NSF research initiative leaders include SOU's Hala Schepmann

SOU to help lead research initiative for undergraduate institutions

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University is part of a consortium of 11 colleges and universities across the country that will use a new, $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to plan and host three regional workshops intended to advance research enterprises at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs).

The goal of NSF’s GRANTED initiative (Growing Research Access for Nationally Transformative Equity and Diversity) is to “break down systemic barriers that hinder underrepresented investigators, students, and institutions typically overlooked as participants in NSF’s research funding programs.” The project is intended to increase research capacity and improve infrastructure at emerging research institutions.

Hala Schepmann, a chemistry professor at SOU, is one of six “principal investigators,” or project leaders, for the grant that will bring workshops to the Northwest, Midwest and Southeast regions of the country. Taylor Smith, SOU’s assistant vice president for Advancement Services and Sponsored Programs, is serving as support staff for the Northwest regional workshop.

“It can be challenging to navigate the research funding and practice process at small- and mid-size universities which often lack some of the resources available at larger research institutions,” Schepmann said. “This work will help SOU advance research activities both regionally and nationally, ultimately increasing faculty and student engagement in the nation’s research enterprise.”

All three of the inter-institutional, regional workshops are expected to take place in the fall of 2024, with the Northwest event taking place at the University of Portland because of its close proximity to several non-Ph.D.-granting institutions.

The other institutions taking part in the GRANTED project are Western Oregon University and Lewis & Clark College in Oregon, John Carroll University in Ohio, University of Detroit Mercy in Michigan, Black Hills State University in South Dakota, Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York, Gonzaga University in Washington, Furman University in South Carolina and the University of Idaho.

The regional workshops will bring together teams of research administrators, institutional leaders and faculty from predominantly undergraduate, emerging research and minority-serving institutions. Workshop participants will work together to discern and design interventions to common barriers.

Advancing research work at PUIs will promote faculty and student engagement and broaden participation in research nationwide. The workshops are expected to result in a set of best practices that will be part of a research toolkit for PUIs across the country.


SOU Digital Cinema launches crowdfunding campaign

SOU Digital Cinema taps crowdfunding for support

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University’s Digital Cinema program has taken a creative turn in seeking financial support for its work, launching an $18,000 crowdfunding campaign to help pay for two signature projects. The campaign has been extended through Dec. 15.

Money raised in the Indiegogo campaign will be split between the annual Crew Experience project, a 12-credit immersion course for student filmmakers, and individual Capstone Production Grants for Digital Cinema students.

“Crowdfunding is a double-win for our students because it both develops a valuable skill for careers in the creative industries and also helps raise awareness and funds for the Digital Cinema program,” said Andrew Gay, a professor of Digital Cinema and incoming director of SOU’s School of Arts & Communication.

“Almost all entrepreneurial producers will find themselves crowdfunding at some point, and these students are learning that process through hands-on, real-world application,” Gay said.

The crowdfunding campaign is live and open for contributions – extended for two weeks beyond its original end date of Nov. 30. Each donation made – minus fees to the crowdfunding website – is split evenly between Crew Experience and individual Capstone Production Grants, unless donors select the “Adopt a Capstone Filmmaker Package,” which triggers recognition and other perks. The crowdfunding campaign is facilitated by the SOU Foundation, and all pledges are tax-deductible.

Contributions to the campaign help fund this year’s Digital Cinema projects, and also invest in student filmmakers who are part of the entertainment industry’s future. Supporters are also asked to share the crowdfunding campaign page with others who may wish to help students with their film education.

“Donations that end up going to my capstone will help pay for shooting locations, costumes, special effects makeup, and food for the cast and crew,” said Lilah Keebler, a senior Digital Cinema major. “The money given will also go toward creating the costume of the monster that taunts the main character, Chloe, for the majority of the film. This could potentially get costly, meaning funding is a necessity to bring the monster to life.

“Horror has always been my favorite genre and I’m so excited about the opportunity to make this film.”

The individual Capstone Production Grants will benefit Digital Cinema seniors – in both leadership and support roles – as they begin their thesis projects. Each thesis project is tied to a capstone director, and other capstone students may participate in a variety of positions that include photography, production, editing and more. Capstone projects also provide a valuable proving ground for underclassmen to develop their skills while crewing under the mentorship of more experienced seniors. Projects must pass a rigorous vetting process to qualify for a Capstone Production Grant.

The Crew Experience takes junior Digital Cinema students out of the classroom to learn on location with industry mentors, operating as a single production unit for an entire term. The $9,000 raised through the Digital Cinema Production Fund will help to build sets, procure props and costumes, cover location fees and provide other essentials to cast and crew.


SOU students in Nepal during OAL trip

Students in SOU’s OAL program visit Nepal and Turkey/Greece

SOU’s Outdoor Adventure Leadership program is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for students to major in the outdoors and experience unique opportunities such as the International Expedition – which culminated last summer in separate trips to Nepal and to Turkey and Greece.

A total of 14 undergraduate students, seven graduate students and three faculty members made one or the other of the international trips, which encourage emotional intelligence growth by providing adventures into the unknown.

SOU OAL students on expedition to Turkey and GreeceThe graduate students spent last winter and spring term planning the expeditions and then as the summer progressed the trip attendees left their homes for adventure. Each trip was going to focus on learning and growing in their own emotional intelligence through, trekking, bikepacking, SCUBA and white water rafting.

The first few days of the expedition to Nepal were spent exploring the city of Kathmandu and visits to cultural sites such as Swoyambhu Mahachaitya, or the “monkey temple,” which is known for the monkeys that surround it.

Participants in the Nepal expedition then took off on a 12-day tea house trek to the Annapurna Base Camp. The adventure threw rain, leeches and exhaustion at them. The trekkers did not make it to the ABC, but the majority made it to a different view point on the Mardi Himal, where they were treated to phenomenal views of the Himalaya mountain range.

After a few days of rest in the city of Pohkara, the team made friends with some of the locals and had the opportunity to go whitewater rafting at the tail end of the monsoon season. They finished out their time in Kathmandu, shopping and embracing the bonds of friendship they had built throughout the month in Nepal.

Members of the expedition to Turkey and Greece spent their first few days in Antalya, exploring the city and whitewater rafting. They then took a little over a week to bike-pack to a town called Demre, where they entered the water and sea kayaked to Kas, where some of the students were able to get their open water certification.

The group then split, and half made their way to Rhodes, Greece, and the other half continued bike-packing along the Lycian way. After spending a few days apart, all members of the expedition reconvened in Athens, where they spent the last few days exploring the city.

Undergraduate students in the OAL program can choose between two pathways to graduation: completion of the Spring Immersion (a 10-week immersion class) or completion of an International Expedition. The expeditions are planned and facilitated by graduate students in the Masters of Outdoor Adventure and Expedition Leadership Program. The goal is for undergraduates to learn and become immersed in a vastly different culture than their own.

Many see Outdoor Adventure undergraduate and graduate students traveling and being in the outdoors, but the trips also teach students about themselves and each other. Participants build bonds with their teams and with locals in the countries they visit. The teams are able to teach each other new things as they explore different countries.

The current cohort’s final presentation will be Dec. 7.

I can’t speak for others, but this summer’s trip changed my life for the better.

Story by OAL student Allie Cornett

SOULA receives national recognition

SOULA receives national recognition

(Ashland, Ore.) — The Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology (SOULA) has received an award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) for SOULA’s collaborative work with other agencies on the Oregon Chinese Diaspora Project – a wide-ranging effort to research and document the lives of Oregon’s early Chinese immigrants.

SOULA and other entities collaborating in the diaspora project received the National Trust/Advisory Council on Historic Preservation Award for Federal Partnerships in Historic Preservation during the NTHP’s recent PastForward Conference in Washington, D.C. The NTHP is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to save historic places nationwide, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) is an independent federal agency; the two entities partner in presenting the Federal Partnerships award.

SOULA works on the ongoing project with agencies including the Medford District of the Bureau of Land Management, the Malheur National Forest, the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Oregon State Parks, the Oregon Historical Society and the Portland Chinatown Museum.

Researchers are using local history and public archaeology to challenge dated stereotypes and highlight the transnational lives of the Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans that helped establish the early infrastructure and economic industries of Oregon. The project has included digging, interpreting and touring of numerous archaeological sites around the state where Chinese immigrants worked and lived, and researching censuses and community records.

The NTHP award honors outstanding partnerships that advance the preservation of important historic resources and have a positive impact on the community. It celebrates a project or program in which a federal agency and one or more nonfederal partners have achieved an exemplary preservation outcome.

“We are pleased to recognize the Oregon Chinese Diaspora Project for their collaborative, multi-agency grassroots effort to uplift the underrepresented role of Chinese Oregonians in the region’s history,” ACHP Chair Sara Bronin said. “This project can serve as a model as we prioritize telling the full story of American history through preservation of historic places.”

The NTHP award was the second prestigious recognition for the Oregon Chinese Diaspora Project in a little over a year – it received a national Award of Excellence from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) in June 2022, as part of that organization’s Leadership in History Awards.

“The Oregon Chinese Diaspora Project is thrilled to have our work nationally recognized,” SOULA Director Chelsea Rose said. “What began as a small, grass-roots collaboration now spans the state and is enriching our collective history by re-entering the important roles that Chinese Oregonians had in the settlement and development of the region.

“This (NTHP) award not only helps us continue to do this work, but will hopefully inspire others to work together, pool resources and seek out the important stories that have been lost or erased over time.”

The Federal Partnerships award was one of nine awards presented at this year’s PastForward conference to honor those who excel in preservation.


Andrew Gay, director of SOU School of Arts & Communication

Internal candidate hired for SOU director position

(Ashland, Ore.) — Andrew Kenneth Gay, a professor and chair of Communication, Media & Cinema at Southern Oregon University, has been hired as director of SOU’s new School of Arts & Communication – which includes the Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU.

Gay has taken on numerous leadership roles since joining the SOU faculty in 2014, including his current, two-year appointment to the SOU Board of Trustees. In addition to his academic roles, he has served two years as chair of the Faculty Senate and led a recent three-year effort to transform SOU’s general education curriculum.

“I am especially excited to know that our students will benefit from Andrew’s collaborative and interdisciplinary vision for the future,” said Susan Walsh, SOU’s provost and vice president for academic and student affairs, in announcing Gay’s promotion to the campus community.

SOU’s School of Arts & Communication, which was initiated this fall, combines the university’s Theatre, Music and Creative Arts departments with its Communication, Media & Cinema department, among other programs. All share components related to performance, creativity and production, and new opportunities for collaboration are created by placing them under the same school.

All of the university’s 46 undergraduate and 10 graduate-level academic programs have been distributed among four “schools” beginning this fall, rather than the seven “divisions” that previously administered the programs. The shift leads to more efficiency in SOU’s administrative structure, and was a key part of the cost management plan adopted last spring by the Board of Trustees.

Gay will succeed David Humphrey, Ph.D., who created the Oregon Center for the Arts at SOU and led that division for 11 years. Humphrey is retiring at the end of December.

“Ashland and SOU have always been internationally recognized destinations for creativity, storytelling and human connection, and our new School of Arts & Communication continues that tradition with a renewed focus on interdisciplinary collaboration,” Gay said. “I’m thrilled to lead the new school and the Oregon Center for the Arts as we build a hub for creative careers and meaningful expression in our region and work to realize our students’ most ambitious dreams.”

The university’s undergraduate program in Digital Cinema was created under Gay’s leadership in 2019. The program launched an innovative, 12-credit spring immersion course called “The Crew Experience” in 2022, and later that year the program was accepted as a member of the prestigious Green Film School Alliance.

He received the Teaching Excellence Award from the University Film and Video Association (UFVA) in 2022 and earned SOU’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2021.

Gay teaches digital cinema courses in storytelling, screenwriting, directing, producing, production management, film festival programming, career design and development, and short film production. He is the former board president of Film Southern Oregon, previously sat on the board of the Oregon Media Production Association, has been a programmer for the Ashland Independent Film Festival and serves on the Teaching Committee for EDIT Media (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Teaching Media) and on the board for the University Film & Video Association (UFVA).

He came to SOU in 2014 from the University of Central Florida, where he earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in Film and Digital Media, and his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Film Production. He has a bachelor’s degree in English and Philosophy/Religion from Flagler College.

Gay has also worked as a freelance production coordinator, production manager and assistant director in commercials, reality television and independent film, and for such companies as Red Bull, Discovery and Disney. He has written, directed and produced for both fiction and documentary media.


Jerron Jorgensen, director of Choral Studies at SOU

Invigorating choral arts: bringing lyric theatre to SOU

The immersive realm of music and vocal arts defines the vibrant Music Program at Southern Oregon University, attracting a multitude of students who follow the enriching curriculum and ultimately forge dynamic careers in the performing arts. From powerful choral ensembles to the intimate cadence of solo performances, SOU’s commitment to musical excellence resonates, providing a captivating blend of education and artistic passion.

Jerron Jorgensen, the new director of Choral Studies at SOU, brings a wealth of experience from his tenure at the small liberal arts college Coker University, where he – along with his wife, Christi Mclain – revitalized the vocal arts program into a wholly reimagined experience. Before landing at Coker University, Jerron completed his doctorate in musical arts at the University of Hartford after finishing his masters at Arizona State University. Jerron came to SOU in 2022, filling the vacancy that Paul French left when he retired.

Christi McLain, SOU adjunct faculty memberComing to SOU was an easy choice for Jorgensen – the combination of a small campus, the beauty of the geographic area and the vibrant arts community of the Rogue Valley made this an attractive location to teach vocal music. His musical journey is marked by a diverse range of experiences, encompassing professional roles as a conductor, soloist, chorister, teacher and arranger. He is also the new music director for the Rogue Valley Chorale.

Christi McLain, an adjunct instructor of music at SOU with her roots in Nebraska, discovered her passion for singing at a young age. She fondly recalls watching a performance of Cleopatra and falling in love with the opera form. She has since been dedicated to making this art form accessible to diverse audiences.

Christi and Jerron are creative partners – married with two adopted children – and together, they have brought to SOU Lyric Theatre, a new program and class scheduled for the 2024 winter term, that aims to redefine traditional notions of chamber music and the vocal arts by supporting creativity, accessibility and relevance in the contemporary artistic landscape. Students will learn, produce and perform an intimate retelling of the story of Zelda as a jazz opera with the composer and the libretto coming to SOU as visiting artists. The class and program, as designed by Jerron and Christi, embodies the ethos of an adapting performing arts world that draws inspiration from diverse musical traditions.

“Our main goal is to stay nimble from year to year, allowing our programmatic choices and the unique cohort of students to shape our performances, venues and community engagements,” Jerron says. “The idea is for it to look a little bit different every single year, reflecting the evolving dynamics of our artistic pursuits. We want to promote the works of living American composers in both the voice and choral realms.”

This vision aligns with the way the performing arts is changing in the United States, and Christi and Jerron see the opportunity to expand SOU’s program to meet those changes.

“The vocal arts landscape is undergoing a metamorphosis, with major companies redefining their seasons, diversifying repertoires, and embracing a departure from the traditional canon,” Christi says.

It’s a departure not just in terms of repertoire but a paradigm shift toward living composers, contemporary narratives and a harmonious blend of styles – a fusion that extends beyond the operatic realm. Jazz influences, musical theater nuances and a medley of styles converge to create a rich, dynamic narrative.

Jerron explains that boutique companies have become a groundbreaking force in reshaping the vocal arts landscape. Their emergence signifies a departure from the traditional, prompting a reevaluation of the storytelling standard, demonstrating that impactful narratives can thrive without the need for extravagant expenditures. This signifies a grassroots movement in the realm of chamber music. These small-scale productions offer artistically compelling narratives and music, and present a practical accessibility. The productions are innovative in that they challenge traditional notions of the art form, breaking away from the confines of concert halls and adapting to spaces more accessible to diverse audiences – like bookstores, houses or other experimental locations.

This is the vision of lyric theatre that Jerron and Christi want to bring to students at SOU, and this artistic vision is reflected in the teaching styles they’ve each developed over years of practice.

At the core of Jerron’s teaching philosophy is his commitment to cultivating a safe and inclusive space for students. This safety is about creating an environment where student opinions and identities are respected and celebrated. Jerron aims to affirm student experiences and foster a creative atmosphere. Simultaneously, his role extends to challenging and pushing students, not solely in technical aspects, but in expanding their worldview and understanding their societal impact through the art form they are immersed in.

“It’s about nurturing growth, both artistically and as individuals making meaningful contributions to their communities,” Jerron says.

The guiding principle of Christi’s teaching philosophy is integrity – a commitment to the students, the art form, their voice and the repertoire presented to them. She encourages an environment where bravery and vulnerability thrive, urging students to embrace risks, potential failures and the inherent messiness of artistic exploration. Rather than molding them into replicas of renowned singers, Christi emphasizes the journey of becoming their best selves as singers. The intense focus on details, such as tongue position and jaw release, creates an immersive and fulfilling experience. Amid this intensity, she emphasizes the profound significance of their artistic endeavors, dispelling any notion that their contributions lack importance.

“It’s about helping students recognize the immense value that the vocal arts hold in society and empowering them to find and articulate their unique voice in this powerful art form,” Christi says.

Jerron and Christi – stewards of vocal artistry at SOU – are redefining the academic landscape by acknowledging the evolving reality for singers in today’s world. Their visionary approach imparts technical expertise and also instills an entrepreneurial spirit, guiding students toward the realization that a career in the arts is a nuanced journey, often marked by freelancing and carving one’s own path. This educational model echoes the sentiment that success in the arts is found in the innovative spirit of creating, administering and performing in non-traditional spaces. The students, under the tutelage of Jerron and Christi, will embark on a transformative journey where the intersection of creativity and pragmatism defines their narrative.

“While not everyone may go on to sing at iconic venues like The Met, we want to prepare students for diverse career paths, connecting them with relevant repertoire, composers and librettists,” Christi says.

Their collective goal is to ensure that their students graduate with the skills needed to succeed in various aspects of the performing arts world, from regional companies to graduate schools, contributing to the preservation and evolution of the vocal arts.

Jerron highlights the profound upheavals underway in the performing arts, catalyzed by factors such as shifting demographics and technological advancements, even before the pandemic. COVID-19, however, acted as an accelerant, forcing a reevaluation of longstanding traditions within the performing arts. The classical music and operatic realms, traditionally reliant on older generations for support, are now facing an existential challenge as this model proves unsustainable. Jerron foresees a necessity for widespread adaptation across the country. As attention spans shrink in the era of smartphones and streaming services, the very nature of the art form must evolve to captivate contemporary audiences, presenting a unique set of challenges and opportunities for those invested in its future.

“In our approach, we embrace the entrepreneurial nature of our activities, shaped by the curated repertoire we undertake,” Jerron says. “Unlike the rare, full-time positions with benefits found in large orchestras or renowned opera houses, the reality for most artists, including ourselves, is a freelance existence. This reality prompts the question: ‘How do we navigate, discover, and curate works that can be executed with a modest budget in unconventional settings?’”

Jerron emphasizes that the answer lies in a commitment to self-discovery, innovative programming and the administration of performances that carve out a niche for students.

“Students nowadays are navigating a dynamic landscape in vocal performance,” Jerron says. “It’s about creating your own opportunities, discovering works, and embracing the entrepreneurial aspects of the field. Our program is pioneering this perspective, preparing students for diverse and innovative careers.”

“I’m eager to astonish our students with music that defies their expectations,” Christi adds. “The beauty of lyric theatre resonates deeply within us, and I’m committed to pushing boundaries and surprising our audience. I’m excited to reveal the true awesomeness of lyric theatre to everyone.”

Jerron and Christi have arrived at SOU at a pivotal moment, offering renewed passion and energy to SOU’s Music Program and to students studying music at SOU.

“There’s a sense of immense promise and the feeling that we’re standing at the edge of significant change,” Jerron says. “The university’s direction holds vast possibilities, and it’s exciting to witness the transformation. There’s a collective effort to revamp, reimagine and introspect. Under the guidance of strong leadership, there’s a palpable eagerness among the faculty and students to be part of this renaissance.”

To learn more about SOU’s Music Program, visit SOU Music.

Story by Melissa Matthewson, SOU’s director of development communications

SOU teacher preparation programs achieve accreditation

SOU teacher preparation programs receive national accreditation

(Ashland, Ore.) — The seven teacher preparation programs offered by Southern Oregon University’s School of Education, Leadership, Health & Humanities have achieved accreditation from the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation, meeting the Oregon Legislature’s mandate that all programs in the state that offer licenses to teachers or administrators must be nationally accredited by July 2025.

All teacher preparation programs in the state are working through the accreditation process, which at SOU entailed four years of work to develop a 550-page report to AAQEP that details the university’s education programs. AAQEP accreditors made a site visit to the SOU campus in April, and the agency – one of two that is nationally recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation – granted an unconditional seven-year accreditation for the SOU programs in July.

“National accreditation is very beneficial for our graduates, as there are some states and districts that require a new hire to have been prepared by a nationally-accredited program,” said Susan Faller, a senior instructor and accreditation coordinator for SOU’s School of Education, Leadership, Health & Humanities.

National accreditation assures the quality of educator preparation programs through a nongovernmental, nonregulatory process of self-study and peer review. The standards- and evidence-based process is intended to ensure accountability and continuous improvement.

AAQEP – which currently has about 190 member programs in 36 states and other jurisdictions – uses a model that honors local context and fosters innovation and collaboration among institutions.

“Congratulations to all of the faculty, staff and stakeholders of Southern Oregon University who have achieved their goal of national accreditation by AAQEP,” said Mark LaCelle-Peterson, the agency’s president and CEO. “The program’s strong support for candidates and long-standing P-12 partnerships ensure that the teachers it prepares are ready to meet the challenges of today’s classrooms.”

The SOU academic programs that were accredited by AAQEP include four initial licensure programs, two advanced programs and one added endorsement. The initial licensure programs are:

The advanced programs are SOU’s Initial Administrator (principal) License and the Continuing Administrator License; the added endorsement is for the English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program.

“Accreditation by a well-regarded, nationally recognized agency is an honor for the school and the university,” said Vance Durrington, director of the SOU School of Education, Leadership, Health & Humanities. “It demonstrates our commitment to preparing the outstanding educators who in turn will provide positive learning experiences for future generations of our state and region.”

SOU will work during the seven years of the current accreditation to prepare materials that will support the education programs’ annual reports and reaccreditation in 2030.


Michael Parker, sculpture

The convivial artist: engaged teaching & art with Michael Parker

Michael Parker is no ordinary teacher and no ordinary artist. In fact, his enthusiasm for teaching socially engaged art is exhilarating. His teaching philosophy resonates with students as it’s situated in the relational and the inspired, which is what many young artists are looking for when entering the arts discipline in college. Since his arrival at Southern Oregon University, Parker has worked diligently to galvanize active art practices on the SOU campus.

Paulo Freire, the great Brazilian philosopher and educator, wrote, “The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled.”

Michael Parker sculpture Parker adheres to this kind of philosophy – in teaching and art – by unveiling the inventive possibility of art and sculpture at SOU.

“Sculpture is not only objects – it can be anywhere, anything,” Parker says. “It can be an idea, a digital application, a performance, a moment of calm looking at something. It’s about asking questions.”

Born in New York City in 1978, Parker graduated from Pomona College with a bachelor’s degree in 2000, and earned an a master of fine arts degree in New Genres from the Roski School of Art at the University of Southern California in 2009. After many years of teaching and practicing art in Los Angeles, he took a position at SOU in 2019 and is now an associate professor of sculpture. Parker lives in Ashland with his wife, Alyse Emdur, who is also an artist, and their young child.

His ambitious socially and materially engaged art practice revolves around cooperation and collaboration. His practice is born from conceptual art, sculpture history and relational aesthetics.

“These shifts relate to my broader interest in the relationship between moments of interpersonal exchange and collective action,” Parker says.

His work includes “Lineman,” a series of photographs, videos, and audio interviews presented in several choreographies and arrangements, culminating in a 60-page printed broadside. The 50 participants – all linemen – invited Parker into their lineman training program at LA Trade Tech College. Parker also created the “Steam Egg,” which was inspired by his post-grad fellowship into utopian communities.

After traveling to several communities around the world, he created a three-legged, bottom-entry mirrored steam room (now patented), which seats up to eight participants in its hollow core. Finally, he choreographed a collaborative dig along the Los Angeles River to unveil a 137-foot-long recumbent obelisk, which recreated the excavation site of Hatshepushut’s “Unfinished Obelisk,” circa 1463 BCE. The process included permissions from government agencies, GIS surveys, soil testing, ground penetrating radar and ultimately 40 participants trying their hand at using earthmoving equipment to complete the dig.

Michael Parker sculpureParker has brought this collaborative sensibility to SOU. Since his arrival on campus, he’s re-energized the sculpture program by coordinating and creating three very important projects. In 2022, Parker envisioned a temporary sculpture garden outside the DeBoer Sculpture Building on Siskiyou Boulevard, on land that had been underused and overgrown. In partnership with the Schneider Museum, they broke ground in the spring of 2023 and the Mary Campagna Sculpture Garden was reborn, effectively creating a new public face of the creative arts at SOU.

Parker, working with SOU Facilities, designed and installed three concrete pads, specified to different measurements, bolt patterns, and orientations. This temporary sculpture garden is ephemeral, with its next phase of landscaping occurring in the fall of 2023. Student work is displayed, and most recently, Parker’s creation for “Art Beyond” was exhibited there – an installation made of 100,000 worms, an insulated plinth, salvaged sink, solar pump and redwood.

“The rafted sink will spend a day in a local waterway followed by a procession of performative mourners,” he says of the installation. “Join us for an experimental group cry.”

Though much contemporary art doesn’t always “look” like art, Parker’s commitment to empowering young people with skill is vital to his theories of allowing for softness to develop in the work of younger artists while also supplying them with technical knowledge. Parker’s life sculpture course from winter 2023 doubled down on the importance and breadth of historical training and methods by working with a live model, oil and water-based clay. Before this, during the pandemic, Parker made 35 material demonstration training videos for wood, plaster, clay, mold-making and metals, and they are now available as an Open Educational Resource.

In addition to the new sculpture garden, Parker has recently started an artist-run-space, Suzy Two, in underused dorm rooms in SOU’s Suzanne Holmes Hall. The first iteration was part of an Honors College special offering in fall of 2022. It was so popular that Parker held a second course in the spring of 2023 and will offer a third version this fall. With Parker’s leadership and vision, the dorms were transformed with student art.

The students produced two ‘zines’ of the work, including written and photographic documentation. Some of the works include “Distance from Necessity,” by Josie Bolstad, which explores human basic needs in the form of mirrors, figures and discarded materials. “Pony in a Pit” by Chella Maize is another installation in which salvaged bedfoam was made into a horse from Emile Zola’s 1885 novel “Germinal.” The sun rises over the horse, and on the summer solstice, Chella read from the novel as the sunlight streamed into the room.

Parker has forged a partnership with Recology in Ashland to design a one-of-a-kind, Artist-in-Residency program specifically for students. Student artists apply and then earn a stipend while creating art with materials gleaned from the Valley View Transfer Station. This program began in January 2023, with the first cohort creating a diverse set of artworks displayed in the CVA Galleries. SOU’s Digital Cinema program produced several documentaries about the process. Applications for the year-long cohort will open again this fall term. Listen to Parker, with BFA alumna Chella Maize, discuss the project on JPR’s Jefferson Exchange here.

As Parker develops this contemporary art practice on SOU’s campus, he’s also advancing his teaching by participating in a “Humane Leadership” course taught by Stephen Sloan with the Local Innovation Lab offered through the Center for Teaching and Learning at SOU. He was invited with five faculty and three students to participate in this inaugural program.

“This gave me the opportunity to have cross-disciplinary conversation with leaders from across our community in a myriad of different positions,” Parker says of the program and how he’ll apply what he learns. “This provided insight to my own role as a leader and the reality of leadership potential, which I know I will carry with me for years to come.”

Parker’s offers a teaching philosophy intended to inspire: “Helping younger artists is very much a part of my practice as both a teacher and as an artist,” he says. “How can I empower students to be fully agented humans, and how can I support them to be actively engaged with their community through art? These are the questions that drive me.”

Story by Melissa Matthewson, SOU Director of Development Communications

Digital Cinema students on location

Digital Cinema at SOU offers options for all

Southern Oregon University’s hands-on Digital Cinema program now offers aspiring filmmakers three bachelor’s degree options and nine stand-alone certificates that prepare graduates for careers in film and entertainment.

Students can choose to pursue a bachelor of fine arts degree in Digital Cinema Production Arts or a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree in Digital Cinema. Certificate options include Directing for the Screen, Documentary Production, Screenwriting & Story Development, Producing & Production Management, Cinematography & Production Technology, Scenic & Environmental Design, Animation & Motion Design, Media Post Production, and Sound Design.

Program highlights include its Credit for Prior Learning option, which offers many incoming students academic credit for the knowledge and skills they have gained through previous life experiences, and its groundbreaking, 12-credit immersion program called “The Crew Experience.” Student filmmakers in that program spend an entire term learning on location and collaborating under the supervision of experienced professionals on the set of a significant film project.

“Our students are preparing for their careers from day one,” said Professor Andrew Gay, chair of SOU’s Communication, Media & Cinema Department. “We’re teaching storytelling and technical production crafts but also networking skills, how to handle yourself in a job interview, and how to show up on set as a professional and then get hired again. That’s why our graduates enter the job market with such confidence and repeatedly succeed.”

Recent graduates of SOU’s Digital Cinema program have worked in union crew positions on such major motion pictures as 65, starring Adam Driver, and the upcoming Wolfs, starring George Clooney and Brad Pitt, and have been accepted into top graduate film programs at Chapman University, USC and Loyola Marymount.

Southern Oregon University is a proud member of the Green Film School Alliance – a collaboration of leading film schools that have committed to industry-level sustainable production practices in their programs. It is located in beautiful Ashland, Oregon – a town MovieMaker Magazine has named a “best place to live and work as a MovieMaker” since 2014.

General education requirements at SOU will be pared down and refocused

SOU streamlines and refocuses general education requirements

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University will join a groundbreaking trend among universities across the country when fall term begins in September – the core, “general education” courses that students of all majors must take to earn their undergraduate degrees will be pared down and focused on six skills or “capacities” that students need and employers seek.

The total general education requirements each student must complete will range from 39 to 44 credit hours, down from the 64 that have typically been needed in the past. A total of 180 credit hours – including elective courses and the specific requirements of various majors – will still be required to earn a bachelor’s degree, but students will have more flexibility to choose electives that interest them, support their majors or enable them to pursue minors or add-on academic certificates.

“The truth is that our students have long told us they don’t know why general education courses are required,” said professor Andrew Gay, chair of SOU’s faculty-run General Education Committee. “In many cases, students have chosen their general education courses based on which were easiest, rather than which would interest them or be of the greatest benefit.

“Our goal in rethinking general education at SOU has been to focus on classes that will benefit all students by developing the human skills – or capacities – that help them think, innovate and engage.”

Students will meet their overall general education requirements by choosing classes that the General Education Committee has determined will prepare students to practice and apply one or more of the six “capacities” – Purposeful Learning, Communication and Expression, Creativity and Innovation, Inquiry and Analysis, Numerical Literacy, and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Eligible classes will be identified in the SOU Course Catalog as being “approved for general education.”

General education curriculum at SOU – as at most universities – has been largely based on academic disciplines in the past, with specific requirements for mathematics, sciences, humanities and social sciences. The old model, for example, required students to take three science classes for a total of nine to 12 credit hours, and two of the classes had to have laboratory components.

Under the new general education requirements, students will choose classes that offer them opportunities to practice skills such as critical inquiry and analysis, creativity and innovation or numerical literacy, rather than choosing, for instance, three science classes, one math course and two humanities courses. The classes would have to be on the approved list for those capacities, and provide students the opportunity to practice and apply a specific set of skills.

“The focus moves from learning for its own sake to learning in support of the student’s self-defined goals,” Gay said. “A skills-based general education program says to the student, ‘You have your own life and career goals, and these essential skills will help you achieve those goals, so we’re offering a lot of course options from various disciplines that will help you develop those skills.’”

The new general education model requires 12 credit hours to satisfy lower-division requirements for the Purposeful Learning capacity, and three or four credits each for the Communication and Expression, Creativity and Innovation, Inquiry and Analysis, Numerical Literacy and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion capacities. It also requires a total of 12 credit hours of upper-division coursework to satisfy requirements in various capacities.

The Purposeful Learning capacity will serve a foundational role in SOU’s new general education model, preparing students to be lifelong learners and developing the perspective and self-knowledge to connect the dots between learning and life goals. It is structured as a seminar – a sequence of three first-year writing and communication courses that emphasize writing, speaking, thinking, reading, researching and interacting in small learning environments.

All of the new general education capacities, or skill groups, focus on human skills – such as creativity, critical thinking and cultural understanding – that enable students to thrive throughout their academic and work careers.

Students who finish their general education requirements will automatically be awarded a new Certificate in Applied Learning & Essential Skills that serves as an academic endorsement even before the completion of their degree programs.