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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-SOU-

Haleigh Wagman will be the first female infantry officer produced by an ROTC program in Oregon

SOU graduate is Oregon’s first female, ROTC-trained infantry officer

Haleigh Wagman knew long before her graduation from SOU last year that she was on track for something special, but she chose to keep it to herself until the accomplishment was in sight. That happened in the fall of 2019, when Wagman – a four-year Army ROTC participant – let others at SOU know she would become the first female infantry officer produced by an ROTC program in Oregon.

“I knew since the beginning of my sophomore year that it was what I was going to do,” she said. “I kept it a secret until the beginning of my senior year, when we had to announce what (field) we were choosing.

“I wanted to be given opportunities based on my own merit and reputation that came from my military knowledge, academic abilities and physical fitness.”

Wagman, now a second lieutenant in the Texas Army National Guard in San Marcos, is assigned to the Infantry Basic Officer course at Fort Benning, Georgia, and will officially become the first Oregon ROTC-trained female infantry officer when she completes the course in May.

She will then return to her 141st Infantry Battalion until she begins post-graduate studies in August. She has received offers from the Medical Science doctoral program at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, and from the Integrated Biomedical Sciences doctoral program at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Wagman graduated from SOU last summer with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in chemistry. She credits the ROTC program for helping her build discipline, and faculty members in SOU’s STEM Division for challenging her academically.

“Dr. (Patrick) Videau is awesome; he always keeps things real with students and is entertaining to learn from,” Wagman said. “He and Dr. (Brie) Paddock both go out of their way in order to get students the help they need, and are both key players in my love for science and reasons for pursuing graduate school.”

Despite her love for science, it was athletics that initially attracted Wagman to SOU. Raiders volleyball coach Josh Rohlfing is a family friend who was in her parents’ wedding, and she came to Ashland to play volleyball after graduating from North Valley High School in Grants Pass.

“My dad actually was an assistant coach (at SOU) for a couple years while I was in middle school,” Wagman said. “So with that and growing up in the Rogue Valley, I felt pretty familiar with the school coming into it.”

She needed to pay for college, so planned ahead and finished high school early, joined the Oregon Army National Guard and attended Basic Combat Training before starting at SOU. The National Guard awarded a four-year scholarship that paid for full tuition and fees, and by joining the ROTC program she became eligible for its no-cost housing plan, which at the time was in Susanne Homes Hall.

“I think the thing I enjoyed most about SOU was living in the ROTC dorms,” she said. “It allowed for us to have our own culture and space that was quieter for waking up early in the mornings and building friendships through shared experiences.”

She found that the biggest challenge of her undergraduate experience at SOU was compensating for the fact that she came out of high school without any college credits and had a full schedule of required coursework in both military science for ROTC and biology for her major. She also needed to graduate in four years.

“I was at 20 to 22 credits a term, and oddly enough I actually got the best grades those terms,” Wagman said. “I think it’s because I have poor time management when left to my own devices, but when I was that busy it forced me to manage my time well and get things done.

“The ROTC program has helped with my time management and leadership skills,” she said. “Both (the ROTC and Army National Guard) scholarships required that I stayed physically fit, morally qualified and academically qualified. Those things helped push me in school and keep me on track to graduate and receive my commission as a second lieutenant in the Army.”

Cherstin Lyon, SOU Honors College director

SOU Honors College director leads the Democracy Project and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

SOU's Dustin Walcher discusses insurrection and history

Notes on a day of insurrection: SOU’s Dustin Walcher

“Yesterday the President of the United States incited an armed insurrection against America,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained on the afternoon of Jan. 7, calling for President Donald Trump’s removal from office for sedition either through the 25th Amendment or by way of impeachment. On Jan. 6, the president had called on his supporters to “walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” and “show strength” to the Congress, which was engaged in the task of counting electoral votes. Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, declared that the president’s spurious charges of election malfeasance should be settled through “trial by combat.” An insurrection ensued. The resulting images of a mob overrunning and ransacking the United States Capitol shocked the conscience, but should not have been a surprise.

Reflecting on the attack on the Capitol, historian Jill Lepore lamented that “we are off the grid of the trajectory of American history.” We are not. In the first place, though yesterday’s assault by a mob of U.S. citizens was unique, the Capitol has been attacked a number of times before. Most notably, in 1814 a British army occupied and then set the building on fire. In 1950, four Puerto Rican nationalists fired on the House Chamber from the visitors’ gallery, wounding five members of Congress.

More to the point, we have seen the tactics employed by Trump’s mob throughout our history. In an effort to overturn the results of the presidential election, the insurrectionists constructed a noose, raised a cross, marched with the battle flag of the Confederacy, destroyed property, terrorized bystanders and assaulted those who stood in their way, all while calling themselves “patriots.” These are the same tactics that were used in the massive resistance to civil rights launched by white nationalists of an earlier generation, and by all incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan. Such behavior, and the ideas that motivate it, are part of the fabric of the country. This is, at least in part, who we are.

As we move beyond the era of the Trump presidency, it is up to us to reckon collectively with the unsavory elements of our history. Historian Douglas Adair explained that “History is a conversation in the present with the past, about the future.” What happened yesterday was stoked by President Trump, but was so very much bigger than President Trump. To understand the mob’s rage requires coming to terms with the reality that the same country that produced John Lewis also produced Joe McCarthy and George Wallace. Although the events of Jan. 6 represent a significant part of who we are, they do not come close to comprising the entirety of who we are. But before we can defeat our national demons, we must first name them, face them and confront them head-on. That is the challenge of history, and that is the challenge of our time.

SOU's Chacon studies representations of violence in Latin culture

SOU’s Enrique Chacón researches representations of violence in Mexican music

SOU Assistant Professor Enrique Chacón enjoys teaching Spanish language classes, but his focus is on teaching how violence is represented in Latin culture – and how those representations have changed.

“I’m teaching this course on the representations of violence in Latin America and I think those kinds of topics are quite interesting, because they’re directly related to my research topics,” Chacón said. “What I do through these classes is I present some examples and some theory to my students, so we can approach art, literature, film, etc., and understand not the violence itself better, but how and why it’s represented as it is.”

His research coalesced into “La Estética Perversa del Movimiento Alterado, Violencia y Música Transnacional,” which roughly translates to “The Perverse Aesthetics of the Altered Movement, Violence and Transnational Music.” The paper combines Chacón’s interest in music and representations of violence by detailing how a specific genre of Latin music has shifted over time.

“There is a traditional music in northern Mexico that is very popular, and there is a tradition in the lyrics that comes from the (1910 Mexican) Revolution where these songs praise the heroes,” he said.

“There was a shift 30 years ago where they started talking about drug traffickers – narcos. So that shift from a hero to a narco, and then there was another shift 10-15 years ago that is not only praising narcos but are sung in first-person. I study the aesthetic implications of that shift.”

Chacón talked about his research at last spring’s César E. Chávez Leadership Conference, a gathering of regional Latinx high school students and student leaders that is hosted by SOU. He presented his research both to help educate SOU-hopefuls and to get more information on the topic from a younger generation.

“I played a song, and most of (the students) knew the song,” he said. “So I asked these students, ‘what is this? What is this kind of music?’ And one of them said right away, ‘this is the music from Mexico. That’s our music.’

“For me, that was very surprising because for my generation what TV and ideology and all those things sold as the music from Mexico were mariachi bands. But now young people perceive this to be the music of Mexico.”

Students at the conference participate in workshops focusing on leadership, cultural arts and college preparation. Chacón values the conference’s intent, hoping to see more Latin American students succeed in higher education.

“It’s very important that (colleges and universities) reach people from (minority populations) in general,” Chacón said. “It’s proven that the output of studying higher education is that you become a better citizen. I think it’s a way of transforming yourself and impacting the world in a different way.

“Just 2 percent of professors in the whole country are Hispanic. I think we need to change that.”

Chacón has personal experience with crossing cultures and succeeding in American academia. A first-generation immigrant, he earned a master’s degree in Mexican literature from the Autonomous University of Puebla before studying at the University of Pittsburgh for his doctorate in Hispanic languages and literature. Chacón’s studies across the continent give him particular insight into the differences between Mexican and American colleges.

“(In Mexico) you choose what to study from the very beginning, there was no general education or possibility for you to explore other topics,” he said.

“You had to make the decision of what you’re going to be specializing in for the rest of your life when you’re in high school … and that is good and bad. It’s good to have more information about one topic, but on the other hand it’s not that good because you don’t know anything about any other topics.”

Chacón’s initial pursuit of journalism led him away from what he wanted to do, and after some introspection he realized that he wanted to return to college to study Mexican culture and language. His research led to an opportunity to study in the United States. Chacón liked the diversity of US academia, and bounced around in different higher education positions before eventually settling at SOU.

“I’ve worked in the past in bigger universities, and you don’t really get to know your students,” he said. “For example, I had students at the University of Tennessee taking intermediate Spanish, they were going to be majors and minors, but we had so many professors that I didn’t see them again.

“That is what’s so important about SOU, that it’s a smaller community, and you get the chance to help students and help them better.”

Chacón teaches lower- and upper-level Spanish language and culture classes at SOU, and fosters an atmosphere of collaboration among students and faculty.

“It has been proven that people who speak a second language develop more cerebral connections, and it’s been proven (they) make more money,” he said. “At SOU, we offer different languages – Japanese, Spanish, French – and I think it’s important that people learn a second language.”

Chacón enjoys playing music, meditating, exercising, cooking and watching films in his spare time.

Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer

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