SOU EcoAdventure students work on Bear Creek restoration

SOU’s EcoAdventure experience gets local in response to fire

(Ashland, Ore.) — Past versions of Southern Oregon University’s “EcoAdventure” courses have taken students to northern California’s Lassen and Yosemite national parks, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Costa Rica. But last year’s Almeda Fire brought a huge ecological test almost to SOU’s doorstep, and EcoAdventure faculty and students jumped on the opportunity to play a role in assessing and restoring a charred Bear Creek Greenway between Ashland and Medford.

Each year’s EcoAdventure courses are intended to connect students with real-world environmental issues and create an atmosphere of investigation and problem-solving.

“For the first few months after the Almeda fire, I was working at a local hotel that was housing victims of the fire,” said Ethan Robison, a student in last spring’s EcoAdventure fire restoration course through SOU’s Environmental Science and Policy Program. “Each of the 50 families staying there had their own journey towards recovery and I was proud to be a small part of that process.

“When I started at SOU and found out about this class, I saw it as an opportunity to learn about the impacts of the fire on our local ecosystem.”

The spring EcoAdventure class drew 18 students, and they chose Bear Creek restoration work as their service learning project. The course covered fire regimes and climate change in the Rogue Valley, the history of Bear Creek and the U.S. Clean Water Act, and a talk, tour and native planting day in Phoenix led by a the Rogue River Watershed Council.

A separate effort by four Environmental Science capstone students looked at Bear Creek water quality following the Almeda fire. Those students presented data to the EcoAdventure class about erosion, dissolved oxygen, turbidity and other measures of water quality.

Environmental Science and Policy instructor Leslie Eldridge, who taught the Bear Creek EcoAdventure course, said many of the students felt a sense of revival after experiencing or hearing extensively about the fire, and then studying both its environmental causes and the steps to remediation. The day of planting native species along the creek was especially powerful.

“It was a beautiful example of ecosystem reset and opportunity to bring Bear Creek and the Greenway to a new condition that may improve ecological health and social connectivity between Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Medford,” said Eldridge, who initiated the EcoAdventure water restoration course ­– the real-world element in a broader Environmental Science and Policy curriculum.

“The idea is to get students working hands-on and experiencing the environments and environmental challenges we discuss in our courses,” said Vincent Smith, an associate professor of environmental science and policy, and director of the Division of Business, Communication and the Environment.

“Certainly, we have theory-based courses in these areas including restoration ecology, environmental field methods, water resources and hydrology, but in each of these cases, the idea is to prepare students to address pressing needs,” Smith said. “The Bear Creek Greenway is an example of one of those pressing needs.”

Capstone students in Environmental Science and Policy – those who are nearing graduation – each choose a capstone project that is intended to pull together much of what they have learned in the program. Capstone advisor John Gutrich offered last year’s students a variety of options, ranging from bark beetle mitigation in the Ashland Watershed to impacts of climate change on LatinX communities of southern Oregon. Four of the students chose to focus on the Almeda fire’s impact on Bear Creek, and worked together to produce a series of reports on water quality issues that were then shared with the agencies spearheading restoration efforts.

Both the EcoAdventure courses and capstone projects vary from term to term, but Smith said it’s likely the Environmental Science and Policy program’s collaborations on the restoration of Bear Creek will continue.

“I can’t predict what students will select to work on next year, but I’d be surprised if at least one group doesn’t continue work on restoration work from the fire,” he said.

Robison, the student who was drawn to last spring’s EcoAdventure course after first working to help house victims of the fire, said the restoration element of the project was a healing experience.

“Essentially, I wanted to see some physical evidence of recovery from the fire, just to prove to myself that it was possible,” he said. “Seeing the effort people put into repairing the ecosystem after the devastation helped me look past some of the pain I had seen and internalized.”


SOU's Presidential Search Committee will conduct interviews in October

SOU presidential search entering interview phase

The Presidential Search Committee of the SOU Board of Trustees will begin first-round interviews by the start of October with candidates to become the university’s next president, and plans to select and interview finalists for the position by the end of October. SOU President Linda Schott announced in April that she will retire by the end of this year.

