SOU alumnus Ted Adams receives Distinguished Alumni Award

Four receive SOU alumni awards for work and service

(Ashland, Ore.) — A graphic novelist, television producer and retired corporate CEO; a geriatric nurse practitioner, designer of retirement housing and nursing school founder; a retired credit union CEO and financial literacy proponent; and a partner in a Portland distillery and youngest master distiller in the U.S. have been recognized as this year’s Southern Oregon University alumni award winners.

This year’s four award recipients were chosen by the SOU Alumni Association Board of Directors: Ted Adams for the Distinguished Alumni Award; Heather Young, Ph.D., for the Alumni Excellence in Education Award; Gene Pelham for the Stan Smith Alumni Service Award; and Molly Troupe for the Outstanding Young Alumni Award. The awards were presented as part of last week’s homecoming celebration.

The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented annually by the university and the SOU Alumni Association to recognize someone whose personal and professional achievements have significantly benefited humankind and brought distinction to the university. This year’s honoree, Ted Adams, earned his business degree at SOU in 1990, founded Clover Press and then went on to co-found IDW Publishing in 1999 – a company that would become one of the largest comic book publishers in the country, with a market cap of more than $300 million. Adams served for 20 years as publisher and CEO of IDW Publishing and IDW Media Holdings. The companies adapt existing works as comics or graphic novels, and also have produced television series for Syfy and Netflix. Adams and IDW opened the San Diego Comic Art Gallery to showcase the comic book and graphic arts industry, and he has also served on the boards of the non-profit Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Traveling Stories and SOU Foundation Board of Trustees.

The Alumni Excellence in Education Award recognizes career achievement in education, service to community and commitment to SOU. Heather Young earned a degree in nursing in Sacramento and was working in Coos Bay when she learned of an innovative pilot program offered by SOU’s nursing program that offered all courses in Coos Bay and Roseburg. She was awarded her degree in 1986, then went on to the University of Washington to earn her Ph.D., and become a geriatric nurse practitioner. Young worked in the corporate world to help design retirement housing that met he needs of older residents, and also served as a faculty member for the UW nursing program. She then founded the now-prestigious Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at the University of California, Davis, in 2008, and served as dean until 2018. She continues to serve on a variety of advisory panels and commissions that help to shape state and national policies on healthy aging.

The Stan Smith Alumni Service Award recognizes alumni who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the community and service to people. Gene Pelham, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business at SOU in 1983 and 2006, credits an attentive high school counselor with helping him secure a scholarship to attend college and he has in turn tried to help others throughout his career. He began work with a Eugene credit union in 1985, took his first CEO position in 1999, then returned to southern Oregon in 2007 as CEO of Rogue Credit Union – where he served until his retirement in 2022. RCU grew to serve 183,000 members and held $3 billion in assets under Pelham. He encouraged volunteerism among his employees, who last year donated 8,000 hours of service to more than 30 organizations. The credit union also raised more than $600,000 over the past five years to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network, and Pelham has spearheaded efforts to teach the essential skills of financial literacy in local schools.

The Distinguished Young Alumni Award is presented to a recent university graduate who has demonstrated distinction in career, civic involvement or both. Molly Troupe wanted to become a forensic anthropologist when she chose SOU for its highly regarded chemistry department. She graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, then was admitted to Hariot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, for a master’s degree program in brewing and distilling. She became a quality control assistant with Hood River Distillers after returning to Oregon, then moved on to Oregon Spirit Distillers in Bend for three years, eventually becoming production manager and lead distiller. Troupe became the original employee and master distiller – the youngest in the U.S. to hold that title – in 2017 for Freeland Spirits in Portland. Troupe is now a partner in the venture and in 2018 was named to the Forbes Magazine “30 Under 30” list. She helped Freeland pivot quickly when COVID-19 hit in spring 2020, shifting for a time from spirits to hand sanitizer, and winning contracts with the city of Portland and Providence Hospital.


Nicole Waehner receives tourism award

Recent SOU business grad earns tourism award

Nicole Waehner, who earned her bachelor’s degree in business with a concentration in tourism management last June from Southern Oregon University, was awarded the Rising Star Award at this month’s Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Portland.

