Local Innovation Lab trains SOU interns as leaders

Local Innovation Lab prepares SOU interns to address disaster issues

(Ashland, Ore.) — If you’re looking for a silver lining somewhere deep within the dual catastrophes of COVID-19 and last fall’s southern Oregon wildfires, look no further than the Local Innovation Lab. The collaborative project of Southern Oregon University and the Humane Leadership Institute is finding student interns and training them as leaders to tackle some of the sticky issues faced by communities and businesses affected by the disasters.

About 30 SOU students from more than 10 separate degree programs are receiving $1,000 stipends to participate as interns ­in the new program this year, and double that number are expected for the 2021-22 academic year. Four of this year’s fall term participants already have paid jobs as a result of their internships.

“Students are learning that humane leadership applies to how they lead themselves as well as how they lead others, and that it applies equally to their personal lives and their professional lives,” said Bret Anderson, SOU’s Economics Department chair and the university’s primary link to the Local Innovation Lab project.

“We are meeting students’ innate desire to contribute to their communities, especially in the wake of the Almeda Fire, while inviting them to apply their skills to impactful work,” he said.

The project grew out of a community conversation that was initiated last April, when it was apparent the COVID-19 pandemic would have deep and long-lasting effects on southern Oregon. Stephen Sloan of the Humane Leadership Institute, a local education think tank, convened a small group of people from Ashland and the Rogue Valley to discuss the emerging problems, needs and opportunities.

Those community conversations eventually grew to include more than two dozen participants, and one of the group’s first actions was to create a 501c3 nonprofit organization – Local Innovation Works – to carry out the first project, the Local Innovation Lab.

Community leaders in the larger group had discussed the need for interns to help businesses, social service agencies and local governments reboot their operations in ways that could help address pandemic-related issues. But the interns would need to be prepared to lead, rather than be led.

“I have heard over and over again that the effort required to bring a student intern up to speed is not worth the benefit of hiring an intern for many organizations,” Anderson said. “This was a gap that we identified pretty clearly. Universities do a great job of (creating) academic foundations for careers and employers do well with on-the-job training for their long-term employees, but the short-term student intern is left in the void.

“Thus, there was a need for a community organization to build a bridge between the academic community and organizations in the community that focused on the students’ own experience of leading themselves and those around them.”

Those who apply to participate in the program as student interns are required to take an SOU course on humane leadership, which emphasizes qualities such as compassion, consideration and encouragement. That course and participation in the internship program satisfy two of the three criteria needed to earn SOU’s digital badge or micro-credential in Values-Based Leadership. The third requirement is completion of any of several elective courses that focus on equity, diversity and inclusion, and the wider social context in which entrepreneurship and civic engagement take place.

The Local Innovation Lab, humane leadership course and Values-Based Leadership badge all are open to both enrolled SOU students and community members.

The lab was initially intended to launch with a cohort of interns for winter term, but the wildfires of early September “turned the dial up to 11,” Anderson said. It was instead unveiled as a pilot program with interns lined up after fall term had already begun.

Its organizers wove together the abilities of interns, the assets of donors and investors, and the needs of organizations affected by the pandemic or fires.

The project is clearly working.

One intern from SOU’s Financial Mathematics program is helping the city of Phoenix clean up the accounting for its water billings; a Continuing Education student is analyzing data from Medford’s Family Nurturing Center to better map social service outreach efforts to outcomes. Another student is helping create a community investment fund by looking at gaps between local banks’ loan terms and the ability of underserved entrepreneurs to get credit. Yet another is working “her dream job” with the Gordon Elwood Foundation, creating a “visually appealing, accessible online database profiling key funders in the Southern Oregon region.”

Two other interns are working with the nonprofit Remake Talent to create an interactive recovery dashboard using ArcGIS and to present the evolving network of fire relief organizations that provide resources to the Rogue Valley.

“Students get a real-world experience of impact, collaboration and reality,” Anderson said. “They get a sense of the practical utility of their education. They get a break from theory and a deep dive into the challenges of trying to get important things done with other people.”

SOU will skip shortened football season

SOU opts out of spring football season

(Ashland, Ore.) – The Southern Oregon University football team will forgo the shortened spring football season and look toward the fall, SOU Director of Athletics Matt Sayre informed Frontier Conference officials on Friday, Feb. 12.

“We don’t make this decision lightly, and know there will be some disappointed Raiders,” Sayre said. “But the goal is a quality, high-level playing experience, and we feel much better about our ability to provide that six months from now.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced earlier in the week that the Oregon Health Authority would revise guidelines that had halted full-contact sports in the state during the pandemic, but the timeline for a return to regular activity remains uncertain. The first contest on SOU’s four-game Frontier schedule – which was reduced from the standard 10-game slate after being postponed in the fall – was set for March 20.

“We feel we are not prepared for the rigors and intensity of a college football season, largely because our players haven’t tackled, blocked or had contact of any kind in 450 days,” Sayre said. “It’s only fair to make this decision now for our Frontier Conference partners to be able to reschedule and adjust travel plans, and for our student-athletes to have a definitive direction.

“We’ve had conversations with colleagues at Portland State University, University of Montana and other regional institutions about their decisions to opt out of competition this spring and gained good insight into the value of a clear direction with an emphasis on the fall of 2021.”

SOU will plan to conduct a regular spring practice schedule. Each of the team’s seniors will have the option of returning in the fall.

“It’s an extremely difficult decision and heartbreaking for our seniors who are looking at options for after college, but it is the decision that’s in the best interest of our program,” said Raiders head coach Charlie Hall. “We can prepare our team in a traditional manner and be ready for the fall.”

This story is reposted from souraiders.com.

New storage facility checks the solar and recycling boxes

New SOU storage facility is doubly green

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University has completed a new storage facility at Raider Stadium that addresses sustainability on two fronts – it includes the university’s ninth array of solar panels, and the structure itself was created from recycled shipping containers.

The new facility, which will be used for storage of Athletic Department equipment and supplies, is SOU’s second net-positive building – the renewable energy it produces is greater than what it consumes. The first was SOU’s Student Recreation Storage Building, built in 2018 with solar installed in 2019.

“SOU is wholly committed to the pursuit of sustainability in both construction and day-to-day operations,” said Rebecca Walker, the university’s sustainability and recycling manager. “This project demonstrates that when we think differently and creatively, sustainability can make both financial and environmental sense.

The new storage facility’s solar panel installation was paid for by a fund that is fed in part by other energy savings projects on campus. The fund receives money from sources including energy savings incentives and credits from the university’s natural gas company, recycling receipts and other sustainability-related income sources.

The building itself – located behind the stadium’s east bleachers – is made from six recycled railroad shipping containers. The university repurposed three containers that we already on campus and purchased another three for $10,500 from Oregon Cargo Containers of Grants Pass.  The solar panels, installed by True South Solar of Ashland, will produce 49.68 kilowatts of electricity – enough to power about five typical homes.

“Athletics was in need of safe and adequate storage,” said SOU Athletic Director Matt Sayre. “What was designed for that purpose by the SOU Facilities Management and Planning Department and architect Matt Small – using rail boxcars and a plan to collect solar energy from the roof of that structure – is an asset Raiders can be proud of.”

The new project pushes SOU’s total solar energy generation capability to more than 430 kilowatts. The university has a total of seven other solar arrays on six buildings on the Ashland campus and one at the Higher Education Center in Medford.

Output from SOU’s solar facilities is typically fed back into the electrical grid and credited to SOU’s accounts, reducing the university’s utility bills.

SOU’s first solar installation was a 24-panel, 6-kilowatt array that was placed on Hannon Library in 2000 and it still generating electricity at 70 to 80 percent efficiency.

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The Indigenous Gardens Network will promote access to "first foods" by Native Americans

Indigenous Gardens Network receives Oregon Cultural Trust grant

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University, tribal partners and others have received a $35,483 grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust to initiate the Indigenous Gardens Network – a hub for conversation and coordination around traditional food gathering areas throughout southwestern Oregon.

The Indigenous Gardens Network is intended to restore areas where “first foods” and other culturally significant items can be cultivated, harvested and made accessible to Indigenous people. First foods are plant and animal species that Native Americans traditionally relied upon for subsistence, medicine and ceremonial uses. The network that will be funded by the new Oregon Cultural Trust grant will pull together new and existing resources to address urgent issues such as food security, climate change and Indigenous food sovereignty.

“The Indigenous Gardens Network centers the knowledge and expertise of Native people and communities and approaches all projects with a robust sense of accountability to them,” said Brook Colley, chair of the SOU Native American Studies Program and principal investigator on the OCT grant.

“(The network) will be Indigenous-led, driven by their needs and solutions, and based on mutual respect,” Colley said.

The project is a regional partnership that brings together diverse partners including tribes, educators, conservation organizations and land managers or owners to address barriers to first food access and cultivation. The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Vesper Meadow Education Program and other regional partners are joining SOU on the project.

A history of genocide, forced treaties and removal from ancestral lands created a pervasive, detrimental legacy for Indigenous people, many of whom remain displaced from southwestern Oregon. Several tribes from the region were forcibly relocated to Siletz and Grand Ronde reservations during the mid-1800s, and descendants continue to live there as citizens of the Grand Ronde and Siletz tribes.

Many members of those tribes have not re-established the annual food-tending practices of their ancestors for reasons including a lack of access to public and private land, scarcity of financial and human resources, concerns over safety and prejudice, divergence between Indigenous and Western perceptions of land use, and degradation of Indigenous gardens caused by ranching and other industries.

The Oregon Cultural Trust grant will enable the partner organizations to initiate the Indigenous Gardens Network, while additional funding sources will be sought for follow-up efforts. The network will work to re-establish specific first foods, medicines, materials and landscapes in southwestern Oregon, and to engage both private and public partners in supporting tribal access to – and stewardship of – critical cultural resources.

The Indigenous Gardens Network supports tribes and other Native communities in building sustainable food systems that improve health and well-being, strengthen food security and increase their control over Indigenous agriculture and food networks.

The Indigenous Gardens Network is also supported through the SOU Foundation. Those wishing to contribute to this work may make a donation online or contact Brook Colley (colleyb@sou.edu) for more information about the Indigenous Gardens Network. Information on donating to the Oregon Cultural Trust is available on the organization’s website.

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"All My Relations" is a virtual spin-off program for Native youth and families

SOU retreat for Native American youth spins off multigenerational program

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University’s Konaway Nika Tillicum wasn’t what anyone expected last summer, when the seven-day academic and cultural enrichment residential camp for Native American Youth was shifted to a virtual version of itself because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then the totally unexpected happened: the Oregon Community Foundation, a longtime supporter of the Konaway program, reached out to its organizers at SOU to find out if there were any plans to continue supporting pre-college Native youth in Oregon at the conclusion of the one-week program. Serious conversations began, the foundation offered a new $50,000 grant and a virtual offshoot program for Konaway students and their family members was born.

“All My Relations” – the English translation of the Chinook Trade Jargon phrase, “Konaway Nika Tillicum” – was launched on Oct. 28 with seven students and has rapidly grown to include more than 33 students and their families in six states. There are currently 19 students from seven Oregon counties in the program. Another eight participants live along the Oregon border in Washington or California and have tribal connections to the region. The program runs through fall, winter and spring terms, offering biweekly, virtual longhouse gatherings to provide academic encouragement and support, and discuss everything from beading moccasin ornaments to traditional story-telling to maintaining cultural identity during a pandemic.

“It was clear that students and families were hungry for this kind of connection and assistance, and when we were approached by OCF it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get something going,” said Katherine Gosnell, assistant director of youth programs at SOU.

“OCF is keenly aware of the disproportionate impacts of COVID on Native communities and were seeking ways to address the situation,” said Rachel Jones, SOU’s director of outreach and engagement. “We shared with OCF the wish list of ideas that the Konaway team had created during the virtual Konaway, for ways that we could continue working with the students.”

Jones and her staff put together an outline and projected cost for the program, and the foundation backed the proposal with a quick-turnaround grant.

“It was a great testament to OCF’s exceptional role across the state during this challenging year – they were extremely responsive, had a quick turnaround and eliminated lengthy application processes,” Jones said.

All My Relations was originally seen as a one-time project, but has now transitioned into a pilot for what organizers hope will be an ongoing program to support and enhance the original Konaway residential offerings. Organizers at SOU are seeking additional funding through grants and donations from foundations, organizations and individuals to support a second year of All My Relations beginning in fall 2021.

“Not only are we serving Native American Youth but we are serving their families, their friends, and their communities as well,” said Tamara Ellington, an SOU adjunct instructor and residential coordinator for the Konaway program.

“We have students that join with their parents, their foster parents, their closest trusting neighbors with good internet connectivity, their cousins, their friends, and their elders,” she said. “This is truly a multigenerational program modeled and influenced by the original Konaway Nika Tillicum Native American Youth Academy.”

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SOU's Amber Reed publishes book on apartheid

SOU anthropologist’s book: Black South Africans wary of apartheid reforms

(Ashland, Ore.) — Post-apartheid reforms in South Africa have failed the country’s rural Black citizens and led to a longing for some aspects of life under the system that once oppressed them, according to a newly published book by Southern Oregon University anthropologist Amber Reed.

“Nostalgia After Apartheid” examines the reluctance of teachers and students in the Eastern Cape province to embrace South African democracy, which they see as restricting their cultural practices. Democracy has imposed a brand of freedom whose liberal standards clash with the customs and traditions favored in the former rural homelands.

“When I started research in this region, I was interested in the role non-governmental organizations were playing in youth political activism,” said Reed, who has done fieldwork in the country off-and-on over the past 11 years.

“The project took on a life of its own, however, as people kept steering our conversations away from the future of politics and back to nostalgic renderings of the past,” she said. “Why would Black South Africans wax nostalgic for life during one of history’s most racist and repressive regimes?”

Reed’s book answers that question by showing that many Black South Africans embrace conservative ideologies and are opposed to reforms that don’t align with their beliefs, such as the right to abortions and a ban on corporal punishment. The country’s Department of Education requires the teaching of ideals that include civic responsibility and liberal democracy, but both teachers and students often see it as the imposition of “white” values.

“’Freedom, it turned out, did not feel so free; instead, it rested on Western ideas of personhood and subjectivity that felt confining, imposing and alien,” Reed writes in the preface to her book.

“Nostalgia After Apartheid” was published last month by University of Notre Dame Press as part of the Kellogg Institute Series on Democracy and Development. It is available in hardcover or as an eBook.

The book has been praised by other authors and researchers of South Africa and apartheid.

“Amber Reed compellingly reveals how the transition from apartheid to liberal democracy has failed the rural youth who now regard the Mandela miracle of 1994 as a betrayal and have developed a bizarre sense of nostalgia for life under apartheid,” said Leslie J. Bank, co-editor of the book, “Migrant Labour Under Apartheid.”

Reed has been a professor of anthropology at SOU since 2017, and has taught a variety of anthropology and African studies courses. She received her bachelor’s degree from New York’s Barnard College, and her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of California at Los Angeles.

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Campus Pride rates SOU at top

SOU rated at the top for eighth year in a row by Campus Pride

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University has been recognized for the eighth year in a row as one of the nation’s Top 40 LGBTQ-Friendly Colleges and Universities by Campus Pride, a nonprofit that supports and improves campus life for LGBTQ people on more than 1,400 U.S. campuses.

SOU earned five out of five stars overall on the Campus Pride Index, which ranks universities in each of eight categories: policy inclusion, support and institutional commitment, academic life, student life, housing and residence life, campus safety, counseling and health, and recruitment and retention efforts. SOU drew five-star rankings in six of the categories and four-and-a-half stars in the other two.

The Campus Pride recognition is meaningful for prospective and current LGBTQ students, particularly during a period of political polarization and pandemic-related isolation.

“LGBTQ youth and families want to know what campuses are doing when it comes to inclusive policies, programs and practices,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride and creator of the Campus Pride Index. “The ‘Best of the Best’ highlights the Top 40 this year across six regions throughout the country.”

SOU was also ranked 21st among the 50 best colleges for LGBTQ students by the online publication College Choice, which released its 2020 rankings in July.

The Campus Pride list of the top 40 LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities in the U.S. included three Oregon institutions – SOU, the University of Oregon and Portland State University. A total of eight in the West region received the organization’s “Premier Campus” designation.

SOU addresses sexual orientation and gender identity in the university’s non-discrimination policy and offers gender-inclusive housing options, the stand-alone Queer Resource Center and LGBTQ-related academic offerings through the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program. SOU also participates in LGBTQ-specific college fairs and its counseling and health staff provide queer- and trans-friendly services.

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SOU's cohort of first-year students is diverse and smart

SOU’s first-year cohort: diverse, smart and persistent

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University’s 2020 cohort of first-year students is fairly evenly split between Oregon and out-of-state residents, much more diverse than either Jackson county or the state as a whole and has a wide variety of scholarly interests, with students in 19 academic majors.

The freshman class of 570 – not including transfer students – is also smart, with an average high school grade point average of 3.34. Another 380 first-year transfer students have enrolled at SOU this fall, along with nearly 3,000 continuing, returning and non-admitted students.

“We have a really good group of first-year students this fall, and great students who are continuing their educational journeys with us,” said Neil Woolf, SOU’s vice president for enrollment management and student affairs. “The COVID-19 pandemic, the recent wildfires and other external events have been huge distractions. All of our students this year have persevered. They want to learn and succeed.”

The pandemic and a resulting shift to mostly remote classes at SOU and most other universities resulted in dire predictions of enrollment declines in the 10 to 20 percent range for higher education institutions across the country. Official enrollment figures for Oregon’s public universities won’t be available until about halfway through fall term, but preliminary data suggest that SOU’s losses will be under 10 percent.

“We certainly would have preferred to hold steady on enrollment or even gain some students,” Woolf said. “But given this year’s realities and obstacles, this is far from a worst-case scenario. The dedication of our faculty, staff and the students themselves has been phenomenal.”

SOU’s freshman cohort is 56.6 percent female, 41 percent male and 2.4 percent non-binary. About 56 percent identify as white, just under 16 percent as Hispanic or Latinx and 28 percent as multi-racial, unknown or other people of color. By contrast, the most recent demographic data from the county and state suggest a white population of nearly 89 percent in Jackson County and 85 percent statewide – although Hispanic or Latinx residents are not separated from those figures.

Oregon residents make up 56.6 percent of SOU’s freshman class, with non-residents at 43.4 percent – led by California at 25.9 percent. Students from a total of 16 other states or territories are included in the cohort. More than 73 percent are living in SOU residence halls or other campus housing, and just under 27 percent are living off-campus.

One in five SOU freshmen have not yet declared an academic major. For those who have decided on majors, the top choices are psychology, theatre arts, biology, creative arts, pre-nursing, business, and criminology and criminal justice.

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wildfire respite is moving to Stevenson Union

SOU exploring all options to help students, employees and community through wildfires

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University has been exploring for the past week how its facilities and resources can best benefit students, employees and community members who have been affected by the recent wildfires.

SOU is currently offering daily respite and support from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Lithia Motors Pavilion for those who need to regroup in an air-conditioned facility with bathrooms, water and WiFi. Those services will transition to the Stevenson Union’s Rogue River Room on Thursday, Sept. 17.

The university’s Student and Family Housing units are fully occupied and its residence halls are already beginning to receive a reduced number of new, appropriately distanced students for fall term, which begins Sept. 23. Emergency shelter is being provided in SOU’s remaining, habitable residence halls for employees and students who have been displaced from their homes. A fire relief fund has been initiated for those who would like to make donations to support SOU students affected by the wildfires.

SOU representatives are also actively working with city, county, state and federal agencies to determine whether additional shelter can be provided in other SOU facilities. However, the university must be able to ensure the well-being of those housed on its campus and is urging patience as those options are pursued.

All wildfire responses by the university are in accordance with state guidelines – including social distancing and face-covering requirements – that have been imposed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

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Program for non-traditional students receives five-year grant

SOU awarded $1.6 million to help first-generation and non-traditional students

(Ashland, Ore.) — The TRIO-Student Support Services (SSS) program at SOU, which helps non-traditional students succeed and graduate, has received a five-year, $1,627,990 federal grant renewal to keep the program in operation through 2026.

The U.S. Department of Education grant will provide $325,598 per year in funding for SOU’s Success at Southern/TRIO Program, which is limited to 190 students per academic year and has served more than 1,500 since 1994.

The SOU program offers services including academic advising, tutoring, personal education plans, career guidance, preparation for graduate programs and financial aid information. The program is free and intended for first-generation, low-income, disabled or other non-traditional students.

Students must apply to participate in the Success at Southern/TRIO-SSS program and those who meet eligibility requirements are invited to interviews about their educational goals, career ambitions and academic barriers. Students who are accepted into the program must each attend a mandatory orientation session and an initial personal education plan meeting, then become eligible for all of the Success at Southern/TRIO-SSS services.

The federal TRIO programs, which were created following passage of the Higher Education Act of 1965, are intended to help disadvantaged students progress through the academic pipeline from middle school through graduate school. There are currently eight sections of TRIO, and the SOU grant is part of the Student Support Services Program. SOU also participates in the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program – a separately funded TRIO program – which prepares eligible undergraduate students for eventual doctoral studies.

TRIO’s programs help students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those with disabilities, to negotiate obstacles that may hinder their academic progress.