New Cybersecurity Certificate Program is offered by SOU's Computer Science Department

New SOU Cybersecurity Certificate to benefit students, employers

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University is addressing the pervasive issue of cyber criminals and a nationwide demand for workers trained to protect their organizations by offering a new certificate program in cybersecurity. The program allows both existing SOU students and mid-career adult learners to become certified with job-ready cybersecurity skills after completing 36 college credits – nine courses.

“This is a program designed with the needs of both regional employers and job-seeking students in mind,” said computer science instructor Priscilla Oppenheimer, whose industry experience was a key in the design of SOU’s cybersecurity curriculum.

Oppenheimer designed and manages the cybersecurity research lab for SOU’s Computer Science Department. She previously developed and taught classes on computer networking and security for Cisco Systems, and has instructed network engineers worldwide in the design, development, configuration and support of complex and secure computer networks.

“We hear about hacks and cyber attacks almost every day in the news, and it is an issue that won’t go away anytime soon,” she said. “We want to give our students the tools they need to prevent, detect and counteract any attempts to compromise the computer systems of their employers.”

The new Cybersecurity Certificate Program includes 20 credit hours of core, required courses on legal and ethical issues, computer organization, networks and security. Another 16 hours of elective coursework can include classes in computer forensics, programing, UNIX system administration, wireless networks and high-level studies in networks, security or computer science.

Students in the program should enter with precalculus and programming knowledge, similar to SOU’s two-course sequence in precalculus and the first two courses of the Computer Science Department’s programming sequence. Most students are expected to complete requirements for the certificate in about four terms, fitting courses in around other work or educational commitments.

The Cybersecurity Certificate can supplement a student’s bachelor’s or master’s degree program, or can be earned as a stand-alone credential. SOU’s 20 certificate programs differ from the university’s 17 new micro-credential offerings, in that they are more in-depth and require additional coursework. Both are aimed at preparing students for a changing job market by teaching specific skills.

“There is a huge nationwide demand for employees who are equipped to protect the computer systems of both large and small companies,” said Sherry Ettlich, chair of SOU’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Division. “We chose to launch this certificate, rather than the major that many other universities offer, to provide greater flexibility and better serve those wanting to add this expertise while working in IT or related positions, or while working toward SOU degrees in computer science or other academic disciplines.

“SOU and the STEM Division are responding to the real-world needs of today’s employers, and preparing our students to succeed.”

The U.S. has an estimated 500,000 open jobs in cybersecurity as companies and organizations seek to protect themselves from the massive cost and disruption of security breaches.

Students in SOU’s new certificate program will learn about common threats and vulnerabilities, security principles, cryptography, risk management, access control, wireless networking and network device configuration. They will be taught to develop secure software and to design and manage secure networks.


Jack Diab is an intern with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

SOU undergrad reaches for the stars with summer research at NASA

Think SOU senior-to-be Jack Diab was excited when his application was accepted for an internship this summer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena? “I was over the moon (pun intended),” said the chemistry major from Ashland.

Diab – who has a longstanding interest in all things NASA – filled out the JPL application along with several from other agencies and organizations. He got the one he wanted, and will spend the summer working in the JPL’s Planetary Interiors and Geophysics Division, focused on icy ocean worlds such as Ceres, Enceladus and Europa.

“It was really exciting to see that my hard work was recognized by JPL and that I could help out with real NASA research,” said Diab, whose internship is intended to help understand the makeup of a subsurface ocean on Ceres, a dwarf planet and largest object in the asteroid belt.

“I will also be working on many side projects related to ocean worlds and their chemistry,” he said. “My work will involve a lot of thermodynamic modeling and other computational work.”

Diab’s focus at SOU has been on organic chemistry, and he served as a mentor over the past year to help teach the subject. He learned about thermodynamics in his physical chemistry courses, and how to use the computer programing language Python to model various problems.

“These classes – and the thorough and excellent teaching of these subjects by my professors – has really prepared me for this internship,” Diab said.

The admiration is mutual, according to Greg Smith, an assistant professor of physical chemistry at SOU and a key faculty member and advisor for Diab. Smith taught some of the general chemistry courses that Diab took as a freshman, and the “Computational Methods for Scientists” course where Diab learned Python and the basics of computer modeling.

“Jack brings an inquisitiveness and tenacity to his work in the classroom and the laboratory,” Smith said. “He loves to explore the connections between the theoretical and the practical aspects of science. He did great work all year and I’m looking forward to working with him on his capstone research next year.”

Diab said it was the smallness of the university and opportunities to do meaningful research as an undergraduate – including hands-on work with Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) equipment – that attracted him to SOU and the Chemistry Department. Smith said that’s all by design – the department has a two-year capstone sequence that includes a total of six scientific presentations and a comprehensive research project in the program’s second year.

It’s an academic atmosphere that encourages real-world learning and research, and high achievement.

Chemistry Department Chair Hala Schepmann said there are close to a dozen undergrads and recent graduates from SOU’s STEM Division who are currently on prestigious research assignments. For instance, junior biochemistry major Maya Helms – another organic chemistry mentor – is continuing her ongoing research this summer at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. And an alumna of SOU’s STEM Division recently graduated from medical school at the Oregon Health and Science University and was accepted into a seven-year surgical residency at Stanford University.

SOU’s Chemistry Department is expanding its undergraduate research opportunities this summer with the ChemREx Fellowship Program, in which professor Anna Oliveri is mentoring two students in their research projects. The new program was made possible by generous donations from the McIntyre and Hatton families.

“It is always tough to participate in research as an undergrad, but the Chemistry Department has a really nice system of setting all of us up with a research mentor for our capstone so that we can do real research,” Diab said.

He is on track to graduate next summer, and is eying graduate programs in chemistry, computational chemistry and related fields. Diab’s experiences this summer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will likely broaden the options for the next phase of his academic journey.

“Graduate school for chemistry relies heavily on research, making any experience I can get now very valuable,” he said. “Not only will this internship give me excellent research experience, but I will expand my horizons on the applications of chemistry, make connections to JPL scientists in fields I am interested in, and learn new techniques and skills that will help me in future research.”

Smith, his capstone advisor, expects Diab to work from his solid research foundation to build a successful academic experience and a career in science.

“Jack has the natural curiosity and work ethic to succeed in many scientific fields,” Smith said.

“He’s gaining invaluable experience in this internship and I’m sure he’ll have many options available after graduation. Whatever path he ultimately decides on, I think he’ll do great work.”

Session at an earlier Creativity Conference

SOU’s International Creativity Conference returns – virtually this year

(Ashland, Ore.) — The third annual Creativity Conference at SOU will begin its four-day run on Thursday, July 8, with a slate of 170 presenters, including 46 from outside the U.S. The conference is expected to draw a total of about 250 presenters and participants ­– many of the world’s top scholars, researchers and practitioners in the field of creativity.

This year’s conference will be entirely digital and online, following the cancellation of the 2020 event and uncertainty that lingered well into the spring about the COVID-19 pandemic. Dan DeNeui, a conference co-chair and director of SOU’s Division of Social Sciences, said that both in-person and remote options were mapped out for this year’s conference and the online version was chosen to ensure an event that won’t be disrupted again.

“We made the decision in the spring to give us time to alert our speakers and guests of the virtual-only conference, and put our plans fully in place to make this conference a fantastic virtual experience,” DeNeui said.

This year’s keynote speakers include Ron Beghetto, a professor and director of the University of Connecticut’s Innovation House; and Ruth Richards, a professor at Saybrook University, a private school in Pasadena, California.

Beghetto is an internationally recognized expert on creative thought and action in educational settings.  He is the editor of publications including the Journal of Creative Behavior and has served as a creativity advisor for organizations such as the LEGO Foundation and the Cartoon Network. His keynote address at the Creativity Conference will be a 9 a.m. on Thursday, July 9.

Richards works in the areas of consciousness, spirituality, integrative health and creative studies. Her academic interests include the healthy benefits of the creative process. Her keynote address at the Creativity Conference will be at 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 11.

Another big name at the conference will be its other co-chair, SOU Director of Creativity Research and Programming Mark Runco. He has produced a series of tests to measures creative potential and performance, and teaches both graduate- and undergraduate-level classes on creativity and innovation.

Runco’s deep background in the study of creativity is relied upon as keynote, featured and other speakers are chosen for the Creativity Conference.

“We draw speakers who are already well known in the study of creativity, and we also draw those who are actively working on new research and who are the ‘rising stars’ in the industry,” DeNeui said.

The event offers about 150 talks, panels and a feature that was well-received at the most recent conference in 2019 – 15-minute “boom talks,” typically about the current outcomes of active research.

The annual conference also provides opportunities for creativity researchers to collaborate and broaden their network.

SOU has adopted the goal of serving as Oregon’s “university for the future.” Its strategic plan – the university’s roadmap into the future – places an emphasis on creativity, innovation and other human skills that augment technical skills and are particularly valued by employers.


Dr. Vincent Smith to head Division of Business, Communication and the Environment

Smith to head SOU Division of Business, Communication and the Environment

(Ashland, Ore.) — Dr. Vincent Smith – chair of Southern Oregon University’s Environmental Science and Policy Program and director of The Farm at SOU – has been named director of the university’s Division of Business, Communication and the Environment.

Smith has served on the SOU faculty since fall 2011 and has made a mark on campus with innovative courses such as “EcoAdventure” excursions to Central and South America, “Social Problems and Policy: Food and Nutrition,” “Food, Power and Agriculture” and “Sustainability and Natural Resources.” His research focuses on the human/environmental systems that shape the world – including various issues surrounding food systems – and he incorporates the academic disciplines of human ecology, environmental sociology, landscape ecology, agroecology and human geography.

“The division of Business, Communication and the Environment encourages collaboration between programs focused on innovation, entrepreneurship and regional solutions,” Smith said. “Our region is our campus. Our students want to make a difference. They are waiting for SOU to empower them to collaborate with regional businesses, state and federal agencies, artists, nonprofits and dedicated citizens.

“While our region, nation, and planet face tremendous challenges, I believe that when our students, faculty, staff and community work together we can and will generate the science, citizenship and civility required to creatively solve even the toughest of challenges.”

Smith succeeds business professor Joan McBee, who has served as division director for Business, Communication and the Environment for the past year, following the retirement of former director and business professor Katie Pittman.

Business, Communication and the Environment is one of SOU’s seven academic divisions and includes the academic programs within the departments of business, communication, and environmental science and policy. Each division is led by a director who provides leadership and guidance for the departments and programs within their divisions, encouraging originality and advancement while aligning their academic programs with the university’s mission, vision and values.

“I am very pleased that Dr. Smith is joining our senior academic leadership team,” said Susan Walsh, SOU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The breadth and depth of his professional portfolio truly compliments the entrepreneurial direction the BCE Division has been forging since its inception in 2014.

“Vince has many exciting ideas about how to take the outstanding work of the BCE faculty, staff and students to the next level, in collaboration with other partners across campus – as well as in the greater community, region and state.”

Smith was hired as an assistant professor in 2011 and was promoted to associate professor five years ago. He has a varied background of applying academics and research to the real world, including a nine-month project in which he managed a family farm in Missouri as a direct-market mixed vegetable operation, two years as an instructor at The Science Factory children’s museum in Eugene and a year of teaching at an outdoor school on California’s Catalina Island.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Truman State University in Missouri, his master’s degree in environmental science from Oregon State University and his doctorate in environmental science from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. As an undergraduate, Smith participated in the Semester at Sea program through the University of Pittsburgh, visiting Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil and Cuba.

Smith enjoys working with students from various sociological and environmental backgrounds, and finding research opportunities for those whose academic interests are similar to his own. He has advised students on undergraduate capstone projects ranging from permaculture to body modification.


New micro-credentials allow students to set course in many directions

SOU adds array of “micro-credentials” to enhance learning and career preparation

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University has joined an academic movement that is transforming higher education, adding a total of 17 “micro-credentials” that are designed to recognize individual skillsets or competencies of both degree-seeking and non-degree-seeking students. The certifications provide opportunities for existing students and for mid-career learners seeking to expand their options.

SOU’s micro-credentials range from Cinema Production Technology to Foundations of Professional Writing to Values-based Leadership. Most of the new micro-credentials require about 12 credit hours of coursework – which can stand alone or count toward students’ degree requirements. Some include community workshops, service learning or other opportunities to apply skills and knowledge.

“Micro-credentials provide our students another very useful tool to demonstrate their academic and occupational abilities,” said Susan Walsh, SOU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Employers are increasingly looking for particular skills, along with broad knowledge and the ability to innovate. These micro-credentials certify students’ mastery of very distinct areas of study, and can be equally valuable to undergraduates wanting to strengthen their degree programs and to adult learners looking to boost their careers.”

Micro-credentials, whose acceptance has grown quickly over the past several years among U.S. colleges and universities, allow students to craft what have been called “t-shaped” educational experiences – the broad, horizontal base of their academic majors combined with deep, vertical concentrations in one or more specialized areas of study. They are typically brief, accessible programs that are considered “stackable” as learners achieve sets of discrete, demonstrable areas of expertise based on their career needs, professional goals or personal interests.

SOU, like most institutions offering micro-credentials, awards digital badges to those who complete the mini-certifications. Digital badges can be shared through social media, email signatures or electronic resumes.

The micro-credential programs currently offered by SOU – with more expected to be added – are Cinema Production Technology; Community Planning; Digital Security; EDI: Gender, Indigeneity, & Sexuality; Environmental Research & Data Analysis; Foundations of Professional Writing; Foundations of School Mental and Behavioral Health; Foundations of Sustainability and Tourism; Geographic Information Systems (GIS; Network Technology; Project Management; Set Skills for Cinema Production; Social Media Strategy; Story Development for Screenwriting; Sustainable Food Systems; Team Leadership and Collaboration; and Values-Based Leadership.


SOU expands online master’s degree programs in education

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University has expanded its selection of online advanced degrees in education by adding seven new concentrations or certificates to the three master of science in education options that were launched two years ago.

The education programs, designed primarily for working adult learners, provide pathways for career advancement and leadership roles in schools, corporations and nonprofit agencies.

The new, 100 percent online options for master of science in  education degrees are for a certificate in Reading Endorsement and for concentrations in Adult Education for English as a second language students, Leadership in Higher Education, Public Health Education, Curriculum and Instruction, Reading and Literacy, and Reading and Literacy Endorsement.

The three online master’s degree concentrations that launched in June 2019 are in Leadership in Early Childhood Education, Adult Education, and Curriculum and Instruction in STEM Education. They currently serve 88 students.

“These new online programs demonstrate SOU’s commitment to accessibility,” SOU President Linda Schott said. “We want to provide meaningful academic opportunities to all who may need them, including adult learners seeking advanced degrees or certification to help them move forward in their careers.

“SOU is a valuable resource for its students at all stages of their lives and careers.”

The master’s in education program consists of courses taught by SOU faculty members that total 45 credit hours, regardless of the concentration chosen. The program can be completed in as few as 16 months, for tuition totaling $16,600.

SOU also offers an online master of business administration program with options for five concentrations that began in January 2018 and now serves about 200 students.

SOU provides faculty and academic programing for its online programs, and aligns its coursework with current trends in schools and the workplace by maintaining close connections with regional employers.

The new programs at SOU offer five start dates per year. Candidates with bachelor’s degrees in any discipline will be considered for admission; no teaching license or GRE score is required.

The master’s in education curriculum features real-world applications designed to enhance leadership skills on the job and in the broader community.

SOU offers a total of more than 90 bachelor’s degree, graduate and certificate programs in its seven academic divisions.


Piano performers Tiffany Fung and Declan Tse

SOU graduate student wins prestigious international piano competition

Tiffany Fung, a graduate piano student at the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, has won first prize in the 5th edition (2021) of the Best Rachmaninoff Performance contest – part of the London-based Great Composers Competition series for young performers.