The Rising Star Award recognizes an individual who is new to the tourism industry within the past five years and has shown leadership, commitment and a passion for Oregon tourism.

Waehner is currently the Sustainability and Accessibility Project Manager at Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance. Her boss, network director Emily Reed, nominated her for the Rising Star Award.

“Don’t let her calm demeanor and professionalism keep you from missing her drive and passion, which you can also see early most mornings on the river in a rowing crew,” Reed said in the nomination.

“In addition, I would say that she has single-handedly battled the red tape and complexity of our visa system to fight her way to work another year here in Oregon (with all of our digits crossed in hopes of winning the visa lottery for next year).”

Waehner, in her first three months at the gorge alliance, promoted a new, coordinated transit pass – the Gorge Pass – at numerous live events, supported the “Ready Set Gorge” campaign on social media and helped to coordinate the Waterfall Corridor Accessibility Audit, turning the findings into a visitor-facing brochure and a formal report. She spearhead the creation of the Accessible Gorge website this winter, gathering information from visitor-facing businesses so travelers with disabilities know what to expect before arriving.

SOU business professor Pavlina McGrady, Ph.D., who worked with Nicole in a few courses last academic year, recognized Waehner’s passion for tourism management.

“Nicole proved to be an outstanding student in all of (the courses),” McGrady said. “She was intelligent, ambitious, hard-working and a leader in group projects. After graduation (or even before that), Nicole was eager to find an internship and apply her knowledge and passion.

“I know that she has put her heart into the work for the Columbia Gorge Tourism Alliance. She joined one of my classes as a guest speaker, sharing her professional journey and the amazing work she has done for a short period with the alliance, being an inspiration for the students in the class. She truly is a rising star, and I can’t wait to see what else she will accomplish!”

The Rising Star Award was presented to three recipients as part of the Oregon Travel and Tourism Industry Achievement Awards at the Oregon Governor’s Conference on Tourism, at Portland’s Oregon Convention Center.

The Oregon Tourism Commission (Travel Oregon) is a semi-independent state agency with a mission to inspire travel that uplifts Oregon communities. The organization collaborates with stakeholders to align as stewards of Oregon, working to optimize economic opportunity, advance equity, and respect the ecosystems, cultures and places that make Oregon unique. The organization supports the state’s $13.8 billion tourism industry and more than 117,360 tourism-related jobs.

Daniel Henderson inducted into inventors academy

SOU alumnus and Foundation Board member inducted into inventors’ academy

Daniel A. Henderson, a 1984 graduate of Southern Oregon University and emeritus member of the SOU Foundation Board of Trustees, is among 169 innovators worldwide who have been inducted in this year’s class of fellows in the National Academy of Inventors.

Henderson is best known for his patented invention of wireless picture and video messaging used in every cell phone in the world. He has received a total of 31 U.S. patents and his prototypes for wireless picture and video messaging are part of the collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. He received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from New Jersey Institute of Technology in 2011 and was featured as a mobile technology innovator in a 2012 Super Bowl commercial for Best Buy.

Inventors inductee honored in Times Square“It is a true honor to be selected as a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors,” Henderson said. “I am proud to be included in an elite group of distinguished colleagues, scientists and inventors that are so impactful on the great challenges of our time.”

Election as a fellow in the National Academy of Inventors is the highest professional distinction for academic inventors. Members of this year’s class of NAI fellows come from a total of 110 research universities, governmental and non-profit research institutes worldwide. They hold more than 5,000 U.S. patents combined, and include Nobel laureates, members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and other prestigious organizations.

“This year’s class of NAI Fellows represents a truly outstanding caliber of inventors,” said NAI President Paul R. Sanberg, Ph.D. “The breadth and scope of their inventions is truly staggering. I am excited to see their creativity continue to define a new era of science and technology in the global innovation ecosystem.”

The 2022 class of fellows will be honored and presented their medals at the 12th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Inventors next June in Washington, D.C.

Henderson has founded numerous technology companies and was formerly with IBM Corporation. He is also an artist, and has had many public exhibitions of his large scale stone sculpture in the United Kingdom, China, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and at SOU’s Schneider Museum of Art.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon publicly congratulated Henderson in 2003, when his contributions to wireless communications and computing technologies were acknowledged by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first commercial use of cellular phones than to recognize you, a developer, an inventor and an Oregonian,” Wyden said.

Then-Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon added praise of his own in 2007.

“Ever since the days of the early pioneers, Oregon has been a magnet for innovators and trail blazers, and there can be no doubt that you have truly blazed new trails in the fields of wireless technology and digital convergence,” Smith said.

Henderson served as a member of the SOU Foundation Board of Trustees from 2002 to 2014, and has been a permanent, emeritus member of the board since 2018. He also serves on the Board of Overseers, the Dorman Honors College Board and several other boards at New Jersey Institute of Technology, and is engaged in fostering innovation, creativity and diversity in STEM education to benefit society.

Guanajuato students on SOU visit

Guanajuato students visit SOU for collaborative business development project

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University is hosting nine business students this week from Universidad de Guanajuato, and will send nine SOU students to the Mexican university next month as the two longtime sister campuses launch a new collaboration on multicultural business development as part of a far-reaching program under the U.S. Department of State’s umbrella.

The 18 total students from SOU and UG are working together this week on development plans for three local businesses – Irvine Roberts Family Vineyards, Indigo Creek Outfitters and Northwest Pizza and Pasta – and will do the same for three Guanajuato businesses during the May exchange. The Global Innovation Scholars program also includes international, online coursework for participating students during this year’s winter and spring terms, and the opportunity for immersive social and cultural experiences.

SOU's Dee Fretwell with Giuanajuato visitors“This program is so valuable and unique,” said Dee Fretwell, the SOU business instructor who proposed the project along with UG business professor and SOU alumnus Martin Pantoja. “We push the boundaries of an exchange program, blending cultural experiences with hands-on business development for live, operating businesses. I’m not sure we as a society are even grasping how valuable this is to our students and businesses alike.”

The collaboration between SOU and UG – which have maintained a steady stream of exchange and cooperative projects since 1969 – is part of the “100,000 Strong in the Americas” program, sponsored by the State Department, the U.S. Embassies and the nonprofit organization Partners for the Americas. The SOU-UG partnership applied for and received a $25,000, one-year grant from the 100,000 Strong program, which now serves 534 higher education institutions in 25 Western Hemisphere countries and 49 U.S. states. There is hope that a funding source will be found to continue the new program beyond its inaugural year.

A unique link between SOU and UG has led more than 1,000 students, faculty members and others to participate in exchanges, and has resulted in more than 80 marriages tying people from Ashland and Guanajuato over three generations. In fact, the current SOU-UG project grew out of a previous partnership between the two schools – the Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) program, which brought together classes of upper-division business students to work on the development of international business relationships.

The collaborative relationship that Fretwell and Pantoja formed through that program provided a natural segue to the “100,000 Strong in the Americas” grant application.

SOU student RJ Henry, who is participating in this week’s events and will be among the nine from the Ashland campus who visit Guanajuato next month, called the program an “extraordinary opportunity” that will build cooperative skills and provide valuable real-life lessons.

“The 100K Strong program offers a remarkably exciting opportunity to embark on a life experience that combines business education with cultural immersion, while making new friends along the way,” Henry said. “The benefits are the various academic, travel, cultural and social activities, which include the development of business-related critical thinking skills within group work settings, and the experience of unique cultural perspectives.”

The Guanajuato exchange students arrived in the Rogue Valley last Saturday night. They have toured the community and SOU campus in the days since, and have had meetings or events with SOU President Rick Bailey, state Rep. Pam Marsh, Ashland Mayor Julie Akins, SOU’s Faculty Advisory Board, the university’s Small Business Development Center in Medford and Ashland’s Amigo Club – an organization of community members and alumni who support the Amistad exchange program and have created an endowed scholarship fund for participants.

The SOU and UG students have visited the three local businesses that are receiving development advice, and will present their business plans at a Friday event in SOU’s Stevenson Union. They will tour Lithia Park and go on a rafting excursion on Saturday before returning to Mexico on Sunday.

The students and participating faculty members from Guanajuato were welcomed to southern Oregon by Vincent Smith, director of SOU’s Division of Business, Communication and the Environment, and a faculty leader for the project. He told the visitors that we face many problems in common as a global society, from the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters, to environmental destruction and political conflict.

“You are here this week to assist three businesses in planning,” Smith told the SOU and UG students as this week’s field work began. “That is important work. It is practice for the many problems you will need to solve in your lives.

“Unfortunately, the problems you will need to solve are complex. They cannot easily be solved without collaboration and cooperation. In fact, unless we work together to solve these problems we will fail.”

Smith told students from the two universities that working together, developing friendships and building trust will provide their greatest strengths.

“We are more alike than we are different, but it is our differences that will help us solve the most complex problems,” he said.


Kelly Taylor, a volunteer with Court Appointed Special Advocates

SOU alumni working as Court Appointed Special Advocates

Several SOU alumni are volunteering this year as Court Appointed Special Advocates – a national organization that provides volunteer support and aid for children that have experienced abuse or neglect, and are struggling within the court system. The Jackson County division of CASA has welcomed many past and present SOU students as volunteers in recent years.

Kelly Taylor got his master of arts in teaching degree at SOU in 2006, and began teaching kindergarten shortly after. He had contact with CASA volunteers as part of that job, and eventually began volunteering himself, alongside his wife.

He currently works with two children, whom he visits at least once a month – developing personal relationships with them and their families, and offering a friendly figure to connect with. After spending time with the children, he writes court reports on their cases to help a judge make decisions for the children in a court of law.

“I got involved with CASA because I fervently believe that it takes every one of us to somehow do our part to make the Rogue Valley the best place it can be,” Kelly said, recounting why he decided to join CASA.

He enjoyed being able to get involved in the community, and the volunteer work has been very fulfilling. In general, he encourages help in the community in many different ways. CASA has been a great way for him to give back, along with activities such as nature maintenance crews, feeding the less fortunate and donating to charities.

Another SOU alum making strides with CASA is Alicia Linton Ambrocio, who majored in criminal justice with a minor in psychology at SOU. She started as an intern for CASA during her senior year of college, became a full-fledged volunteer shortly after and has now moved up to the position of case supervisor for the organization.

Alicia became inspired to work for CASA through her studies of the justice system, and realizing the potential for prejudice against people of color and other minority groups.

“Working for CASA is honestly some of the most rewarding work I have ever done,” she said. “Working with the families, putting a face to these court cases, and amplifying the children’s voices is so important, real differences can be made (in) the process.”

Alicia has found that the work done for CASA-supported children and families can have a long-lasting result on the community as a whole.

There are at least 10 current or former SOU students involved with CASA in Jackson County. The program provides its volunteers the opportunity to support children in need and foster a better overall environment for them and the communities in which they live. More information for those interested in getting involved with CASA and making a difference in children’s lives is available at this link.

Story by Nash Bennett, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

Former state Supreme Court judge Virginia Linder and SOU employee Katherine Cable appointed as SOU trustees

SOU employee and retired state Supreme Court justice appointed to university board

(Ashland, Ore.) — Retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice Virginia Linder and Katherine Cable, a registration systems analyst at Southern Oregon University, have been appointed by Gov. Kate Brown and confirmed today by the Oregon Senate to serve on the university’s Board of Trustees. Both will begin their service to the board in July.

Linder will serve a four-year term and will succeed Megan Lightman, who left the board in June 2021. Cable will succeed janelle wilson, who has served as the SOU non-faculty staff member on the 15-member board since 2018. She will serve a two-year term.

“As a graduate of SOU, I have a deep fondness for the university and for southern Oregon,” said Linder, who earned her bachelor’s degree in political science at SOU in 1975.

“SOU is a vital asset to this region of our state,” she said. “I am honored by this appointment and look forward to engaging and contributing to the board’s work in meeting the needs of SOU’s students and the surrounding community.”

Cable has a bachelor’s degree in emerging media and digital arts from SOU and is working on a second bachelor’s degree in English.

“As a lifelong student, I’ve attended classes on many campuses in three states, and SOU is by far my favorite of them all,” Cable said. “I’m proud to call myself an alumna and staff member of this university, and I look forward to serving and doing my part to make SOU the best we can be.”

Linder received her law degree from the Willamette University School of Law in 1980, then practiced in various capacities with the Oregon Department of Justice until 1997, when she was appointed to the Oregon Court of Appeals. She served there until 2006, when she was elected to the Oregon Supreme Court, where she served through December 2015. She also served as an adjunct professor of law at Willamette Law from 1997 through 2006.

Linder, who lives in Salem, said she is proud of her work as a lawyer and judge that has helped to break barriers for women, the LGBTQ community and others who have been traditionally excluded or marginalized.

Cable came to SOU as an academic records coordinator in 2016 and is now the registration systems analyst supporting the registrar’s office with information technology and systems. Prior to her time at SOU, she worked as a lifeguard, fugitive investigator, Arabic linguist, U.S. Marine, emergency medical technician and network services engineer, among many other roles.

“The SOU Board of Trustees is pleased to welcome these trustees to the board in July,” said Daniel Santos, the board chair. “Their diverse expertise and insight will help advance the mission of SOU and the work of the board. We also thank Trustees Lightman and wilson for their tremendous contributions to the SOU Board.

“We are doubly lucky that Virginia and Katherine both have been appointed,” Santos said. “As alumni who both have remained engaged in this institution, I know their care for SOU will only strengthen our future work together.”


SOU computer science graduate Austin Shadel

Recent SOU computer science grad protecting clients against drone attacks

It all sounds very cloak-and-dagger, but Austin Shadel sees it more as an extension of his longstanding interest in drones and robotics, and his academic focus on computer science over the past five years at Southern Oregon University. Shadel graduated in June and went to work as a software engineer at Citadel Defense Company – an industry leader in counter unmanned aerial systems (cUAS) that serves clients in the defense, government and business communities.

“The fact that the company was involved in the drone space attracted me,” Shadel said. “The company is only about 30 of us, so it’s a very small, close team – you end up working with everyone in some way.”

Recent SOU computer science grad protecting clients against drone attacks

A drone that Austin Shadel designed in high school

Citadel helps customers in 13 countries manage the potential and real threats posed by unmanned aerial systems – drones. Its standalone and integrated counter-drone products address safety, security and privacy concerns, using artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to autonomously detect, track and “neutralize” drone threats.

A news story distributed nationwide when Citadel was acquired earlier this month by leading national security contractor BlueHalo described the cUAS company’s products as “technologies critical to the warfighter.”

“When defending against drone swarms and difficult-to-detect threats, Citadel’s AI/ML-powered systems allow operators to identify and terminate enemy UAS threats with unmatched speed, accuracy and reliability,” said the story, distributed by the news service Business Wire.

“Citadel’s industry-leading solutions create a distinct operational advantage for servicemen and servicewomen on the front lines.”

Shadel sees his position as primarily technical, but the protection of clients’ property – and lives – is the company’s top concern. He said the new relationship with BlueHalo will expand Citadel’s capabilities and resources, and will benefit military and intelligence customers.

“The company will continue to provide automated and AI-powered counter-drone solutions to keep servicemen and servicewomen protected from the rapidly growing threat of weaponized drones and swarms,” he said. “Our software development team will continue to build paradigm-shifting solutions and integrate new capabilities that provide protection beyond the cUAS mission.”

Shadel, 24, graduated from SOU in June with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He grew up in the San Diego area – where he recently returned to work at Citadel – and then chose to attend college at SOU because he wanted to experience a different environment while pursuing his passion for robotics, drones and coding.

“Ashland is a very pretty area and I was excited to go to school somewhere where I could experience seasons, as in San Diego it always feels like it’s summer,” he said. “Computer science had always been an academic focus of mine since high school. I pursued computer science-related activities in high school, such as being on the robotics team and taking all the engineering courses I could.

“I’ve been interested in robotics and coding in general since early high school. I used to build drones from parts I’d buy at hobby stores and go out flying them with a friend. At one point I was 3D printing drone frames for fun. I enjoyed the process of designing, building and watching something I built work.”

Shadel said his capstone courses were his favorites, and his best memories from five years at SOU were of the friends he made and the study sessions they held together for their computer science courses. The problem-solving skills and flexibility he learned at SOU have prepared him for the ever-changing demands of his new position.

“A lot of my duties and responsibilities are centered around assuring the reliability of the (counter-drone) system, so this involves extensive testing and bug-hunting on any new or existing feature,” he said. “Mixed in with this, also, is the designing of new features to meet what customers are asking for directly.

“Often times in a start-up-type environment you have to wear a lot of different hats to get the job done. So being comfortable being out of your comfort zone and being willing to learn quickly is a must-have in my opinion, for these types of situations.”

Distinguished Alumni Award winner Fred Mossler and three others to be honored

SOU Distinguished Alumni Award recipients to be recognized

An entrepreneur and former Zappos executive, a chemist working toward a cure for Duchene muscular dystrophy, a conservation and youth program leader, and the architect of an award-winning band program will be honored Thursday during a Homecoming Weekend luncheon to recognize Southern Oregon University’s annual Distinguished Alumni Award winners.

Fred Mossler, who earned his bachelor’s degree from SOU in 1990 and helped lead upstart online retailer Zappos to prominence, will receive this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award and Susan Ramos-Hunter, Ph.D., who earned her SOU bachelor’s degree in 2010, will receive the Distinguished Young Alumni Award.

This year’s Stan Smith Alumni Service Award will go to Greg Wolley, who received his master’s degree in environmental education at SOU in 1981 before embarking on a career in conservation management with a focus on opportunities for youth and people of color. The Excellence in Education award will be presented to Scott Kneff, who earned his bachelor’s degree in music performance at SOU in 1999; he has nearly tripled band participation in the Southern California community of Santa Paula since 2008 and built the program into a consistent award-winner.

The four award recipients will be honored Thursday at an 11:30 a.m. luncheon at the Ashland Springs Hotel that launches this year’s Homecoming Weekend. The award luncheon is by invitation-only, due to COVID-19 protocols.

Mossler worked his way through SOU at a local shoe store and as a resident advisor in the dorms. He went to work for Nordstrom after graduation, first in Seattle and then San Francisco – which is where he was recruited in 1999 by Nick Swinmurn to lead customer service and day-to-day operations at a newly-launched online shoe retailer – which became The company had more than $1 billion in sales when it was acquired 10 years later by Amazon. Mossler left the company in 2016 to focus on other entrepreneurial and philanthropic ventures – from revitalizing downtown Las Vegas to launching après ski-inspired shoe brand Ross & Snow and Vegas-based restaurant chain Nacho Daddy, which donates a portion of every purchase to children in need.

Ramos-Hunter, originally from northern California, transferred to SOU from Rogue Community College to study psychology and was mentored by faculty member Mark Krause – who recommended the Ronald E. McNair Achievement Program for potential graduate students. She graduated as a McNair Scholar, majoring in psychology with a chemistry minor, then earned her master’s degree and doctorate in chemistry from Vanderbilt University. She is now a senior scientist at Entrada Therapeutics in Boston, and part of a team synthesizing cutting edge bio-therapeutics and working toward a cure for Duchene Muscular Dystrophy.

Wolley came to SOU to earn his master’s degree in environmental education after receiving his undergraduate degree from University of California, Berkeley. The local beauty combined with energetic, thoughtful teaching helped him lay the personal and academic foundation for a career that would include management roles with the Nature Conservancy, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Mt. Hood National Forest, the city of Portland and TriMet. His volunteer service includes co-founding the African American Outdoor Association and membership on the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission.

Kneff visited SOU as a senior in high school and fell in love with the university and the Ashland community. He attended community college in California for two years, then found his way back to SOU to complete his bachelor’s degree in the music program, participating in the university’s jazz band, symphonic band, saxophone quartet and the Raider Band. He then returned to Southern California to earn a bachelor’s degree in history, his teaching credentials and an eventual master’s degree. His teaching career began with stints in Los Angeles and Bakersfield, California, before he returned to Ventura County, where he grew up. Isbell School in Santa Paula had just 57 band students spread through three classes when he began in 2007; within 12 years the program had 175 students reached consistent “superior” ratings in regional band and orchestra competitions.

Three generations of the Lattin-Crocker family chose SOU

Lattin-Crocker: Three generations of Raiders

The Lattin-Crocker clan has a strong connection with Southern Oregon University and a long legacy of school engagement. The tradition began in the 1960s with Frances (1964 graduate) and Bruce Lattin (1967), and Dawn (1969) and Paul Lattin (1970). Their time at the university was marked with great joy, camaraderie and personal growth.

Paul Lattin followed his brother Bruce to SOU.

“I knew my older brother Bruce liked it, and most of my friends went there. I hadn’t really considered any other place,” he said. “I really enjoyed the small classes, the instructors paid attention to you and, best of all, I met my wife Dawn there.”

Lattin credits Southern Oregon College with sparking his drive to succeed.

“I was a pretty average student my first two years, but in my junior year, I worked in food service as a student manager,” he said. “The work, and the confidence they had in me, gave me the drive I needed. From that moment on, I had the incentive to do better in school. My grades went up, and I have held onto that confidence and courage my entire life.”

SOU was the perfect fit for Dawn.

“It was a really good experience,” she said. “To this day, when we visit Ashland all those wonderful memories come back. I got a great education, and Paul and I have been married 50 years.”

Frances Lattin had originally gone to the University of Oregon, but it didn’t quite click with her so she decided to transfer after a lot of positive feedback from friends.

“SOC was just a whole different world. I had such wonderful professors,” she said.

As an English major with a theater minor, she said one of her favorite instructors was Angus Bowmer, founder of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“He became a dear friend; I still have letters from him,” she said. “The instructors at SOU really got to know their students and connect with them.”

Lattin went on to teach high school after graduating.

“I had a wonderful career as a teacher,” she said. “Southern shaped so much of my life, my career, my relationships,” she said. “I tear up a little bit thinking of all the opportunities that SOC and my education have given me.”

Lattin happily shared her experiences with her daughters, Cathy and Suzy, and was delighted when the two decided to attend the university as well.

“It’s fabulous that my daughters also chose to go there,” she said. “They even met some of the same people I knew. I loved hearing about their time there.”

Cathy Crocker (1990) and Suzy Tannenbaum (1992) credit their mother, in part, with their eagerness to go to SOU and their engagement in college life.

“All of us had really rich experiences, and I’m so glad we were involved in student life,” Crocker said.

Tannenbaum said her education wasn’t the only thing she has carried with her throughout her career.

“Southern had such a community feel,” she said. “That’s what I carried into my law-enforcement career, working with the public, bringing people together, and building community and relationships.” she said.

Tannenbaum, the chief of public safety at Oregon State University, leads a team of officers who ensure the safety and security of the campus community. The family connection with SOU gives Tannenbaum great joy.

“Our kids and our grandkids will know that SOU is a special place,” she said. “We have such a history with it, our parents were even married at the little church near campus. I’m so proud of being a Southern grad, and I celebrate being a Raider and all the wonderful friendships and connections I’ve made through it.”

Crocker feels the same fondness for SOU as her sister. The relationships she made and the sense of engagement that her time at SOU helped foster has shaped her life in numerous ways.

“I grew a lot in college, and working as a resident assistant helped me learn to really dig deep with people and connect,” she said. “Those experiences helped make me into the person I am today.”

Crocker, who was a communication major with a minor in psychology, has devoted much of her time to community service, working with children and volunteering.

Both Crocker and her husband, Dan (1990), say they have fond memories of their time as residential staff at the dorms.

“Dan and I were high school sweethearts,” she said. “I was in Diamond Hall, and he was in Emerald. We could actually see each other from the windows of our apartments.

“We learned so much about the power of engagement and building community with our fellow students. It was amazing, and now our child Aubrey is an RA at SOU, so the tradition continues.”

Dan Crocker, who is the CEO of the Ashland YMCA, said his campus involvement was key to learning the skills that he uses every day.

“I was originally going to a different university and didn’t get involved in anything, and I was basically flunking out,” he said. “At SOU, I got involved. First, I was elected as hall president, and that led to being elected as the on-campus student government president, then I decided to be a hall director to help incoming freshmen not make the same mistakes I initially made.

“I had no idea that decision would lead to so many opportunities in the future.”

Over the summers he further honed his skills working as a Y camp director.

“By the time I graduated SOU, even counting my horrible credits from my first college, I graduated with strong leadership skills and a 3.7 GPA,” he said. “My time at SOU was amazing. It didn’t even seem like work.”

Aubrey, majoring in Emerging Media and Digital Arts, said that SOU checked all the boxes.

“For me, SOU was the most comfortable place I visited,” she said. “After a visit, I just felt like it was where I belong.”

Parents Dan and Cathy’s involvement in student life is what inspired Aubrey to become an RA as well.

“I like that I’m part of a long family tradition, both of going to SOU and involvement in campus life,” she said. “I hadn’t really thought of it as a legacy, but it’s a great one to have.”

Shared and updated from the spring 2020 issue of The Raider, SOU’s alumni magazine

SOU commencement speaker Erim Gomez

SOU alumnus and former McNair Scholar to headline 2021 Commencement

(Ashland, Ore.) — Erim Gómez was a McNair Scholar and first-generation college graduate at SOU, a co-director of what is now the SOU Environmental Resource Center and an active member of the SOU Alumni Association Board of Directors. On June 12, the newly minted Ph.D. and assistant professor at the University of Montana will also serve as SOU’s commencement speaker.

Graduates and others participating in SOU’s live-streamed commencement ceremony will hear about Gómez’s compelling personal story, his heartfelt mission to encourage under-represented and other students to pursue and achieve their higher education dreams, and his passion for environmentalism and the sciences.

Erim GomezGómez is proud of his family’s farm-working and immigrant roots, and that both he and his brother Edrik – who died in a 2008 helicopter crash while serving as a wildland firefighter – were part of the prestigious McNair Scholarship program at SOU. Gómez received his doctorate in environmental and natural resources science from Washington State University last fall. He was hired at the University of Montana in August 2020 as an assistant professor in the school’s highly regarded Wildlife Biology Department.

“I challenge you to not fear failure and to take risks,” Gómez is expected to tell SOU’s new graduates on Saturday. “I learn a lot more from my failures than my successes. If you don’t occasionally fail, you need to set larger and higher goals. 

“Your SOU degree will and has already opened doors for you,” he will suggest. “Make sure that you keep the doors open for those who come after you.”

Gómez will anchor the list of speakers at this year’s SOU commencement, a hybrid day of activities that will include an in-person, live-streamed opportunity to walk across the stage at Raider Stadium, a wide-ranging online ceremony and a variety of events in which individual programs will recognize the accomplishments of their graduates.

The in-person photo opportunity at Raider Stadium – at which no guests will be allowed – will begin at 9 a.m. The virtual ceremony – live-streamed on the SOU Commencement webpage and the university’s social media platforms – will start at 2 p.m.

This will be SOU’s second consecutive year of virtual commencement ceremonies, a result of the global pandemic. The online events will include a life-streamed ceremony with Gomez and other speakers, Zoom parties and private, dedicated social media engagement. A number of the university’s academic programs and divisions also have created virtual or hybrid events that celebrate their graduates’ accomplishments.

About 1,100 degrees are expected to be conferred.

Gómez received his bachelor’s degree in biology from SOU in 2007, then went on to earn his master’s degree and doctorate in natural resources sciences from Washington State. He won national recognition in 2011, when he was awarded the Bullitt Foundation’s Environmental Fellowship – which offers $100,000 over two years of graduate study for students focusing on environmental issues in Washington, Oregon or British Columbia. Gomez used the fellowship to study Palouse Prairie amphibians in eastern Washington.