“We have enjoyed high levels of engagement every step of the way, and I am pleased to report that we received more than 100 applicants expressing their interest in becoming SOU’s next president,” Danny Santos, the search committee chair and Board of Trustees vice chair, said this week in a message to campus.

“This is extraordinary and could not have been accomplished without the help of every person on campus who has engaged in the search process, in ways both big and small,” Santos said.

The search committee already has narrowed the list of applicants to 12 top candidates who will be included in first-round interviews over the coming days. The committee’s tentative schedule calls for three to five finalists to be interviewed on-campus – unless COVID-19 conditions require remote or hybrid options – the weeks of October 11, 18 and 25. Each finalist will be interviewed over two days in a process that will enable participation by various segments of the campus community, including students, faculty and staff.

“We are unable to announce the exact dates for these visits until we know who the finalists will be and can confirm their plans for travel to southern Oregon,” Santos said. “We will notify the entire campus and members of the public of specific details when more information is available.

“I urge members of the campus community to be as flexible as possible with their schedules throughout the period in October when finalists will visit campus,” he said. “Your engagement and feedback will be of tremendous value in the decision-making process, for SOU and the candidates.”

The SOU Board of Trustees selected Parker Executive Search in May to help identify and recruit candidates for the university’s presidency, and appointed a diverse, 18-member Presidential Search Committee composed of five trustees, three students, three faculty members, three staff members, three community members and one Oregon university president. Parker is a firm that specializes in higher education presidential searches.

Santos said the university is committed to making the interview and hiring processes as inclusive and transparent as possible, whether it occurs fully on campus or COVID restrictions require other approaches. The identities of finalists will be made public and opportunities for interactions with them will exist regardless of the interview formats. Santos emphasized that a priority is to ensure the safety of SOU’s campus community and all candidates for the position.

The latest information on the presidential search can be found at

solar arrays installed at The Farm at SOU

Solar arrays pop up at The Farm at SOU

(Ashland, Ore.) — The Farm at SOU is sprouting solar arrays this month, with two new and innovative projects taking shape over the past week. The first, mounted on The Farm’s storage building, is student-funded and the second, installed atop 20-foot poles, was financed by a private investor.

“It is a coincidence that these projects happened within a few days of each other, but it is also indicative of our commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship,” said Rebecca Walker, SOU’s sustainability and recycling manager. “These are exciting projects that were both innovatively funded and will generate renewable electricity for the university and our community, and provide educational and other benefits to our students.”

The storage building project, installed early last week by Ashland-based True South Solar has been funded by a Renewable Energy Development Grant from Oregon Department of Energy and the SOU Green Fund. The SOU Green Fund comes from a “Green Tag” fee of $13 per student each term and is overseen by the Environmental Affairs Committee of the Associated Students of SOU. The student Green Fund will receive annual payments based on the generation of the electricity from the storage building, through a power purchase agreement with the university. The Green Fund allows the university’s student government to invest in sustainability projects at SOU, such as renewable energy generation on campus and offsetting SOU’s water usage.

That new solar array will produce 15.48 kilowatts of electricity.

The second array, installed last Friday by Ashland’s STracker Solar, is a community project that employs dual-axis tracking technology – the solar panels follow the path of the sun throughout the day, maximizing efficiency and output. The three elevated panels are adjacent to three existing panels on the neighboring ScienceWorks property – all of them owned by Abbott’s Development.

Abbott’s is owned by Brad Roupp of Ashland, and operates the Abbott’s Cottages vacation rentals. Abbott’s is considered a tax equity investor, leasing property for the new array from SOU and using the city of Ashland’s virtual net metering system to allocate the power it generates to the company’s rental properties. SOU receives an annual lease payment, all renewable energy credits related to the project and the opportunity to use the solar facility for educational and research purposes.

The six solar trackers at Abbott’s installations at The Farm and ScienceWorks will produce a combined 160 megawatt hours of electricity per year.

“The Farm at SOU is a center for sustainability,” said Vincent Smith, director of The Farm at SOU and of the university’s Division of Business, Communication and the Environment.

“These two new projects will not only offset all of our energy use, but will provide opportunities for student and faculty research,” Smith said.

SOU has a total of eight other solar arrays on seven 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.


SOU named Tree Campus USA

SOU recognized as Tree Campus USA

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University was recognized this month as a Tree Campus USA for the seventh consecutive year.

Tree Campus USA, an Arbor Day Foundation program started in 2008, honors higher education institutions and their leaders for promoting healthy trees and engaging students and staff in the spirit of conservation. SOU is one of 392 U.S. colleges and universities to receive the most recent recognition and one of seven in Oregon.

“Over the past year, many have been reminded of the importance of nature to our physical and mental health,” Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation, wrote in a letter to SOU President Linda Schott.

“Your campus trees provide spaces of refuge and reflection to students, staff, faculty and the community,” Lambe said.

SOU earned the Tree Campus designation by fulfilling the program’s five core standards for effective campus forest management: a regular observance of Arbor Day, sponsorship of student service-learning projects and establishment of a tree advisory committee, a campus tree-care plan and dedicated annual expenditures for the campus tree program.

The Tree Campus program for higher education institutions has spawned two similar programs – Tree Campus K-12 and Tree Campus Healthcare – and the Arbor Day Foundation president called upon recognized colleges and universities to lead by example in their areas.

“We hope your example inspires collaboration,” Lambe said.

SOU’s Arbor Day observance is run by the Landscape Services Department, which organized volunteers to plant 137 large trees and 24,000 plants around campus between 2014 and 2016,.

All trees planted at SOU’s Arbor Day celebrations are donated by Plant Oregon, a Talent nursery. SOU offers free t-shirts and lunches to its Arbor Day volunteers. Arbor Day is celebrated each year on the last Friday of April.

The Arbor Day Foundation is a million-member, nonprofit conservation and education organization with the mission of inspiring people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees. Tree Campus USA’s colleges donate money to support the Arbor Day Foundation’s Time for Trees initiative, which strives to plant 100 million trees in forests and communities by 2022.


SOU emeritus professor Mike Rousell has a new book about surprise

Retired SOU professor examines surprise in new book

(Ashland, Ore.) — Mike Rousell, a psychologist and emeritus professor of education at SOU, has a new book that should surprise no one who has followed his career. “The Power of Surprise,” which will be released Sept. 15 by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, is the result of more than 30 years of researching life-altering events and the surprises that typically triggered them.

“One day, while pouring over my vast collection of transformative stories, looking for patterns, I experienced a revelation: A surprise sparked most of these events,” Rousell said. “Here’s the key: Moments that change us happen to us, not by us, during a surprise event.”

He cites the example of “Cindy,” a student who tended to be among the last to finish tests, and a librarian who complimented that slowness as “attentive deliberation that shows grit.”

“The comment surprised Cindy, giving her a burst of the motivator neurotransmitter dopamine and creating a window for belief formation,” Rousell said. “Now, when Cindy writes tests, her instincts prompt her to go slowly and feel proud because it confirms her grit.”

The new book – which can already be ordered on Amazon – examines the science of surprise, how it can result in spontaneous personal and societal changes, and how it is used strategically by comedians, magicians, filmmakers, writers and others. Rousell looks at how surprise can open the door for a change in belief even without conscious awareness and how it can be tapped to enrich lives, maximize influence and create positive mindsets.

He said the book is intended for a general audience – parents, teachers, coaches, supervisors, healthcare providers and others who may want to draw upon the positive influences of surprise.

Rousell said that surprise events produce a jolt of dopamine, a chemical that enables the transmission of signals among the brain’s nerve cells.

“I found that big surprises in our evolutionary past often indicated momentous opportunity or danger,” he said. “Thinking slowed reaction time. Those that stopped to think during critical moments often perished, along with the propensity to ponder when surprised. Evolution favored those who learned instantly. As a result, we developed a disposition to bypass thinking and learn instantly.”

Rousell was an associate professor of education at SOU for about 12 years before his retirement in March 2020. His previous publications include the 2007 book, “Sudden Influence: How Spontaneous Events Shape Our Lives.” A video of his 12-minute presentation about surprise at a 2019 TEDx Talks event in Salem drew thousands of views on YouTube.

He received his bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Alberta, and his master of education and doctorate from the University of Oregon. He taught elementary, middle and high school in Edmonton, Alberta, before joining the School of Education at SOU, and also has worked in private practice and school counseling as a certified psychologist.


SOU gets perfect score from Campus Pride

SOU scores a perfect 5 with Campus Pride

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University has been recognized for the ninth year in a row as one of the nation’s top 30, “Best of the Best” LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities by Campus Pride, a nonprofit that supports and improves campus life for LGBTQ people on campuses nationwide.

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.

“In order to be in the ‘Best of the Best’ listing, an institution had to score the highest percentages in the LGBTQ-friendly benchmarks for policies, programs and practices,” Campus Pride said on the list’s website.

SOU was also ranked 21st among the 50 best colleges for LGBTQ students for the second year in a row by the online publication College Choice, which released its 2021 rankings in July.

The Campus Pride “Best of the Best” list of the top 30 LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities in the U.S. included six in the West region and just two in Oregon – SOU and the University of Oregon.

SOU addresses sexual orientation and gender identity in the university’s non-discrimination policy and offers LGBTQ-themed housing. Advocacy for gender and sexuality justice is available via the Social Justice and Equity Center, and the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program provides LGBTQ-related academic offerings. SOU also participates in LGBTQ-specific college fairs and its counseling and health staff provide queer- and trans-oriented services.


SOU's Chelsea Rose on National Geographic series

SOU archaeologist returns to TV for National Geographic series

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University research archaeologist Chelsea Rose – who was on the cast of a 2013-14 archaeology series on Oregon Public Broadcasting and featured in a 2017 book intended to pique girls’ interest in archaeology – returned to TV screens this summer as host of a show about Wild West history for the National Geographic Channel.

Rose appears on an episode in season four of the series “Drain The Oceans,” an Australian and British documentary series whose previous seasons have focused on underwater archaeology. The current season shifts to terrestrial archaeology, with an emphasis on the West.

Rose’s episode – whose U.S. premiere was Aug. 2 on the National Geographic Channel – features segments on the ghost town of Bodie, California, 19th century steamboat wrecks and the Little Bighorn battleground.

“This show has a good reputation for portraying archaeology in an accurate manner, so when colleagues who had been on previous seasons suggested me as an expert contributor for the Wild West episodes, I was happy to comply,” Rose said. “Plus, Bodie has been on my bucket list since I was a kid!”

Bodie, a 19th century gold-mining town, is now a California State Historic Park and well-known tourist attraction near the Nevada border. The “Drain The Oceans” producers worked with park staff and archaeologists to reveal the site’s hidden stories, including the role of women and the town’s Chinese residents.

“Since so much of the town is preserved, it is an amazing dataset that relates to many of the archaeological projects we work on at the SOU Laboratory of Anthropology (SOULA),” Rose said.

“Being able to see the artifacts and buildings associated with 19th century gold mining, as part of a relatively complete landscape, helped me to better understand how these resources would have been experienced by Oregonians.”

Much of Rose’s archaeological work involves using artifacts to reconstruct the lives of Chinese immigrants in the Western gold-mining and railroad-building communities of the 1800s.

Rose’s first stint on an archaeology-based television series was for both seasons of the OPB national series “Time Team America,” which was produced in Oregon but shot on locations throughout the U.S. She was one of six scientists who teamed with the show’s host to uncover historical secrets that had been buried underground.

She was one of three U.S. archaeologists who were featured in the 2017 book, “Archaeology: Cool Women Who Dig,” by California author Anita Yasuda. The book, which is available to order on, was intended to give 9- to 12-year-old girls a peek at work and life in the field of archaeology.


New Cybersecurity Certificate Program is offered by SOU's Computer Science Department

New SOU Cybersecurity Certificate to benefit students, employers

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University is addressing the pervasive issue of cyber criminals and a nationwide demand for workers trained to protect their organizations by offering a new certificate program in cybersecurity. The program allows both existing SOU students and mid-career adult learners to become certified with job-ready cybersecurity skills after completing 36 college credits – nine courses.

“This is a program designed with the needs of both regional employers and job-seeking students in mind,” said computer science instructor Priscilla Oppenheimer, whose industry experience was a key in the design of SOU’s cybersecurity curriculum.

Oppenheimer designed and manages the cybersecurity research lab for SOU’s Computer Science Department. She previously developed and taught classes on computer networking and security for Cisco Systems, and has instructed network engineers worldwide in the design, development, configuration and support of complex and secure computer networks.

“We hear about hacks and cyber attacks almost every day in the news, and it is an issue that won’t go away anytime soon,” she said. “We want to give our students the tools they need to prevent, detect and counteract any attempts to compromise the computer systems of their employers.”

The new Cybersecurity Certificate Program includes 20 credit hours of core, required courses on legal and ethical issues, computer organization, networks and security. Another 16 hours of elective coursework can include classes in computer forensics, programing, UNIX system administration, wireless networks and high-level studies in networks, security or computer science.

Students in the program should enter with precalculus and programming knowledge, similar to SOU’s two-course sequence in precalculus and the first two courses of the Computer Science Department’s programming sequence. Most students are expected to complete requirements for the certificate in about four terms, fitting courses in around other work or educational commitments.

The Cybersecurity Certificate can supplement a student’s bachelor’s or master’s degree program, or can be earned as a stand-alone credential. SOU’s 20 certificate programs differ from the university’s 17 new micro-credential offerings, in that they are more in-depth and require additional coursework. Both are aimed at preparing students for a changing job market by teaching specific skills.

“There is a huge nationwide demand for employees who are equipped to protect the computer systems of both large and small companies,” said Sherry Ettlich, chair of SOU’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Division. “We chose to launch this certificate, rather than the major that many other universities offer, to provide greater flexibility and better serve those wanting to add this expertise while working in IT or related positions, or while working toward SOU degrees in computer science or other academic disciplines.

“SOU and the STEM Division are responding to the real-world needs of today’s employers, and preparing our students to succeed.”

The U.S. has an estimated 500,000 open jobs in cybersecurity as companies and organizations seek to protect themselves from the massive cost and disruption of security breaches.

Students in SOU’s new certificate program will learn about common threats and vulnerabilities, security principles, cryptography, risk management, access control, wireless networking and network device configuration. They will be taught to develop secure software and to design and manage secure networks.


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.


New micro-credentials allow students to set course in many directions

SOU adds array of “micro-credentials” to enhance learning and career preparation

(Ashland, Ore.) — Southern Oregon University has joined an academic movement that is transforming higher education, adding a total of 17 “micro-credentials” that are designed to recognize individual skillsets or competencies of both degree-seeking and non-degree-seeking students. The certifications provide opportunities for existing students and for mid-career learners seeking to expand their options.

SOU’s micro-credentials range from Cinema Production Technology to Foundations of Professional Writing to Values-based Leadership. Most of the new micro-credentials require about 12 credit hours of coursework – which can stand alone or count toward students’ degree requirements. Some include community workshops, service learning or other opportunities to apply skills and knowledge.

“Micro-credentials provide our students another very useful tool to demonstrate their academic and occupational abilities,” said Susan Walsh, SOU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Employers are increasingly looking for particular skills, along with broad knowledge and the ability to innovate. These micro-credentials certify students’ mastery of very distinct areas of study, and can be equally valuable to undergraduates wanting to strengthen their degree programs and to adult learners looking to boost their careers.”

Micro-credentials, whose acceptance has grown quickly over the past several years among U.S. colleges and universities, allow students to craft what have been called “t-shaped” educational experiences – the broad, horizontal base of their academic majors combined with deep, vertical concentrations in one or more specialized areas of study. They are typically brief, accessible programs that are considered “stackable” as learners achieve sets of discrete, demonstrable areas of expertise based on their career needs, professional goals or personal interests.

SOU, like most institutions offering micro-credentials, awards digital badges to those who complete the mini-certifications. Digital badges can be shared through social media, email signatures or electronic resumes.

The micro-credential programs currently offered by SOU – with more expected to be added – are Cinema Production Technology; Community Planning; Digital Security; EDI: Gender, Indigeneity, & Sexuality; Environmental Research & Data Analysis; Foundations of Professional Writing; Foundations of School Mental and Behavioral Health; Foundations of Sustainability and Tourism; Geographic Information Systems (GIS; Network Technology; Project Management; Set Skills for Cinema Production; Social Media Strategy; Story Development for Screenwriting; Sustainable Food Systems; Team Leadership and Collaboration; and Values-Based Leadership.