Fung’s winning entry was for her performance of the Rachmaninoff piece “Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42.”

Fung is a second-year student in the SOU master of music-piano performance program, studying under professor Alexander Tutunov. She is a native on Hong Kong, began her musical journey at age 7 and graduated with first class honors from Hong Kong Baptist University before coming to SOU.

The Rachmaninoff competition is part of a performance series designed as a tribute to 24 of the greatest classical music composers of all time. Each competition in the international series is designed so the award winners are announced on the composers’ birthdays. The Best Rachmaninoff Performance results were announced on April 1 – the 148th anniversary of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s birth.

The online competition began in early March with the submission of a “pre-screening” video recording, followed by a formal application and a final round of competition for those who advanced through the first round. All submissions were judged from March 9 to 18.

The Rachmaninoff competition was open to instrumentalists of all nationalities and countries, and included seven age groups for contestants as young as 5 and as old as 25. Fung competed in the highest age group, for those between 23 and 25.

Fung and fellow SOU master’s student Declan Tse each also won first prize honors in last year’s Masters of Piano Concerto competition, another event in the Great Composers Competition lineup. Fung played the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor, op. 21, for that competition, and Tse played the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, op. 15.

Fung’s performances have taken her to various venues in France, Hong Kong, Italy and the U.S.

Tse – also studying under Tutunov in the SOU master of music-piano performance program – has performed in Asia, Europe and North America.

Archeological work on the Buck Rock Tunnel

SOULA archaeological project receives national BLM recognition

The Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology (SOULA) has been honored for partnering with the federal Bureau of Land Management’s Ashland Field Office on an archaeological exploration of the Buck Rock Tunnel southeast of Ashland. The collaborative project received one of three nationwide Heritage Heroes awards this year from the BLM.

“SOU held an archaeological field school at the site in 2019, and the partnership has been working with students and the community to research the history of the Oregon and California Railroad and the abandonment of the Buck Rock Tunnel since 2016, with a particular emphasis on the Chinese railroad workers that constructed it,” said SOU archaeologist Chelsea Rose, who has worked on the project with BLM archaeologist Lisa Rice.

“This project has been so successful that … we have expanded the partnership and created the Southern Oregon Chinese Archaeological Project, which focuses on Chinese heritage sites across the Medford District of the BLM, and will include both railroad and mining sites.”

The Buck Rock Tunnel – south of Greensprings Highway and off of Buckhorn Springs Road – was started by the Oregon & California Railroad on both sides of a ridge in the early 1880s, but was never finished. The O&C was purchased by Southern Pacific Railroad, which opted for a different route to California.

The ongoing archeological project includes surveying and excavating the site, and recording findings, to offer a broader view of the Chinese laborers who worked at several railroad and mining sites in southern Oregon. SOULA and the BLM are also presenting their work on the Buck Rock Tunnel project on Thursday (April 29) as part of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s “Collaboration is Key” Oregon Heritage Virtual Summit. The project was recently featured as part of Unearthing Oregon, a collaboration between the Oregon Historical Society and SOULA.

“The Buck Rock Tunnel Project partnership organizes programs for students and the public each year,” the BLM said in announcing the award. “SOULA field schools provide anthropology students from Southern Oregon University with important training in archaeological recording and historical research. Local residents also participate in survey and excavation at the site.

“This multi-year project accomplishes valuable research and historic resource identification and evaluation. It also provides public education and interpretation opportunities, allowing the BLM to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act.”

The Heritage Heroes awards are presented each year by the BLM’s Division of Education, Cultural and Paleontological Resources. This year’s other winners are the Cooper’s Ferry Site Partnership on Nez Perce tribal land in Idaho and the work of a volunteer site steward at a rock art location in Utah.

Rose’s work on behalf of SOULA was also recognized a year ago, when the Oregon Chinese Diaspora Project won an Oregon Heritage Excellence Award. That project, led by Rose, is a grassroots archaeology partnership of federal, state and local agencies that examine the Chinese diaspora – or dispersed population – in Oregon, and challenge stereotypes that have been historically assigned to the immigrants.

Local Innovation Lab trains SOU interns as leaders

Local Innovation Lab prepares SOU interns to address disaster issues

(Ashland, Ore.) — If you’re looking for a silver lining somewhere deep within the dual catastrophes of COVID-19 and last fall’s southern Oregon wildfires, look no further than the Local Innovation Lab. The collaborative project of Southern Oregon University and the Humane Leadership Institute is finding student interns and training them as leaders to tackle some of the sticky issues faced by communities and businesses affected by the disasters.

About 30 SOU students from more than 10 separate degree programs are receiving $1,000 stipends to participate as interns ­in the new program this year, and double that number are expected for the 2021-22 academic year. Four of this year’s fall term participants already have paid jobs as a result of their internships.

“Students are learning that humane leadership applies to how they lead themselves as well as how they lead others, and that it applies equally to their personal lives and their professional lives,” said Bret Anderson, SOU’s Economics Department chair and the university’s primary link to the Local Innovation Lab project.

“We are meeting students’ innate desire to contribute to their communities, especially in the wake of the Almeda Fire, while inviting them to apply their skills to impactful work,” he said.

The project grew out of a community conversation that was initiated last April, when it was apparent the COVID-19 pandemic would have deep and long-lasting effects on southern Oregon. Stephen Sloan of the Humane Leadership Institute, a local education think tank, convened a small group of people from Ashland and the Rogue Valley to discuss the emerging problems, needs and opportunities.

Those community conversations eventually grew to include more than two dozen participants, and one of the group’s first actions was to create a 501c3 nonprofit organization – Local Innovation Works – to carry out the first project, the Local Innovation Lab.

Community leaders in the larger group had discussed the need for interns to help businesses, social service agencies and local governments reboot their operations in ways that could help address pandemic-related issues. But the interns would need to be prepared to lead, rather than be led.

“I have heard over and over again that the effort required to bring a student intern up to speed is not worth the benefit of hiring an intern for many organizations,” Anderson said. “This was a gap that we identified pretty clearly. Universities do a great job of (creating) academic foundations for careers and employers do well with on-the-job training for their long-term employees, but the short-term student intern is left in the void.

“Thus, there was a need for a community organization to build a bridge between the academic community and organizations in the community that focused on the students’ own experience of leading themselves and those around them.”

Those who apply to participate in the program as student interns are required to take an SOU course on humane leadership, which emphasizes qualities such as compassion, consideration and encouragement. That course and participation in the internship program satisfy two of the three criteria needed to earn SOU’s digital badge or micro-credential in Values-Based Leadership. The third requirement is completion of any of several elective courses that focus on equity, diversity and inclusion, and the wider social context in which entrepreneurship and civic engagement take place.

The Local Innovation Lab, humane leadership course and Values-Based Leadership badge all are open to both enrolled SOU students and community members.

The lab was initially intended to launch with a cohort of interns for winter term, but the wildfires of early September “turned the dial up to 11,” Anderson said. It was instead unveiled as a pilot program with interns lined up after fall term had already begun.

Its organizers wove together the abilities of interns, the assets of donors and investors, and the needs of organizations affected by the pandemic or fires.

The project is clearly working.

One intern from SOU’s Financial Mathematics program is helping the city of Phoenix clean up the accounting for its water billings; a Continuing Education student is analyzing data from Medford’s Family Nurturing Center to better map social service outreach efforts to outcomes. Another student is helping create a community investment fund by looking at gaps between local banks’ loan terms and the ability of underserved entrepreneurs to get credit. Yet another is working “her dream job” with the Gordon Elwood Foundation, creating a “visually appealing, accessible online database profiling key funders in the Southern Oregon region.”

Two other interns are working with the nonprofit Remake Talent to create an interactive recovery dashboard using ArcGIS and to present the evolving network of fire relief organizations that provide resources to the Rogue Valley.

“Students get a real-world experience of impact, collaboration and reality,” Anderson said. “They get a sense of the practical utility of their education. They get a break from theory and a deep dive into the challenges of trying to get important things done with other people.”

Cherstin Lyon, SOU Honors College director

SOU Honors College director leads the Democracy Project and more

Cherstin Lyon is the director of Southern Oregon University’s Honors College, organizes the Democracy Project with Philosophy Department chair Prakash Chenjeri and mentors students. And she has been at SOU for just a year.

“Coming to SOU I was immediately impressed by how welcoming the campus is, and by all of the people who reached out to introduce themselves, invite me to coffee, and extend a helping hand,” Lyon said. “That made it very easy to reach out when I had questions or needed help. I’m delighted to be working at a university that works so well as a team, where there is such a strong sense of community and where students come first in everything we do.”

Lyon is new to SOU, but by no means new to academia – or to Oregon. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from the University of Oregon before earning her doctorate at the University of Arizona.

She taught history, first at Utah Valley University and then at California State University, San Bernardino, where she earned tenure. She coordinated CSUSB’s Public and Oral History program and master’s degree program in Social Science and Globalization, and co-directed the summer study abroad program in London. She also co-directed the Center for Faculty Excellence as the faculty associate for the Office of Community Engagement.

Lyon came to SOU in July 2019 as director of the Honors College, which seeks to create a community of learners prepared for a lifetime of intellectual curiosity, inquiry, scholarship, and service. Students and professors work in partnership to create a challenging and practical liberal arts education centered on critical thinking, multidisciplinary undergraduate research, inclusive diversity, civic engagement and community service. The college tackles regional issues with global implications.

“The Honors College creates a sense of community and belonging among students,” Lyon said. “The curriculum is intentionally linked to co-curricular activities and experiences that help students develop their unique talents and cultivate their leadership skills.

“There are many opportunities in the Honors College to expand learning beyond the classroom, and to create distinctive projects that will set students apart from the pack when applying for graduate school, internships or jobs.”

Lyon organizes the Honors College Democracy Project with Chenjeri, one of the original founders of the project. It typically includes an annual trip for students to hubs of democracy at home and abroad. Participants write “dispatches” about their experiences and observations during the trips, which typically include visiting community groups and representatives of various levels of local, regional, national and international governments. Their research then becomes part of an annual workshop at which students share what they’ve learned about democracy with southern Oregon high school students and other residents.

The Democracy Project was initially scheduled to explore Edinburgh, Scotland, and London during the 2020 summer break, but the trip was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Students in the program have instead focused on democracy in the Rogue Valley, with a digital symposium held for Crater High School students.

The 2021 Democracy Project will consist of a series of lectures, discussions and presentations on topics relating to democracy in America. The title for this year’s Democracy Project, “The Fragility and Strength of American Democracy,” was discussed at the opening roundtable event on Jan. 21 and at a series of events that will be open to the public via Zoom and on Jefferson Public Radio.

Future versions of the Democracy Project are expected to return to a more global perspective.

“Going back to South Africa (and) visiting Ghana would be fascinating,” Lyon said. “We also have plans to visit Sweden. I’d also like to go places that open up our understanding of democracy in the U.S., including places like American Samoa or Detroit. We are also looking into the possibility of partnering with Oregon tribes to better understand what democracy looks like from the perspective of domestic dependent nations.

“I would very much like to partner with faculty at SOU who work on community and democracy-related issues in countries around the world as a way of including more faculty in the project.”

Lyon’s favorite role as Honors College director is advising and mentoring students. One common student issue with which she has personal experience is picking a major. She studied piano performance, environmental science and policy, social control, chemistry and statistics – and was passionate about each – before narrowing her focus to history.

“I tell students all the time that choosing a major or a focused career path now does not preclude exploring other interests later,” she said. “If we are lucky, we will have decades in which to explore the things that we love. Career paths often take serendipitous turns we cannot predict, but if they remain curious and engaged, they will be prepared for a lifetime of possibilities.

“Remembering your diverse interests might inspire you to take advantage of opportunities … that might otherwise be overlooked.”

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer