Tag Archive for: Honors College

first-generation student goes beyond expectations

Soon-to-be graduate goes beyond first-generation expectations

(Ashland, Ore.) — To describe Nansi Cortes simply as a first-generation college student and soon-to-be Southern Oregon University graduate would ignore both her personal history and her family’s unwavering support.

Nansi’s immigrant parents, whom she said had “lower than a grade school education,” were nonetheless aware of education’s potential impact on their children. So they were all in when Nansi was in eighth grade at Medford’s McLoughlin Middle School and became eligible for the SOU/McLoughlin Bulldogs-to-Raiders partnership, a pathway program designed for first-generation Hispanic students to learn about higher education and receive extra help with coursework.

Nansi, a senior in the SOU Honors College, will receive her bachelor’s degree at the commencement ceremony in June. She has served as a student mentor, a teaching assistant and a lead student assistant in the university’s Office of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion. And she already has been accepted into the SOU master’s degree program in Clinical in Mental Health Counseling.

“Mental health has been seen as a controversial topic for the Spanish-speaking communities,” Nansi said. “I will help educate the importance of mental health, become a bilingual counselor for young adults in Rogue Valley and advocate the benefits of therapy within the Spanish-speaking community.

“As I have been a resource for students at Southern Oregon University, I will continue to be a resource for Spanish-speaking communities.”

Her path to achievement has been neither straightforward nor easy. Her grade point average before transferring to McLoughlin Middle School was 1.9, which she quickly raised to a 3.8.

“About two months in at a new school, I passed classes with A’s, received higher test scores and eventually was asked to enroll in honors courses,” Nansi said. “With the support system I received from the new school, I began to believe in my potential to succeed and desire to plan my educational future.”

Which is where Bulldogs-to-Raiders came in. As part of the program, Nansi participated in SOU’s Academia Latina Leadership, Cesar Chavez Conference, Dia Familiar Latino and other Latinx-oriented youth programs. Those in the program visited various colleges and universities, where they received advice from students on the application process.

“As a first-generation student, I could experience the (SOU) campus by joining workshops and events, while the program taught my parents how to support me,” Nansi said. “Before joining this program, I did not think I was qualified to apply to colleges, pass courses or find the funds to attend. Bulldogs-to-Raiders gave me the opportunity for an education.”

As fate would have it, the COVID-19 pandemic was at full stride when Nansi graduated high school and enrolled at SOU in 2020. She was accustomed to learning through face-to-face classroom interactions, and was concerned about the shift to online coursework – but also felt that her scholarships would be impacted if she took a term off, so met with her guidance counselor.

“She encouraged me to attend the professor’s office hours when I was confused, join a study group for each course for support and seek the tutoring center at the Hannon Library,” Nansi said. “I completed my first year with immense help, and motivation to continue.

She learned about the SOU Honors College while attending the Cesar Chavez Conference with her Bulldogs-to-Raiders cohort, worked hard to be accepted into the program and became an Honors College student as a freshman. She has taken on the role of an academic leader among her peers, and counts that as one of her greatest achievements.

“I have tutored students outside of class to explain the material step-by-step, helped them find sources for their papers and helped the professors with grading,” Nansi said. “This has been an accomplishment because I did not have someone at home to help me with assignments. I wanted to be an additional resource for students.

“These achievements have prepared me for my future by leading me to my goal of becoming a bilingual counselor.”

She also serves as a role model to her siblings, helping them with their educational decisions, and has found her way to a rewarding, meaningful future in counseling.

“My parents will endlessly express their gratitude toward programs that help students achieve academically,” Nansi said. “They are proud to see how far their daughter has gotten in life. The sacrifices they made so I could receive a proper education will never go unseen.”


Off-season strawberries in Oregon likely came from Baja California

From SOU’s HON 319: The Reality of Strawberries from Mexico

Imagine: Late last night you and your son arrived in Los Reyes, Michoacán, Mexico – Mexico’s top strawberry producer. You stayed with your cousin who lives in Los Reyes. He let you sleep in the living room, tomorrow you’ll have to find somewhere else to stay. You pretended to sleep so your son could do the same. Now it’s four in the morning, and time to go to work. Your cousin says there is work on a farm outside of town. Strawberries. You’ll pick for 10 hours with no break, for 11 pesos an hour. Your son, who is only 14, isn’t legally old enough to work on a farm, but as long as you don’t say anything, they won’t ask any questions. Together, you’ll make 220 pesos for the day. That’s $12.66 USD. That will be just enough to pay for a night in a cramped room, some rice and beans for dinner, and a little bit of money to send home to your family. Then tomorrow you’ll start it all over again. This is the life of the Mexican workers that picked your strawberries. This is the life of so many farmers in Mexico. How does that make you feel?

In Southern Oregon University’s class HON 319: Nature, Culture, Mexico, we dived into research articles about water quality, access to water, and the effects of agricultural practices on water availability throughout Mexico. In one such text, “Water Flowing North of the Border,” author Christian Zlolinski explores how agricultural production has led to the scarcity of water for Baja California locals. According to his findings, high quantities of water are exported to the United States and Canada inside fresh produce (Zloniski, 2011). This offers the convenience of fresh fruit and produce to other countries in exchange for water insecurity in rural Mexico. These communities have very little access to fresh, clean water because it is preferentially diverted to agricultural production. The Mexican government is influenced by big farming corporations to give institutionalized farmers better access to fresh water and restrict access for smaller, local growers, and domestic consumers (Zlolniski, 2011).

In addition to deliberately restricted water access, locals in Baja California encounter further difficulties as they face environmental degradation caused by the overconsumption of water by agribusinesses. Baja California is an arid region with around 7.8 inches (200 mm) of annual rainfall. Due to the low rainfall, there isn’t enough water to recharge depleting aquifers. Out of the 48 aquifers identified in the state of Baja California, 15 no longer have any available water and many others are so depleted that only brackish water can be extracted from them (Cortés-Ruiz et al., 2020; Daesslé et al., 2008). This makes water more expensive to clean, leading to increases in the cost of tap water. This overexploitation has caused a drop in the water table, causing desertification in the region as flora disappears from the landscape. Efforts to re-stabilize the water table have been made in order to bring back water security to the region. However, funding is limited and estimates have shown that it would cost $82 million USD in addition to much of the state’s cropland for Baja California’s water scarcity issues to be solved (Cortés-Ruiz et al., 2020).

Strawberries seem to be the source of a lot of grief for many Mexican citizens, and it’s also not doing any favors for the environment. So why is this still such a serious problem despite the obvious issues for it? Mexico makes up 14.83% of the entire world’s strawberry production, with 35% of Mexico’s strawberries being grown in Baja California. Because Mexico makes up more than 10% of the global strawberry production, it is a certifiably successful industry (Cossio & Flores, 2021; Wu et al., 2018). Mexico’s GDP and economy look incredible on paper because of the money they make off of export agriculture, specifically water-heavy horticulture (Cossio & Flores, 2021). Thanks to this extreme success, this business model makes the country lots of money and provides jobs for the rural population. The clear catch, however, is the sheer amount of water that goes into these crops. An estimated 76% of all water extracted goes to agriculture (Beta Aqueduct). Meanwhile, workers reap close to zero worthwhile benefits and have difficulty accessing clean water. Most of the wages earned from working in agriculture go into paying for basic human needs, the most outrageous being water. In some cases, locals may spend up to two-thirds of their monthly wages on potable water (Zloniski, 2011). So agribusiness in Mexico is a booming industry that supplies many people with jobs that pay livable wages. But those livable wages are just that. Livable. A citizen living in the rural areas of Mexico will spend most of their working life just making enough money to put food on the table until the next paycheck. The real benefits of the Mexican agricultural economy are really only visible in urban areas, such as Mexico City, and various tourist destinations around the country.

So far you have seen abysmal living conditions of Mexican farmers, caused by the agricultural practices in Mexico. The impacts this has had on farmers and the environment are atrocious. Once beautiful, lush landscapes are now dry and desolate because of the water shortage, and produce for export is given preferential access to water over people who lack fresh running water. All of this is possible because there is a market for cheap produce year-round. If there isn’t a market for it, then strawberries and other crops that are grown out of your local season will stop being produced. To make that a reality, consumers need to make the change. Instead of buying strawberries, tomatoes, and cucumbers from Mexico, buy them locally. Supermarket packaging doesn’t always say where produce is coming from, but farmers’ markets are always local. Not only are you not contributing to water shortages in rural Mexico, but you’re supporting local farmers and lowering fossil fuel usage in transporting crops. To top it off, locally sourced, organic produce tastes better and is better for you. As the summer continues and produce comes into season, spend your weekends wandering the aisles of a farmers’ market instead of a supermarket. Your local farmers will thank you.

Authors: Liam Jones, Sierra Garrett, Caleb Zinn, Dylan Hurlimann


Beta Aqueduct. “Aqueduct Country Ranking.” n.d. https://www.wri.org/applications/aqueduct/country-rankings/?country=MEX&indicator=bws. Accessed: 06/12/2023

Cortés-Ruiz, A., & Azuz-Adeath, I. (2020). Estimating the future hydric needs of Baja California, Mexico. assessment of scenarios to stop being a region with water scarcity. Water Supply, 21(6), 2760–2771. https://doi.org/10.2166/ws.2020.198

Cossio, A. J. A., Flores, A. A. H. (2021, March 15). Competitividad de la Fresa mexicana en el Mercado Estadounidense de 1992 a 2017. Ciencia y Tecnología Agropecuaria. https://revistacta.agrosavia.co/index.php/revista/article/view/1414

Daesslé, L. W., Ruiz-Montoya, L., Tobschall, H. J., Chandrajith, R., Camacho-Ibar, V. F., Mendoza-Espinosa, L. G., Quintanilla-Montoya, A. L., & Lugo-Ibarra, K. C. (2008). Fluoride, nitrate and water hardness in groundwater supplied to the rural communities of Ensenada County, Baja California, Mexico. Environmental Geology, 58(2), 419–429. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00254-008-1512-9

Wu, F., Guan, Z., Garcia-Nazareiga, M., & Arana-Coronado, J. (2018). An overview of Strawberry Production in Mexico. University of Florida.  https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/FE1014

Zlolniski, C. (2011). Water flowing north of the border: Export Agriculture and Water Politics in a rural community in Baja California. Cultural Anthropology, 26(4), 565–588. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1548-1360.2011.01112.x

SOU Honors College Cherstin Lyon

New director hired at SOU Honors College

(Ashland, Ore.) — Cherstin Lyon – a history professor and co-director of the Faculty Center for Excellence at California State University, San Bernardino – has been hired as director of the Southern Oregon University Honors College following a national search. She will begin work at SOU on July 31.

Lyon, who visited the university for interviews in January, will be the second director of the Honors College. She will succeed Ken Mulliken, who created the Honors College in 2013 and left last summer to take a position at the University of Illinois, Springfield.

“I am confident that this outstanding program is in good hands and that Cherstin will help guide it to new heights,” SOU Provost Susan Walsh said in announcing the hire to campus on Thursday.

Prakash Chenjeri, a philosophy professor at SOU who has served in various honors programs for many years, is currently interim director of the Honors College and will continue in that role until Lyon’s arrival.

Lyon has served on the CSU-San Bernardino faculty since 2006. She also serves as a faculty associate in CSUSB’s Office of Community Engagement and on the Program Transformation Committee for its University Honors program.

She has served previously as an instructor at the University of Arizona, an adjunct faculty member at Utah Valley University and a graduate teaching fellow at both the University of Arizona and the University of Oregon.

Lyon received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from the UO, and her Ph.D. from Arizona. Her doctoral thesis was on “Prisons and Patriots: The Tucsonian Draft Resisters of Conscience Of World War II,” and she is author of the book, “Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience and Historical Memory.”

The Honors College at SOU, currently in its sixth year, accepts students from any major. All who are accepted into the Honors College participate in specialized programs and hands-on experiences outside the classroom.


SOU Democracy Project Honors

SOU Honors College hosts high school students for problem-solving

(Ashland, Ore.) — About 150 high school students from throughout southern Oregon will try their hand at resolving some of today’s most troubling issues when Southern Oregon University Honors College students lead their annual Democracy Project symposium on Tuesday, April 24.

The event – “Truth and Reconciliation: A Model for America?” – will prepare high school students to use the conflict-resolution model developed as South Africa emerged from apartheid in the early 1990s. The students will then attempt to settle the U.S. First Amendment issues of athletes kneeling in protest during the national anthem, the appropriateness of confederate monuments and the proliferation of “fake news.”

Tuesday’s daylong symposium will include guest speakers Ernle Young, a retired bioethicist from Stanford University who was a white South African and Methodist pastor who opposed apartheid; and Albert Munanga – originally from nearby Zambia and currently the Zambian Embassy’s honorary consul for Washington state – who serves as regional director of quality improvement for Era Living, a Seattle-area developer of retirement communities.

This year’s third annual Democracy Project symposium is being organized by SOU Honors College students Rebekah Krum and Megan Godsby. All members of the Honors College will participate in the day’s events, helping to facilitate and moderate the various presentations and activities.

The symposium will last from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Democracy Project is an ongoing effort by SOU’s Honors College to comprehensively examine international democracy. It is intended to offer emerging leaders an understanding of conflict resolution and how democracy is understood, implemented and promoted around the world.


U.S. BANK in Southern Oregon and Northern California Provides $12,500 Grant to SOU Foundation in Support of New Honors College

Gloria Schell and Mary CullinanAshland, OR – U.S. Bank, through the U.S. Bancorp Foundation, is presenting an educational grant in the amount of $12,500 to the Southern Oregon University Foundation to provide a named scholarship for the University’s new Honors College.
U.S. Bank’s educational grants are provided to innovative programs that help low-income and at-risk students succeed in school and prepare for post-secondary education, provide financial literacy training or offer effective mentoring programs.
The SOU Honors College offers talented students the opportunity to work closely with faculty in small classes and to build dynamic relationships with employers and community leaders through a personalized mentoring program. The Honors College will open in the fall, and is expected to grow to 100 students in four years.
“U.S. Bank is honored to award this grant to the Southern Oregon University Foundation,” said Gloria Schell, market president for U.S. Bank in Southern Oregon and Northern California. “The SOU Honors College is an exciting new development and we want to be on board from the beginning to help it attract top-flight students from around the region.”
“The Honors College is a transformational opportunity for students and SOU,” said SOU Vice President for Advancement and Executive Director of the SOU Foundation Sylvia Kelley. “We are grateful for community partners like U.S. Bank for generously supporting Honors College students.”
U.S. Bank is a subsidiary of U.S. Bancorp (NYSE: USB). The U.S. Bancorp Foundation contributes to the strength and vitality of local communities through partnerships that improve the educational and economic opportunities of low- and moderate-income individuals and families and enhance the cultural and artistic life of the communities in which U.S. Bancorp operates.
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