Student Sustainability Center Director Luis Berrios-Hayden wins scholastic award

Student Sustainability Center director, McNair Scholar wins Scholastic Achievement Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

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Pavlina McGrady

Pavlina McGrady’s journey to teaching sustainable tourism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

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Sean O'Skea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer