SOU Office of Student Belonging and Engagement

SOU’s new Office of Student Belonging and Engagement (BE)

Southern Oregon University students searching for Student Activities, SJEC, ASSOU, New Student Programs, EPIC, the Food Pantry, Stevenson Union and information on general campus involvement can now turn to a single source: the new Office of Student Belonging and Engagement, located in the former Student Activities suite (Stevenson Union 312).

Belonging and Engagement, affectionately acronymized “BE,” has united these previously separate offices, bringing a new focus on intersectionality to the pursuit of their shared goals.

This unification was paralleled by the office’s staffing model for coordinators, who have shifted from separate roles defined by different subjects of focus, to a single, shared role. The new Belonging and Engagement Coordinator position is debuting with three team members: Familiar faces Marvin Woodard and Jess Haywood are continuing the great work they’ve done in the past as coordinators for, respectively, Racial Justice and Student Organizations and Events; recent addition Sweets Underwood hit the ground running in early October and is already making wonderful waves in the SOU community.

“I am delighted to join this team and be in a position where I can build a bridge for students to feel more connected, engaged and, most importantly, like they belong,” Underwood said. “I look forward to supporting programs around community-building and creating educational opportunities outside the classroom for our students.”

Other additions to the BE team include Rachel Harris, who assists with a variety of BE projects and works closely with SOU’s student organizations, and Nathanael Worcester, who joined Kay Swader in Stevenson Union building management earlier this year. The SU is the home of student engagement on the SOU campus, so its management and operations were an obvious inclusion when Belonging and Engagement was formed.

Belonging and Engagement operates under the umbrella of SOU’s Student Life department, and comprises a variety of programs, services and spaces that support the campus community, including: student organizations and events, the Social Justice and Equity Center (SJEC), the Student Food Pantry and other basic needs resources, New Student programs, the Club Board of Advisors (CBA), Associated Students of Southern Oregon University (ASSOU), the Multicultural Commons, the Event Planning Involvement Committee (EP!C), and SU building management and custodial. BE leadership emphasizes that, while some rearranging has occurred – Sustainability operations and the Student Food Pantry, for example, have moved out of SU 310 (the new Career Connections location) and into the Belonging and Engagement Suite in SU 312 – none of the aforementioned programs and services have been lost.

The Student Food Pantry, in fact, is flourishing. Its new venue in the BE Suite is significantly larger, and a recent push to expand its network of local partners has increased the amount and variety of donations it receives. The Pantry is available to all SOU students, and this much-needed growth in supply will allow it to match the continually growing demand for its services. It is always accepting donations, and new stock arrives throughout the week, so students are encouraged to visit regularly to see what has been added to the shelves.

SOU’s Queer Student Union is being similarly reinvigorated, after an extended period of inactivity. The student body’s response to this initiative has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic: With Underwood at the helm as its staff advisor, the new QSU quickly built a significant member base, and interest in QSU programming is high.

“The growth of the Food Pantry and the return of the QSU are just two examples of the many opportunities now available to us,” said John Johnstin, Director of Belonging and Engagement, and the Stevenson Union. “Existing as separate offices limited both our reach and our efficacy. By pooling our resources and our goals, we’ll be able to support our students in new and greater ways going forward.”

The launch of HawkNEST, SOU’s new platform for “News, Engagement, Support, and Teamwork,” was an important step toward BE’s goals. Its user-friendly interface and myriad engagement features – including a point system to track involvement and the ability to communicate via a built-in chat – are making it easier than ever for students to find and build community on campus. Any student who has not yet visited the platform is encouraged to join using the Single Sign-On option on the HawkNEST homepage. After completing a short onboarding process, they can start exploring the many opportunities for engagement and connection on campus.

“Our purpose is, and has always been, to help every student find their place in our community,” Johnstin said. “We want SOU to be a home to them, and we want them to feel like they belong here. We hope that they can see their identities and interests represented on campus—but we also need to reflect the fact that they are each more than the sum of their parts. As a single, united team, we in the Office of Student Belonging and Engagement can approach our work holistically, treating those identities and interests not as discrete concerns, but as facets of our larger purpose—just as they are facets of our students’ lives.”

To learn more about the Office of Student Belonging and Engagement, visit the Student Activities website, follow SOU Student Life on Instagram, or email the team at

SOU students in Nepal during OAL trip

Students in SOU’s OAL program visit Nepal and Turkey/Greece

SOU’s Outdoor Adventure Leadership program is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for students to major in the outdoors and experience unique opportunities such as the International Expedition – which culminated last summer in separate trips to Nepal and to Turkey and Greece.

A total of 14 undergraduate students, seven graduate students and three faculty members made one or the other of the international trips, which encourage emotional intelligence growth by providing adventures into the unknown.

SOU OAL students on expedition to Turkey and GreeceThe graduate students spent last winter and spring term planning the expeditions and then as the summer progressed the trip attendees left their homes for adventure. Each trip was going to focus on learning and growing in their own emotional intelligence through, trekking, bikepacking, SCUBA and white water rafting.

The first few days of the expedition to Nepal were spent exploring the city of Kathmandu and visits to cultural sites such as Swoyambhu Mahachaitya, or the “monkey temple,” which is known for the monkeys that surround it.

Participants in the Nepal expedition then took off on a 12-day tea house trek to the Annapurna Base Camp. The adventure threw rain, leeches and exhaustion at them. The trekkers did not make it to the ABC, but the majority made it to a different view point on the Mardi Himal, where they were treated to phenomenal views of the Himalaya mountain range.

After a few days of rest in the city of Pohkara, the team made friends with some of the locals and had the opportunity to go whitewater rafting at the tail end of the monsoon season. They finished out their time in Kathmandu, shopping and embracing the bonds of friendship they had built throughout the month in Nepal.

Members of the expedition to Turkey and Greece spent their first few days in Antalya, exploring the city and whitewater rafting. They then took a little over a week to bike-pack to a town called Demre, where they entered the water and sea kayaked to Kas, where some of the students were able to get their open water certification.

The group then split, and half made their way to Rhodes, Greece, and the other half continued bike-packing along the Lycian way. After spending a few days apart, all members of the expedition reconvened in Athens, where they spent the last few days exploring the city.

Undergraduate students in the OAL program can choose between two pathways to graduation: completion of the Spring Immersion (a 10-week immersion class) or completion of an International Expedition. The expeditions are planned and facilitated by graduate students in the Masters of Outdoor Adventure and Expedition Leadership Program. The goal is for undergraduates to learn and become immersed in a vastly different culture than their own.

Many see Outdoor Adventure undergraduate and graduate students traveling and being in the outdoors, but the trips also teach students about themselves and each other. Participants build bonds with their teams and with locals in the countries they visit. The teams are able to teach each other new things as they explore different countries.

The current cohort’s final presentation will be Dec. 7.

I can’t speak for others, but this summer’s trip changed my life for the better.

Story by OAL student Allie Cornett

Students work at Innovation Jam

Innovation Jam draws 30-plus students

More than 30 Southern Oregon University and Rogue Community College students gathered at CraterWorks Makerspace on Saturday, Nov. 4, for the second annual Southern Oregon Innovation Jam.

Students participated in design thinking exercises, created big ideas to solve local problems and pitched solutions, while local business professionals and entrepreneurs were on hand to guide students in their processes, give feedback and mentor student teams.

Some of the big ideas discussed at this year’s Innovation Jam included a new take on local community housing and food resources, and a large community event in Ashland. The winner of the competition was Boom TV – a pre-loaded, iPad-like device designed to help the elderly with technology.

President Rick Bailey at Innovation JamStudents wrapped up the event by presenting their ideas for change, on the topic of “reinventing community.” They were commended by RCC President Randy Weber, SOU President Rick Bailey and Oregon State Representative Christine Goodwin.

The jam was intended to showcase the strengths of RCC and SOU, and the capabilities of students from both institutions. Their collaborative work was guided by the prototyping methodologies of Design Thinking.

Students in any major at RCC or SOU were invited to join the Central Point event, working as groups on prototypes through the day until an “educators’ huddle” at 3 p.m.

Cultural economist, consultant, journalist and U.S. Navy veteran Mike Green inspired young entrepreneurs as the keynote speaker, sharing his experiences in business start-ups, design thinking strategies and inclusive economic ecosystems. He is co-founder of three companies: ScaleUp Partners, LLC;  Common Ground Conversations on Race in America; and the National Institute for Inclusive Competitiveness.

SOU Career Connections expands office and staff

SOU’s expanded Career Connections office opens new space and opportunities

(Ashland, Ore.) – Southern Oregon University’s Career Connections office has opened its doors in a new space – Stevenson Union 310 – in a move that will increase visibility and allow more students to be served.

The office, upstairs next to the Social Justice and Equity Center (SJEC), is ready for an increase in students for individual and small group sessions around career planning, leadership development and career-connected learning opportunities. SOU faculty and staff are invited to an open house to see the new space on Wednesday, Oct. 11, from 3 to 5 p.m. Students and alumni are encouraged to attend an upcoming Job and Internship Fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26, in the Stevenson Union’s Rogue River Room.

Career Connections has expanded its team to include two full-time professional staff and a graduate assistant. Stacey Westrum, SOU’s new director of Career Connections, brings a decade of experience with the university in student advising, adult education and corporate relations. She will be strengthening SOU’s bonds with employers across southern Oregon as part of the institution’s mission to promote economic vitality as a regionally-engaged institution.

Westrum will be the staff advisor for the National Society of Leadership Success, which is entering its second year at SOU as a vehicle for student leadership development and peer networking. She will be working closely with this year’s inaugural cohort of LAD scholars – participants in the $5 million Lithia & GreenCars Scholarship Program, a component of SOU’s landmark, $12 million philanthropic gift last year from Lithia (NYSE: LAD).

The LAD Scholars program, which has attracted an exceptional group of incoming students, combines financial aid awards with leadership development opportunities, focusing on first-generation and/or minoritized populations that are traditionally underrepresented in higher education.

“I am excited to be in this new role at SOU to build the Career Connections office to deepen relationships with employers, collaborate across campus and help our students with their career paths and leadership skills,” Westrum said.

The new coordinator of Career Connections, Ariel Bloomer, will be focused on student advising for career exploration and job search preparation, meeting needs expressed by SOU student responses in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE).

“I am thrilled to continue working with SOU students in a role so closely tied to the university’s vision of guiding all learners to create lives of purpose,” she said.

As part of a strengths-based advising approach, Bloomer will become certified in CliftonStrengths, and will help groups of students analyze and articulate the unique traits they bring to the table.

Career Connections offers students a range of services, including resume and cover letter reviews, introductions to networking, job search assistance for on- and off-campus jobs, and interview preparation. Students can also come in to talk through changes in their academic and career goals as plans and dreams shift throughout their university experience.

The Career Connections website hosts a number of tools for researching occupational outlooks, exploring  interests and skills through self-assessments, and creating application materials. Students can make individual advising appointments through Handshake, Navigate, or by emailing By engaging in a strategic series of classroom visits throughout the year, Career Connections will help students learn about these services and start pursuing intentional professional development earlier in their college careers.

The 2023-24 academic year marks the 10-year anniversary of the PEAK Program, coordinated out of Career Connections. PEAK – which stands for professional experience, achievement and knowledge – funds student jobs across campus designed to meet significant student learning outcomes and facilitate work-based learning and career growth for participating students. This year sees a re-envisioning of the program to provide additional development opportunities for PEAK students.

By partnering with programs, offices and academic departments across campus, Career Connections aims to promote equitable student outcomes. As a First-gen Forward university, SOU is committed to ensuring that students receive a tightly woven web of support to achieve the return on investment in their education that they are seeking.

“We are excited to share the wealth of resources housed in Career Connections with students, faculty and alumni,” said Dean of Students Carrie Vath, Ph.D. – affectionately known by students as “Dr. V.”

To learn more about Career Connections’ offerings, please visit the website at and follow its Instagram account @SOUcareerconnections.


Passport grant to make study abroad opportunities more accessible

SOU receives passport grant – student applications open through June 7

Southern Oregon University has been selected by the Institute of International Education (IIE) to receive an IIE American Passport Project grant that will pay for as many as 25 SOU students to obtain U.S. passports.

IIE’s American Passport Project is a key initiative under the institute’s Center for Access and Equity, and demonstrates the organization’s commitment to create more equitable access to study abroad opportunities. The program prioritizes first-year students receiving Pell grants – for whom this may be their first passport – in order to remove a barrier to future study abroad participation.

Adult passports currently cost $130, plus a $35 execution fee at the passport facility.

“While $165 may not be a large amount compared to other costs associated with study abroad, like plane tickets, students without a passport and with limited financial resources are often hesitant to spend that money until they know they absolutely need it,” said SOU Education Abroad advisor Ariel Bloomer.

That certainty may come too late, and result in a missed opportunity. Routine processing of passports currently takes 10 to 13 weeks. Many international programs will not be able to process an official acceptance until the student’s passport information is received, and then students may need to account for a student visa process that could take another two to 12 weeks, depending on the destination.

“Removing this barrier is as much about timing as it is about the cost,” Bloomer said. “We want students to be able to say ‘yes’ to international opportunities when they arise, and not have a lengthy administrative process waylay them.”

To apply for the IIE American Passport Project Scholarship, students should check their eligibility and fill out the brief application on Scholarship Universe by June 7. Student nominations will then be confirmed with the Institute of International Education.

All applicants will receive information on the passport application process from the Office of International Programs, which also operates as a Passport Acceptance Facility serving students and the community Wednesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 4 p.m. Selected students will be able to take passport photos and complete their passport application all on campus with the support of International Programs staff.

IIE awarded passport funds to 48 institutions in the IIENetwork this year, including both Southern Oregon University and Oregon State University, which will help up to 1,200 students across the country obtain passports. IIE aims to reach 10,000 U.S. students by 2030 through the IIE American Passport Project, with the overall goal of increasing diversity and inclusion of students studying abroad.

“A passport is the first thing that opens up their world to the possibility of study abroad,” said Courtney Temple, IIE Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer.

Current or future students who want to learn more about studying abroad while at SOU can explore the International Programs web page, the Outdoor Adventure Leadership international expeditions page, or read about recent faculty-led programs such as Criminology in Ireland.

Story by Ariel Bloomer, SOU Education Abroad advisor 

International student Aiki Deguchi of Japan

SOU’s Aiki Deguchi: An academic voyager

Aiki Deguchi, a student from Japan who was awarded the “Most Outstanding First Year/Transfer Student in the Communication Discipline” accolade last year by professors, will graduate from SOU this August with a bachelor’s degree in language and communication. The 23-year-old has spent the last two years studying in the U.S., and in doing so, his thoughts on individualism and perspectives on humility, political engagement and the value of student-teacher relationships have evolved.

He began work toward his degree at Tokyo International University and came to the U.S. to study under an exchange program at Willamette University in 2019. With a hundred Japanese exchange students surrounding him, he found that his own language and culture were too accessible, as he wanted to immerse himself in American culture and language. He transferred to SOU that same year, determined to study in the U.S. and earn a degree – he is currently the only college student among his group of friends in Japan.

Students in Japan wear tuxedos to graduation, but Aiki is excited to wear the American regalia cap and gown when he walks across the commencement stage.

Risks and rewards
Aiki DeguchiThe most striking cultural clash for Aiki has been experiencing American individualistic culture, as the foreign frame of mind comes off as abrasive. The self-importance that seems ingrained in American culture has been a confounding adjustment for Aiki. Social behaviors in the U.S. that have stood out to him are that people are friendly here, yet they distance themselves from others and make it clear that other people are “not their problem,” he says, and people are not nearly as consumed with their own agendas back home.

Being presentable and agreeable is a priority in Japan, whereas self-expression and self-praise are a priority in the U.S. – he says that in Japan, self-praise “does not exist,” he says.

When asked about his biggest fear in coming to the U.S., he starts with a concern of his parents – mass shootings. “Even though I am kind of scared of it, I’m in Ashland, so I feel safer,” Aiki says. His most daunting challenge was undoubtedly speaking English in public.

He says the professors at SOU are very friendly, while he describes teachers in Japan as formal and strict. A benefit of the cultural differences has been his ability to experience school in a highly interpersonal way, especially as a communication major. His experience at SOU has been refreshing, as he “can get to know everyone in class,” Aiki says.

An instructor who has made the biggest impact on him at SOU is Erica Knotts. He says that she has been more than a teacher because they have built a relationship, and he views her as a friend. His internship with Knotts as a teacher’s assistant in her mediation course this term has been an outlet for him to “overcome and kind of be confident” when public speaking, he says.

A first time for everything
Proximity to others has been eye-opening for Aiki, as he feels there is a greater distance between people in Japan than in the U.S. – from professor-student relationships to everyday interactions among strangers. Aiki describes Americans as sometimes overly friendly and alarmingly willing to be approached. It was a transition for Aiki to be approached when shopping for food, as in Japan, he says people keep more to themselves.

For him, a positive effect of American friendliness is the compliments he sometimes receives, as those are less common in Japan. Aiki had never received a compliment on a haircut before living in the U.S., as a haircut in his culture is regarded simply as self-maintenance rather than a form of self-expression worthy of praise.

Aiki says it is a priority in Japan to be polite and humble. He describes Japan as a mostly homogenous culture that treats daily attire as an expectation and not a form of self-expression. His own views on that have changed, and now he believes what he wears is “not anyone’s business.” Living in the U.S. for two years has given Aiki “the idea that people don’t have to be the same,” he says.

He has also noticed that young people in the U.S. are highly interested in politics, which is in contrast to Japan. He noticed that students were posting about their political beliefs and voting plans., and he has been surprised by the closeness of election results. Seeing peers his age passionate about politics, and observing youth amplifying their voices through political engagement, have made an impact on him and changed his perspective on voting. He voted for the first time when he went home to Japan last summer.

Seeing the world
A goal for Aiki after returning to Japan is to start working and return to eating well. He says the high cost of living in the U.S. is astonishing, and he feels that it affects quality of life.

Something Aiki has been able to accomplish in the U.S. that he would not have had the opportunity to do back home is travel. He has been to New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco since being in the U.S., and has been to Seattle – his favorite, local big city, Seattle – five times. He has played baseball for 10 years, and is attracted to Seattle by both its authentic Japanese cuisine and the Seattle Mariners.

His aspiration after college is to be a flight attendant on non-domestic airlines. After extensive self-reflection and experiencing the world with new eyes, Aiki has learned more about himself and those around him, and he feels able to impart the wisdom he has gained in another country to others.

Aiki dreams of living in another country one day. Singapore is on his dream board for its beauty and language accessibility, as it is common to speak English in there. The biggest takeaway from his experience as a world traveler is that he has “learned people are so different.” He hopes his exuberance for experiencing the world through a different lens will propel him toward more opportunities.

Story by Angelina Caldera, SOU Communications multi-media reporter

Earth Day at The Farm drew about 2,000

Earth Day exceeds expectations at The Farm at SOU

Organizers outdid themselves with their celebration of Earth Day at The Farm at SOU on Friday, April 21, with about 2,000 people and 50 dogs joining the festivities to enjoy exhibits, live performances, an electric vehicle showcase, bike rodeo, art, food trucks and more.

Earth Day boothThis year’s Earth Day celebration was sponsored by Sustainability at SOU, the Ashland Food Co-op, Café Mam and Stracker Solar, and other partners in the event include the ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum and Southern Oregon Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Association (SOHEVA). More than 30 community organizations and sustainability-minded businesses hosted educational exhibits and opportunities for action.

A variety of educational activities were available for those who took part in the “Earth Day Ecoquest,” vying to win prizes for completing tasks at designated booths.

The Klamath Bird Observatory and the Audubon Society offered information about birds, and how to identify and protect them. Rogue Valley Storm Water Management, the local Forest Service and Stream Smart all taught about water use, showing kids how to identify different types of pollutants in water and using a watershed model that simulated water run-off. Pachamama Alliance and the Water League teamed up on a gratitude activity, asking everyone to write down why they are grateful for water and to contribute a stone to a gratitude pool.

Several matching games were offered, including animal track matching with The Crest at Willow Witt, seed-to-flower matching with the Understory Initiative, microgreen-to-seed-to-vegetable matching with Rogue Valley Farm to School, and even scat-to-animal matching with Lomakatsi Restoration Project.

Earth Day participants had a chance to get their hands dirty by helping out in the Farm at SOU, weeding onion and garlic beds, and transplanting kale and fennel starts. Siskiyou School made seed bombs, participants planted sunflower seeds in compostable plant pots with Jackson County Library Services, and Subaru had various native shrubs and pollinator plants to give away.

Children gained knowledge by answering questions about pollinators and bees, and drawing butterflies at Pollinator Project Rogue Valley’s tent.

The Rogue Valley Transportation District provided free bike tune-ups and free, bike-blended smoothies. Bike riders were then directed to the bike valet, run by Siskiyou Velo, before enjoying the other festivities.

Food trucks from Caba Empanadas and Sultan’s Delight offered meals, and SOHEVA showed a large assortment of electric vehicles the parking lot of The Farm, and offered test rides to participants.

Entertainment was provided by Elbow Room Taiko, followed by performances from Jackie Tomato, Creekside Strings, Liz Pisarcyck and the Dad Rock band.

Earth Day has been celebrated annually each April 22 in the U.S. since 1970, and globally since 1990; it was observed a day early this year at SOU because the actual holiday was on a weekend. The SOU Student Sustainability Team (formerly ECOS) has hosted a local version of the event for more than 20 years – historically, in the Stevenson Union courtyard. The Student Sustainability Team moved the event to The Farm at SOU last year to help fill a void that was left when the Rogue Valley Earth Day event at the neighboring ScienceWorks was discontinued.

Celebrate Earth Day at The Farm at SOU

Earth Day to be celebrated April 21 at The Farm at SOU

Earth Day to be celebrated April 21 at The Farm at SOU

Southern Oregon University and community partners will celebrate Earth Day at The Farm at SOU from 3:30 to 7 p.m. on Friday, April 21, by offering exhibits, live performances, an electric vehicle showcase, bike rodeo, art, food trucks and more.

Earth Day has been celebrated annually each April 22 in the U.S. since 1970, and globally since 1990; it is being observed a day early this year at SOU because the actual holiday lands on a weekend. The SOU Student Sustainability Team (formerly ECOS) has hosted a local version of the event for more than 20 years – historically, in the Stevenson Union courtyard. The Student Sustainability Team moved the event to The Farm at SOU last year to help fill a void that was left when the Rogue Valley Earth Day event – traditionally held at the neighboring ScienceWorks – was discontinued.

Partners in hosting this year’s Earth Day celebration are Sustainability at SOU, the Ashland Food Co-op, the ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum and Southern Oregon Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Association (SOHEVA).

Live entertainment will be featured throughout the event on The Farm’s Thalden Pavilion stage, and Ashland Food Co-op will host a “Play Zone” in the ScienceWorks plaza, where there will be activities for all ages – chalk art, games and more. ScienceWorks – The Farm’s next-door neighbor – is offering extended hours (open until 7 p.m.) and free afternoon admission on the day of the event. A “quiet zone” for those needing a break from the action will be located in the ScienceWorks geodesic dome, with earplugs, snacks, seating and quiet activities.

SOHEVA members will display their EV’s at the electric vehicle showcase, and answer questions on their electric driving experiences. Lithia Motors Green Cars will offer test drives or rides for a true EV experience for those who register to participate.

Kids of all ages who bring their bikes to the event can take a spin around the “Bike Rodeo,” hosted by Rogue Valley Transportation District, to learn and practice bike safety.

More than 30 community organizations and sustainability minded businesses will host educational exhibits and opportunities for action. Many will also participate in the “Earth Day Ecoquest,” to win prizes for completing activities at designated booths. Those who walk, bike or carpool to the event can stop by the RVTD exhibit and get two bonus Ecoquest tokens to be used toward Ecoquest prizes.

Participants at the Earth Day celebration can also sign up with The Farm at SOU to help with planting and weeding spring crops.

The Farm at SOU is located at 155 Walker Avenue, Ashland Oregon. Attendees are being asked to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by walking, biking, skateboarding or taking transit to the event. On-site parking for people with disabilities or limited mobility will be available, as well as on-site “bike valets” offering secure bicycle parking.

To learn more about the event, visit

SOU ROTC pays respect to Bataan Death March

SOU’s ROTC program honors WWII Bataan marchers

Southern Oregon University’s ROTC program paid respect to – and drew inspiration from – one of the most notorious incidents of World War II’s Pacific Theater when 19 cadets and cadre participated recently in the Bataan Memorial Death March 2023 – a 26.2-mile “ruck” with 35-pound backpacks from Central Point to the SOU campus.

SOU’s “Raider Company” of the U.S. Army ROTC chose the local route after coming up short on fund-raising to send participants to an annual Bataan event at the Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The local ruck, mostly along the Bear Creek Greenway, became a virtual counterpart to the New Mexico event – which bills itself as “26 miles of high desert, 26 miles of pure perseverance.”

“Twenty-six-point-two miles was the distance that was dictated by the Bataan Memorial Death March event and not chosen by SOU ROTC itself,” said SOU ROTC Cadet Maribett Malubay. “The cadets were inspired, and wanted to take on the challenge in order to honor those that did the 65-mile forced march on Bataan.”

The SOU cadets and cadre – ROTC instructors, staff and facilitators – also turned their efforts into a local benefit, by using canned food to reach their 35-pound ruck weight and then donating their load after the march to the SOU Student Food Pantry.

The historic Bataan Death March occurred after about 75,000 U.S. and Filipino soldiers surrendered to Japanese forces on April 9, 1942. Thousands died as they were marched for several days and about 65 miles through scorching Philippine jungles to confinement camps, where they suffered at the hands of their captors until 1945, when U.S. and Filipino forces recaptured the lost territory.

This year’s commemorative event at the SOU was the final term project for seniors in the ROTC program, who took responsibility for planning, coordination and preparation. They organized 6- to 12-mile training rucks each Friday for several weeks leading up to the March 19 main event, planned the route and arranged checkpoints where participants could stop for food, water or rest breaks.

“Through the blood, sweat and tears, Raider Company finished strong, with positive attitudes and huge smiles on their faces,” Cadet Malubay said.

All 19 cadets and cadre who signed up for the voluntary event completed the 26.2-mile course – all but two of them completing the marathon distance for the first time.