, and in writing papers,” Severson said. “We also really focus on building a UCAM community – our students learn to support one another and even become roommates and friends.”

UCAM connected the dots for Barrabee – a Communications student with a focus on social media and public engagement – who just needed someone to keep him on track.

“When I first met Jade, it was like finding the last piece of the puzzle you have been working on forever and finally finding it,” he said. “There are no amount of words that I could say that convey how much she helped me, both academically and growing as a person.”

UCAM academic coaches are the key to the program, helping students write papers, facilitating study sessions, triaging late assignments and more.

Improved study skills and academic persistence are common among students in the program. An average of 95 percent of UCAM students over the past three years have continued their academic journeys at SOU from one term to the next, and they graduate at a rate 25 percent higher than the general student population.

Barrabee credits the incredibly positive relationship he’s built with Severson.

“I would go so far to say that without UCAM by my side I would be lost,” he said. “Thanks to them, my writing ability has improved significantly.”

All students are welcome at UCAM, but the program can be of particular help to those with disabilities such as ADHD, ASD and executive dysfunction. UCAM connects those students to SOU’s Disability Resources office for help with academic accommodations. UCAM coaches try to help all students find strategies that work for them, but are constrained by the program’s size.

“We would love to improve access to our program so that anyone who wants to participate is able,” Severson said. “Right now, all of our funding is generated from the fees that we charge for services, which has limited our ability to expand and offer more scholarships to students.”

Severson and the other UCAM coaches hope to diversify their funding model, but the program’s tight budget means that two of the three coaches are 10-month employees, making it difficult to find time for grant applications. That said, UCAM coaches prioritize helping students and keeping their doors open during the academic year.

“UCAM is not just a place to get help with your homework, it’s a community of many people who just want to help you (and) see you succeed in your academic goals and beyond,” Barrabee said.

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

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.

Peter Wu's passion is to teach physics and do research

Peter Wu has found his calling: to teach physics and do research at SOU

Peter Ka-Chai Wu has worked in factories and mailrooms, and has held positions ranging from security guard to researcher. But the opportunity to teach physics is what brought him to SOU as a young academic and it’s what has kept him on the STEM faculty for 25 years.

“(Teaching) is rewarding and challenging,” Wu said. “Seeing your students enter the next phase of their life and hoping that what you helped them learn may aid them in their new adventures.”

Wu teaches courses in physics, mathematics and electronics while studying biomaterials. He has served as a program coordinator for physics at SOU and is a professor on the Chemistry Department faculty.

He received his bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics at Macalester College, and both his master’s degree and doctorate in materials science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As a researcher, Wu studied biomaterials, thin film, polymer/metal adhesion, ferroelectric materials and fullerenes.

He saw Ashland and SOU as a stable environment to raise his child, and continues to find fulfillment and inspiration.

As a teacher, Wu fosters a creative and understanding space for students to apply what they learn – where he asks students to listen, review material, ask questions and work hard. He teaches algebra and calculus-based physics classes, and general physics. And he particularly enjoys branches of physics that deal with the electromagnetic spectrum.

“If you want to achieve a basic understanding of how nature works, physics is it,” he said. “Physics opens my horizon, deepens my understanding and makes me humble.

“I like electricity and magnetism including electronics – those are my favorite subjects. As a teacher, if you are excited about the subject, it helps.”

Wu has continued his research while at SOU – filing patents, publishing scientific papers and book chapters, and speaking at numerous conferences. One of his recent papers is “Electrospun gelatin biopapers as substrate for in vitro bilayer models of blood-brain barrier tissue,” which Wu co-wrote with seven other authors.

The paper found that through a fiber production method called electrospinning a more effective material could be created on which to test the blood-brain barrier – a function of blood vessels that prevents large molecules, including many medicines used to treat brain disorders, from entering the brain. Wu’s electrospun “biopapers” were found to have improved electrical resistance, decreased permeability, and permitted less separation between cells.

Wu is currently doing research on acoustics as he continues to teach physics and other STEM courses.

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

SOU Leadership Begins Here Header Logo

Image: Southern Oregon University Leadership Begins Here

Sean O'Skea

SOU’s Sean O’Skea: from historic preservation to theatrical scene design

After moving back-and-forth – between the East and West coasts, and between theater stage design and historic preservation – Sean O’Skea has settled into his role at SOU as a professor of scenic design, which he’s held for the past 13 years.

O’Skea became interested in scene design after taking drama classes in high school and realizing he was more interested in creating evocative environments than in performing. To that end, he worked toward a bachelor’s degree in theatre at the University of Portland. But he started to have a change of heart while working on his graduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, deciding to work instead toward a master’s degree in historic preservation.

“My degree in historic preservation was a bit of a rebellion against working in theatre,” O’Skea said. “I had worked my first year in grad school at University of Wisconsin-Madison and was really having second thoughts. I’ve always been interested in history and architecture, and so jumped into the program at Ball State.”

He worked in Indiana for about a year as a historic preservationist, but found after moving back to the West Coast that historic preservation work is rarer than it was on the East Coast.

“While I was trying to find more work in historic preservation, I kept getting offered design jobs and adjunct teaching in theatre, and after a while I just sort of found myself back in theater full-time again – so I went to University Portland to finish my MFA,” O’Skea said.

“I was accepted for a tenure-track job at Alfred University in New York,” he said. “So we moved back across the country. I was at Alfred for three years when my wife was offered a fantastic job in PR for Microsoft. Our life has been alternating between my school and jobs taking us east, where we were never really happy, and my wife’s jobs bringing us back to Oregon.”

In Oregon, O’Skea spent a couple years raising his daughter as a stay-at-home dad, before applying for teaching jobs at nearby universities – including SOU, where he was eventually hired.

“My wife has always dreamed of living in Ashland, and Southern Oregon felt very familiar to my Sonoma County (California) childhood home,” O’Skea said. “(SOU is) big enough to have a real college experience but not so big that you get lost. Ashland has the best of both worlds – great culture, progressive community, much that you’d find in a big city, but we are minutes away from some of the most beautiful landscapes in the nation.

“I was impressed with the department and hit it off with the faculty, I met some students that were really excited and committed to their studies and we decided to just go for it.”

O’Skea teaches courses in the SOU Theatre Program including elements of design, which introduces the digital and hands-on processes of design; scenic design, which explores the principles of scene design in enhancing theatrical performances; computer aided design, which focuses on digital modeling and rendering techniques in the creation of physical artistic spaces; and drafting, which examines the techniques of drawing stage scenery and properties.

O’Skea uses a direct teaching style, assigning projects in his classes that get his students to develop the technical skills required in set creation. He advises students to be determined if they want to find academic success.

“Self-motivation is essential; your professors can only be your guides, you have to take the lead on your learning,” he said.

O’Skea enjoys gardening and traveling, when not working. While much of his travel to the East Coast is for work, he also vacations with his family during winter breaks – recently going to England and Italy. His travels help inspire his work as a scene designer.

“Everything influences my designs and as most of our travel is to historically juicy places I spend a lot of time filling sketchbooks, and taking reference photos,” he said. “It drives my wife and daughter crazy as we will be walking somewhere and suddenly I’m not there and they find me half a block back taking a photo of an interesting door knocker or a picturesque cracked wall, or something.”

O’Skea has published “Painting for Performance: A Beginner’s Guide to Great Painted Scenery (Routledge-2016),” an educational book that focuses on giving beginners the terms and techniques to paint stage scenery.

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer