McNair Scholars program accepting nominations

McNair Scholars: Nominate potential grad students

There is a reason why the coordinators of SOU’s McNair Scholars Program reach out to faculty members at about this time each year, seeking nominations of promising students to fill out the university’s next cohort of potential graduate school candidates. Most participants since the McNair program began at SOU in 2003 have stood out in the classroom and been steered by their professors toward the U.S. Department of Education program.

“If you know any undergraduate students … who you think may have academic potential and may want to go on to attend graduate school after completing a bachelor’s degree, please mention the program to the student and/or send an email to to nominate that student to the SOU McNair Scholars Program,” said Naomi McCreary, coordinator of the SOU program.

Nomination emails should include the student’s name and email address. Students can be from any academic major, must have completed at least two terms of college and can enter the program as sophomores, juniors or early in their senior years. McCreary described McNair as “a specialized graduate school preparatory program of activities and instruction that the participants engage in over a minimum of a calendar year.”

The SOU program offers one-on-one guidance from faculty mentors as it helps participants complete their undergraduate degrees, enroll in graduate school and prepare for doctoral studies. Scholars complete an eight-week research internship in the summer, attend weekly seminars to help prepare them for testing and graduate school applications, and travel to national McNair conferences and graduate program visitations.

The program is named for Dr. Ronald E. McNair, who was a member of the Challenger space shuttle’s seven-person crew that met a tragic end in a 1986 explosion. As a tribute to his achievements, Congress and the McNair family in 1989 aformed the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program – administered by the U.S. Department of Education – to assist young people in both following McNair’s path and taking the initiative to chart their own courses.

The grant helps underrepresented and first-generation undergraduate students from low-income backgrounds to prepare for research-intensive doctoral programs. However, McCreary urged faculty members to nominate any students they feel may have the ability and desire to complete graduate school, and eligibility will be sorted out during the application process.

The McNair program at SOU received word in August that it has been renewed by the Department of Education for a new, five-year grant cycle. The SOU program has provided an intensive research experience and graduate school preparation to more than 160 students since its inception in 2003. Under the new grant, 28 students each year will share the prestige of being McNair Scholars.

SOU Native American Studies receives grant from Banyan Botanicals

(Ashland, Ore.) — Dragonfly’s Garden, located in Southern Oregon University’s community garden and a project of the Native American Studies Program, has been awarded a grant for $3,000 from Banyan Botanicals – a product and lifestyle company that focuses on the Ayurvedic alternative medicine system that is common in India and Nepal. Banyan Botanicals’ mission is to help people achieve health and well-being.

Banyan Botanicals grant will support hiring T Tschantre The NAS program will use the grant from Banyan to hire SOU alumna T Tschantre, who is of Tewa descent, to support participation in growth of Dragonfly’s Garden and to tend the plot with student intern Alanis Baldy, a citizen of the Hoopa Valley Tribe.

“Students in the Native American Studies Program at Southern Oregon University are deeply committed to sustainable food systems, cultivation of Indigenous first foods and food sovereignty,” said Brook Colley, Ph.D., chair of the NAS program.

“Many have limited opportunities to grow their food and to practice the cultivation of culturally important medicinal plants,” she said, “However, this garden gives students a safe place to learn these skills and be supported in their exploration and learning.”

NAS students attempted to start a student garden project for many years, but were plagued by challenges including a lack of resources to pay student workers, the COVID-19 pandemic and catastrophic Rogue Valley wildfires.

SOU junior Amanda Rose enrolled in Colley’s spring 2021 Native American Ecological Knowledge course, in which she learned about “three sisters” gardening – a system of companion planting in which three plants are grown symbiotically. She and seven other students initiated a group project using the dynamic polyculture system at The Farm at SOU, and ultimately harvested more than 200 ears of sweet corn and 200 squash, of four varieties. The produce was shared with the NAS program, Native students and local Native community members.

Banyan Botanicals grant will support student worker Alanis BaldyBaldy and other NAS students were inspired by the success of Rose’s three sisters garden, and mobilized to use the technique on a garden plot – which would become known as Dragonfly’s Garden – in the SOU Community Garden. The community garden is a student-run organic cooperative at the corner of South Mountain Avenue and Henry Street.

“Dragonfly’s Garden helps keep me connected to my culture and allows me to accomplish my goal of giving back to Indigenous communities,” said Baldy, who grew up on her tribe’s reservation in northern California  – a culturally enriched environment that taught her of responsibilities to the land.

Tschantre considers the grant-supported role at the garden to be a means of using knowledge to be of service to the community. Tschantre, reconnecting with Native roots, said that learning about Native first foods, plants and land restoration is an important part of a personal journey.

“I’m interested in learning how to use methods of companion planting to create healthy habitats using herbs, flowers and vegetables in other annual and perennial gardens,” Tschantre said.

Dragonfly’s Garden is now dedicated to growing student knowledge of Indigenous first foods and companion planting. Students have learned that the system improves pollination, controls pests, provides a habitat for beneficial insects and improves harvests.

“We are very thankful to Banyan Botanicals and our other partners who support these cultural and educational efforts.” said Colley, the NAS chair.

Additional support for Dragonfly’s Garden and the three sisters garden has come from Siskiyou Seeds, which donated seeds for both gardens, and the Traditional Ecological Inquiry Program, which provided camas bulbs, wild onion bulbs and bitterroot for the project. Donations to support Dragonfly’s Garden and other projects of the SOU Native American Studies program can be made online.


SOU's Hala Schepmann leads National Science Foundation grant project

SOU awarded National Science Foundation grant for cutting-edge equipment

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University’s nationally-accredited Department of Chemistry has been awarded a prestigious, $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

The NSF funding – part of the agency’s “Major Research Instrumentation Grant”’ program – provides for the acquisition of a 400 MHz nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer. The instrument will advance research and research training activities at SOU, and expand students’ use of modern scientific equipment in undergraduate chemistry courses already known for their hands-on instrumentation approach.

Anna Oliveri, National Science Foundation grant team  Samuel David, National Science Foundation grant teamThe new spectrometer, similar to an MRI scanner but used to determine the molecular identity of chemical species, will provide ready access to advanced NMR techniques and its low-aluminum probe will allow on-site analysis of aluminum-containing compounds. The new spectrometer is expected to be available by spring 2023.

“This instrument will increase the breadth and depth of research in the areas of aqueous aluminum chemistry, synthesis of important industrial and medicinal organic compounds, and structural identification of bioactive natural products,” said professor Hala Schepmann, the chair of SOU’s Department of Chemistry and Physics. “It is a state-of-the-art instrument that will support faculty and student research as well as our ongoing efforts to provide upward social mobility to historically underrepresented students by offering a relevant and rigorous curriculum, extensive hands-on instrument training and numerous opportunities to participate in faculty-mentored research and research communication activities.

“SOU values real-world opportunities for its students, and the availability of advanced instrumentation for chemical research puts us on par with the top undergraduate programs in the U.S.”

Schepmann led the NSF grant application process as principal investigator, and was joined by SOU Chemistry Department faculty members Anna Oliveri and Samual David as co-principal investigators. She also credited several SOU administrators and staff members with supporting the successful funding request.

This is Schepmann’s second NSF grant (2019, $1M) in the past three years and the NMR project is the second NSF grant announced this fall with SOU faculty members in leadership roles. A three-year, $1 million grant through the NSF’s Computer Science for All program will help local kindergarten-through-fifth-grade teachers develop the “computational thinking” skills of their students.

“These are exactly the kinds of funding opportunities that we are actively encouraging our faculty members to pursue,” said SOU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Susan Walsh. “They expand our abilities to serve our students and communities in exciting, relevant ways.”

NMR spectrometers enable scientists to study the physical, chemical and biological properties of both organic and inorganic compounds. The new instrument will be used at SOU to advance aluminum chemistry, organic chemistry and natural products research investigations. It will also support the Chemistry Department’s long-held incorporation of NMR instruction throughout its curriculum, beginning with a dedicated Organic Spectroscopy course and laboratory taken by STEM majors in their sophomore year.

The National Science Foundation said in approving the SOU grant request that NMR spectroscopy “is one of the most powerful tools available to chemists for the elucidation of the structure of molecules.” The grant is supported by both the NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation program and its Chemistry Research Instrumentation program.

“Access to state-of-the-art NMR spectrometers is essential to chemists who are carrying out frontier research,” the NSF said. “This instrument enhances the educational, research, and teaching efforts of students at all levels in the department.”


EcoAdventure students and faculty in Ecuador

SOU students enjoying EcoAdventure in Ecuador

Students and faculty from SOU’s Environmental Science and Policy program are currently in Ecuador, wrapping up the field course “EcoAdventure: Andes to Amazon,” which focuses on tourism’s impact on the culture, environment and biodiversity of that South American country and the region surrounding it.

EcoAdventure student with butterflyThe trip is led by Vincent Smith, director of the university’s Division of Business, Communication and the Environment. Past versions of the annual EcoAdventure excursion have taken students to northern California’s Lassen and Yosemite national parks, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Costa Rica and, last year, to the Bear Creek Greenway to help with restoration efforts from the 2020 Almeda Fire.

Each year’s EcoAdventure courses are intended to connect students with real-world environmental issues and create an atmosphere of investigation and problem-solving. The focus this year is on sustainable development and balancing the benefits of tourism with the cultural values of the Amazon region.

“A large part of our goal is to change the script on how tourism takes place in places like the Amazon,” Smith said. “Rather than passing through a place, our goal is to be in the place with the people there.”

For example, students in this year’s course joined a group in an indigenous Kichwa village, combatting patriarchy and promoting women’s rights. The group has also enjoyed more tourist-related pursuits, including up-close experiences with monkeys, parrots and a boa constrictor.

EcoAdventure with boaParticipants in the SOU course toured the Mindo Wildlife Canopy and Ecuador’s capital Quito, visited the Butterfly and Hummingbird Gardens, rafted in the Napo River, took a Pacmanca cooking class and visited the Papallacta Hot Springs.

The total cost of the course was about $4,000, including six credits of tuition and a trip fee that included airfare, lodging, food and ground transportation. The EcoAdventure courses are open to all SOU students, regardless of their major – and this year’s students come from SOU’s communication, psychology and art programs, along with Environmental Science and Policy.


EcoAdventure with monkey dog EcoAdventure with Ecuadorian music EcoAdventure Ecuador cohort

New director for Division of Education, Health and Leadership

North Carolina educator accepts SOU director position

(Ashland, Ore.) — Vance Durrington, currently a program coordinator at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, has accepted an offer to become director of Southern Oregon University’s Division of Education, Health and Leadership. He will begin work at SOU on Sept. 12.

“We had an excellent group of finalists for this key position, and I am thrilled to have Dr. Durrington join SOU,” said Susan Walsh, the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. “It will be exciting to work with him as he implements his vision for the Division of Education, Health and Leadership, which has a rich tradition at SOU.”

Durrington has been with UNC-Wilmington for 15 years, serving as an associate professor and chair, and as coordinator of the Workforce Learning and Development program in the Department of Instructional Technology. He was previously coordinator of the Master of Science in Instructional Technology program in Mississippi State University’s College of Education.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Harding University in Arkansas, his master’s degree in educational supervision from Abilene Christian University and his Ed.D. from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. His research interests include distance education, diffusion of innovations, computer mediated communication, social network analysis and digital literacy.

Durrington started his career as a middle and high school teacher of math and computer science for four years, before returning to college for his graduate studies.

As director of SOU’s Division of Education, Health and Leadership, he will provide leadership for the university’s undergraduate programs in American Sign Language, education, English, health and exercise science, military science, outdoor adventure leadership, philosophy and Spanish. He will also oversee the division’s graduate programs in education, outdoor adventure and expedition leadership and teaching.

Durrington will succeed John King as the division’s director. King joined SOU’s education faculty in 2006, served as program chair for three years and then was division director for seven years before leaving in July to become director of ORS Impact, a social impact consulting firm in Seattle.


SOU McNair program receives grant

SOU McNair Scholars program awarded nearly $1.4 million from U.S. Education Department

(Ashland, Ore.) — The U.S. Department of Education has awarded Southern Oregon University its fifth Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement grant. The award of $274,983 annually will total $1,374,915 over the five-year grant cycle, from 2022 through 2027.

The grant helps underrepresented and first-generation undergraduate students from low-income backgrounds to prepare for research-intensive doctoral programs.

The program is named for Dr. Ronald E. McNair, who was a member of the Challenger space shuttle’s seven-person crew that met a tragic end in a 1986 explosion. As a tribute to his achievements, Congress and the McNair family formed the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program to assist young people in both following McNair’s path and taking the initiative to chart their own courses.

Since its inception in 2003, SOU’s McNair Scholars program has provided an intensive research experience and graduate school preparation to more than 160 students. Under the new grant, 28 students each year will share the prestige of being McNair Scholars.

The SOU McNair Scholars program serves students who have the desire to continue their education beyond the undergraduate level from all academic disciplines. Scholars complete an eight-week research internship in the summer, attend weekly seminars to help prepare them for testing and graduate school applications, and travel to national McNair conferences and graduate program visitations.

The track record of those who have completed SOU’s McNair program is far above the national average for education continuation among undergraduate students. The SOU program has a 95 percent undergraduate graduation rate, and 98 percent of participants who have completed the McNair program, earned a bachelor’s degree and submitted graduate school applications have ultimately received admission to at least one graduate-level program. Of those who have been admitted to graduate programs, 97 percent have chosen to attend.

Alumni of SOU’s McNair program have received more than $7 million in grants, scholarships and fellowships to support their graduate educations. More than 70 graduate degrees – including 15 doctorates – have been earned by SOU McNair alumni.

The SOU McNair program is directed on an interim basis by Associate Provost Dan DeNeui, and the program coordinator is Naomi McCreary.


Margaret Perrow honored with teaching award

SOU News Podcast: Faculty spotlight on Margaret Perrow

NSF grant for computational thinking research

SOU team gets NSF grant to work on “computational thinking” curriculum

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University has been awarded a three-year grant totaling nearly $1 million from the National Science Foundation to help K-5 teachers develop  “computational thinking” skills in the Ashland and Phoenix-Talent school districts. The work will build upon a $299,000 grant SOU was awarded in September 2019 to launch the collaborative research project – which was a success despite the abrupt shift to an online format during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both grants are part of the NSF’s Computer Science for All program, which is intended to extend computer science and computational thinking (CT) opportunities to all K-12 students in the U.S. Computational thinking refers to a set of thought processes traditionally used in computer science to identify and define problems and their solutions. The CT curriculum developed by local teachers, in partnership with SOU researchers, will address barriers associated with implementing computing curriculum in early grades because it will be incorporated into core subjects and introduced in an “unplugged” manner – without computers or technology.

Maggie Vanderberg, an associate professor of computer science at SOU and the leader of the research team for the NSF project, said the grant is dream come true.

“We need to find equitable ways to broaden participation in computer science to increase diversity in the traditionally white male-dominated field,” she said. “And this idea of integrating computational thinking into core subjects will ensure all students have the opportunity to build CT skills during their regular school day – which will also serve them in many other aspects of their lives.

“By building off of what we learned in the previous project, and creating new partnerships across Oregon, we have the ability to make a significant impact across the state.”

The project will include 20 local elementary teachers from the Phoenix-Talent School District’s Orchard Hill, Phoenix and Talent elementary schools, and the Ashland School District’s Bellview, John Muir, Helman, Walker and Willow Wind elementary schools. As co-researchers, the teachers will construct a computational thinking curriculum by embedding the thought processes into existing lessons and then test and refine the effectiveness of those lessons. The goal is to empower all students with the skills necessary for success in middle and high school computing curriculum, and eventually in technologically-rich careers .

“We are excited to continue our partnerships with the Ashland and Phoenix-Talent School Districts,“ said project team researcher Eva Skuratowicz, director of the Southern Oregon University Research Center (SOURCE). “This is a unique opportunity for K-5 and higher education in the Rogue Valley to work together and create a curriculum that can be used nationwide.

Ashland Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove explained the benefits for his district.

“The NSF grant has provided a great opportunity for teachers to delve into strategies that support early computational thinking skills development,” he said. “The project supports the work of the regular classroom teacher in an accessible way by offering tools and strategies that fold easily into classroom learning.

“I look forward to the expansion of the work provided by the grant, and the passion it will spark in the minds of students.”

Phoenix-Talent Superintendent Brent Barry shares in the excitement of continuing work on the project. “Our teachers benefit from top-notch professional development and training, which in turn will benefit all of our students as they continue their education,” he said. “This grant provides the opportunity to expand what we have learned to more teachers and students. Phoenix-Talent is grateful for the partnership with SOU and Ashland School District.”

The program will grow over the next three years to include collaborations with researchers at the College of William & Mary in Virginia and Oregon State University’s Cascades Campus in Bend, and teachers in Lincoln County School District and Redmond School District, The ultimate goal is to develop the beginning of a K-12 computing curriculum pipeline in the state of Oregon. The three-year NSF grant totals $999,806 and will fund the team’s work beginning in October and running through September of 2025.


Central Point schools in partnership with SOU

Central Point district signs college access agreement with SOU

(Ashland, Ore.) — The Central Point School District and Southern Oregon University finalized an intergovernmental agreement last week that will guarantee a path to college admission for the district’s students. Basic contact information for Central Point high school students will be shared with SOU, which will promote college attendance and provide timely enrollment guidance.

The arrangement – which will improve college access, especially for traditionally underserved students – is the fourth of the rare agreements that SOU has negotiated this spring and summer with southern Oregon school districts. The university signed identical pacts with the Medford, Ashland and Grants Pass districts.

“There are many students in our region who mistakenly believe that college is not an option for them,” said SOU Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Neil Woolf. “These agreements allow us to communicate with students about the many opportunities that are available to them. Almost any student with the desire to achieve has access to academic programs at SOU that will help them become career-ready and prepare them for lifelong success.”

Prospects improve for students and their communities throughout southern Oregon when they are encouraged to attain their educational goals, Woolf said. The university is working to establish similar partnerships with school districts throughout the region.

The Central Point School District will provide SOU with basic “directory information” about its students – name, school, mailing address, school email address, phone numbers and grade level or expected year of graduation. The agreement ensures that the district and university will comply with all federal and state privacy laws, and that no information will be provided about students whose parents have asked their school not to disclose the information.