Latest news from the UO

  • In a first, two UO students earn prestigious Udall scholarships

    First published in Around the O on May 25, 2021. Two UO students have been awarded prestigious Udall Undergraduate Scholarships, a first for the university and all the more rare because it is the second award for one of the Ducks. Temerity Bauer, a junior biology major and Clark Honors College student, received the highly competitive award for her work in health care, and Eloise Navarro, a sophomore Latin American studies and global studies major, was recognized for her focus on the environment. Udall scholarships recognize students for their service to Native American nations or for stewardship of the environment. This is the first time two UO students have received this award during the same academic year, and it’s the first time a student has been recognized twice. Bauer also received a Udall last year for her plans to research urgent health issues that affect tribal peoples. Bauer is a citizen of the Round Valley Indian Tribes in Covelo, California. Navarro is a Filipino and Irish-American woman who grew up in a Spanish immersion community in Corvallis. “In my 17 years as a Udall university representative at two different institutions, I have never seen a university have two winners, with one as a double winner,” said Jason Younker, assistant vice president and adviser to the president on sovereignty and government-to-government relations. “I am extremely proud of Eloise and Temerity, as they reflect the outstanding quality of scholars that we have at the UO. Both are most deserving of this highly competitive and prestigious national award.” Bauer’s academic and career goals are motivated by her desire to tackle health issues that plague her tribe and other Native communities around the country. She explains that her tribe in California is a cancer cluster, likely due to its proximity to a lumber mill that she believes could be connected to a high volume of waste products in the air and a high rate of disease. She wants to pursue a doctorate of medicine and philosophy so she can research how things like pollution and stressful environments can alter the brain and lead to disease and neurological disorders. And she wants to use her findings and medical knowledge to help diagnose patients early and provide specialized care for indigenous people. “Reservations across the country are facing similar problems due to the exploitation of Native land by large corporations,” Bauer explained in her application for this award. “I want to become a physician scientist to help my people and Native communities nationwide combat the various health issues they face.” As an undergraduate student, Bauer has done a lot of work that overlaps with health care, science and Native issues. She’s conducted neuroscience research in professor Santiago Jamarillo’s lab through the Institute of Neuroscience and she’s studied the forced sterilization of Native women. She serves as a co-director of the Native American Student Union, where she focuses on creating support for Native students in STEM. And she’s volunteered at the UO Health Center and also served on the Mayo Clinic Native American Pathways Program, where she learned about how to address disparities in health care for Native communities. “Native American communities have lost trust in health care due to the mistreatment and horrors that occurred in history, including the forced sterilization of Native American women in the ’70s,” Bauer wrote. “I want to help bridge the gap between Native Americans and healthcare and try to reestablish trust in the healthcare system.” Navarro wants to focus her future work on tackling climate change through fossil fuel disinvestment, renewable energy sources and fostering effective local environmental management practices. She hopes to join, and eventually form, an organization that addresses the effects of climate change while considering its intersection with social justice and human rights. She’s studied how tourism at Machu Picchu in Peru has hurt the environment and indigenous communities and is interested in examining how pipelines and the fossil fuel industry have taken a toll on indigenous communities and land. Navarro is also a member of the Climate Justice League and has worked on a Forest Defense campaign to protect forests in the Northwest. In summer 2020, she interned with the Corvallis Environmental Center to help a small farm produce thousands of pounds of food that was donated to individuals experiencing hunger. “Working through and solving problems in a sensitive, comprehensive, and ethical way is extremely important in activism and grassroots organizing,” Navarro wrote in her application. “Environmental organizations largely deal with interdisciplinary issues and I want to be prepared to approach related challenges in an effective and peace-oriented manner.” The Udall scholarship honors the legacies of Arizona brothers and former members of Congress Morris Udall and Stewart Udall, who also served as secretary of the interior from 1961 to 1969 under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Both Udalls had careers that had a significant impact on Native American self-governance, health care and the stewardship of public lands and natural resources, according to the foundation's website. —By Emily Halnon, University Communications

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  • UO imaging project finds the machinery behind brain cells

    First published in Around the O on May 24, 2021. Ultrahigh resolution, high-speed imaging of fruit fly brains has allowed University of Oregon scientists to capture mechanical motions that stem cells use to make neurons, the cells that make up the brain. The motions coordinate cell division during differentiation, when some newly born cells become neurons. Differentiation is essential for building the circuitry that underlies human cognition and emotions, said Ken Prehoda, a professor in the UO’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Prehoda and Bryce LaFoya, a postdoctoral researcher in the Institute of Molecular Biology and Prehoda’s lab, did the research, which was detailed in a paper published in the journal Cell Reports. Drosophila fly brains have some 100,000 neurons, while human brains have more than 50 billion. Developmental research in Drosophila often leads to advances in human medicine. The discovery, Prehoda said, suggests that the mechanical process is vital to understanding brain development and, potentially, for regenerating neurons and their connections following injuries. “To make so many neurons, the developing brain acts like a factory with individual stem cell ‘machines’ continually producing neurons,” Prehoda said. “We discovered that stem cells have more in common with real machines on a factory floor than previously appreciated, in that they undergo a mechanical cycle when producing each neuron.” In the project, LaFoya used spinning-disk confocal microscopy to examine fruit fly brains with their stem cell membranes embedded with fluorescent markers. That unveiled the membrane dynamics of neural stem cells and their progeny at high resolution, revealing the mechanical cycle as each neuron was produced. To make neurons, Prehoda said, neural stem cells must place special molecules, proteins called fate determinants, into one of two daughter cells that result from division. How that was done had been unclear despite many previous studies of physical interactions in which fate determinants are involved. In a 2019 study in the journal eLife, Prehoda and Krystal Oon, a graduate student in the Institute of Molecular Biology, reported that proteins undergo movements along the membrane, but what drove the movement was unknown. “Mechanical forces within the cell segregate components that are responsible for cellular identity after division,” LaFoya said. “After the cell divides in two, because of these forces, one cell will remain a stem cell while the other will go on to become a neuron.” The cellular-scale mechanical forces revealed in the imagery were so strong that surrounding cell membranes became highly distorted before returning to normal, Prehoda added. Understanding the process from beginning to end, he said, could have implications for regenerative therapies. The project was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Imaging was done in the UO’s Genomics & Cell Characterization Core Facility with a spinning-disk confocal microscope purchased with a grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust through the UO Foundation. —By Jim Barlow, University Communications

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  • American Families Plan proposes paths for college affordability

    May 20, 2021 09:31 am At the end of April, the White House announced the American Families Plan, which includes a proposal for an additional four years of free, public education for the nation’s young people before and after K-12. Specifically, the plan includes $200 billion for free universal pre-school for all three- and four-year-olds and $109 billion for two years of free community college.  In addition, President Biden is calling for an approximately $85 billion investment in Pell Grants. The plan recommends increasing the maximum Pell Grant award by approximately $1,400. The plan calls this “a down payment on President Biden’s commitment to double the maximum award.” The plan allows students with DREAMer and DACA status to access Pell Grants. The plan also calls for a $46 billion investment in historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions. No bill has yet been introduced to authorize funding for the plan or provide details on new programs. Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) President Peter McPherson responded to the proposal by praising the investments but deeming the plan incomplete. “While these investments deserve much praise, the plan is unfortunately incomplete in our view as it does not provide a broad strategy to increase access and affordability for public four-year university students. We strongly believe a federal-state partnership that provides free community college should at a minimum provide equivalent support to students attending public four-year institutions.” Higher education leaders are weighing in on the higher education components of the plan. Read more from the American Council on Education (ACE) here and Inside Higher Ed here.

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  • College of Education faculty offer tips on returning to K-12 classes

    First published in Around the O on May 19, 2021. Returning to the classroom after a year’s worth of pandemic-induced absence is sure to spark a range of challenges and stresses for students, teachers and parents alike. Leaving the safety of Zoom and being among masked-up peers and others, along with the stimuli that accompanies being in public for the first time in a year in a classroom setting, will affect everyone differently. However, College of Education faculty members Jennifer Ruef and Sarah Stapleton have advice for parents and teachers to help address some of those concerns, how to approach the coming summer and what opportunities to do things better may have emerged over the past year. Kids will still learn One of the biggest concerns you hear about is the idea of “learning loss” — that kids will have forgotten much of what they’ve learned over the past year or backtracked during remote learning. Jennifer Ruef said not to worry. “Learning loss is a misleading term, and likely to cause anxiety,” said Ruef, an assistant professor who teaches best practices for learning and making sense of math and was a longtime math teacher before that. “As humans, we are constantly learning,” she said. “The question is what were kids learning in this time of COVID? And then how can we leverage that? Kids are going to come back to schools with really varied experiences having been at home or away from school for about a year. What's worth hanging on to? How can what kids bring into schools be part of where we're picking up?” Reuf said people should plan for flexibility. “Look for every single way that a kid can show you that they are meeting the standards that you require for them to earn credit in your class,” she said. “Find a way to keep those kids moving along.” Social situations Everyone — students, teachers, parents — will have to go through a period of adjustment after being away from classmates and friends and the daily social interactions that come with that. Ruef said patience is the key as everyone reacclimates to being among people in real life again. “I think just as adults are trying to figure out how to do that, we need to have some patience with how kids are going come back and reconnect with their peers and reconnect with teachers,” Ruef said. “I suspect that learning how to sit in classrooms and just be present, just paying attention to something that's not a screen, may be a challenge for some of our teens.” Mental health awareness The pandemic and its myriad effects have taken a toll on educators, students and parents in different ways, and everyone needs to keep that in mind in the coming year. “Parents: Give yourself some grace,” Ruef said. “We have all had a very challenging year. It was not your job to make sure that your kid had a truly excellent educational experience this year. Whatever you did, let it be enough.” Teachers should be mindful of experiences students could be bringing with them into the classroom, such as the loss of a family member, or someone who was out of work or facing food insecurity. “I think it's important to acknowledge the challenges that kids have faced and then not simply define them in terms of that trauma but to consistently see kids as capable of brilliance and full of knowledge and assets that they can bring with them,” Ruef said. Supporting teachers Teachers, administrators, support personnel — they’ve all been working double and triple time since last March, and one key step parents can do is to put their trust in them as in-person instruction resumes. “Every teacher I know is working their heart out,” said Sarah Stapleton, an assistant professor in the UO Department of Education Studies and an affiliate faculty member with the UO Environmental Studies and UO Food Studies programs who taught the sciences to middle and high schoolers before coming to the UO. “They're also frustrated because it's impossible to feel like you're serving everyone's needs given the situation.” After playing a larger role in their children’s education during the pandemic, parents shouldn’t completely step back once their kids return to school, Stapleton said. “Parents and schools should always be in partnership,” she said. Ruef added that parents should see their children’s teachers as allies and resources for help during the transition back to the classroom. “Please find some way to thank your kids' teachers,” Ruef added. “I don't know if it's possible to express enough gratitude for what they're doing.” Taking advantage of opportunities In some cases, some subjects, such as science, were marginalized during the pandemic because of the challenges brought along by remote teaching and the hurdles to hands-on learning opportunities. And if there was ever a time that showed how important understanding science is, it was the past year, the faculty members said. Ruef and Stapleton said there are numerous ways to keep kids engaged in learning without even trying. “We live in a beautiful place, so go hiking and just take them outside,” Stapleton said. She recommended using several available apps, such as Seek and Merlin, that can help users identify plants and birds respectively. Household tasks like cooking, gardening or shopping offer other ways to include math problems into your daily routine, Ruef said. Silver linings Changes implemented during the pandemic also illustrated valuable lessons that can be applied going forward. “Zoom and other digital tools have given us a lot of options to do things online if we need to,” Stapleton said. “As an instructor, I feel like I have an expanded toolbox of instructional strategies I can use when we go back to in-person teaching.” “If it's distance or illness or whatever it is that is keeping you from being physically present, there are now ways to include people in a meaningful way,” Ruef added. After seeing how some kids thrived in an online environment, keeping an online component might be something schools will want to look at more closely, Stapleton said. Stapleton also sees the pandemic as an opportunity to reexamine teaching environments. “If we had better outdoor education infrastructure in our schools, we could have perhaps returned sooner and in safer ways or in ways that make families feel better,” Stapleton said. One major need that came to light during the pandemic was the critical role school food programs play. Stapleton, whose research focuses on food-related issues, said food program employees and volunteers stepped up once schools shut down and found ways to still fill this critical need for many families. As a result, schools redesigned many programs, partnering with nonprofits and others, to get food into the hands of families and students who were no longer gathering in a central location for school. “This whole experience can really help us appreciate the essentialness of school food,” Stapleton said. “Let the food service workers know that they are appreciated. They've all been working ceaselessly throughout impossible situations.” Summer ahead With a year like everyone has had, once the school year is done, people should feel guilt-free in taking some down time and resist the compulsion to play catch-up over the summer. “Turn the computer off for a long period of time — days even weeks,” Stapleton said. “Just take a break.” “Prioritize the break,” Ruef added. “Because teachers and kids will be more resilient if they are more whole. Teachers are going to be more effective if their batteries are recharged. If you come in strong and ready to go, you're just much better off and everybody's going to have a better experience.” —By Jim Murez, University Communications

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  • Guidance for $36 billion to Higher ed institutions announced

    May 18, 2021 02:27 pm On May 11, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced more than $36 billion in emergency grants provided under the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act for postsecondary education and released guidance about use of the funds. These grants will help over 5,000 institutions of higher education, including the University of Oregon, provide emergency financial aid to millions of students and ensure learning continues during the COVID-19 national emergency. This funding is provided by the ARP’s Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF III), with a new formula requiring at least half of the funding to be used by each institution to provide direct relief to students. Most importantly, ED released a final rule on student eligibility and clarified that all students including citizens, permanent residents, refugees, asylum seekers, DACA recipients, other DREAMers, and similar undocumented students are eligible to receive these funds. The rule also clarified that international students may receive emergency grants but notes that "institutions must ensure that funds go to students who have exceptional need.” ED’s HEERF III webpage includes the allocation tables, including the student and institutional fund allocation tables, along with new guidance for the use of funds. The University of Oregon will receive a total of $42.8 million with at least half to be paid directly to students in the form of financial aid grants. Up to half of the funds can be spent on institutional costs and losses related to the pandemic.

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  • Geri Richmond nominated for a top post in US Energy Department

    First published in Around the O on April 29, 2021. Geraldine Richmond, the UO’s Presidential Chair in Science and a much-honored professor of chemistry, has been nominated to serve in the Biden administration as undersecretary for science in the Department of Energy. Richmond is one of 16 people recently nominated by President Joe Biden for positions in his administration. Her nomination requires confirmation by the U.S. Senate. “From solving environmental challenges through the power of the basic sciences, to guiding some of America’s most critical international climate negotiations, to helping the federal government navigate the clean energy transition, each of these nominees brings a wealth of experience that will be instrumental as we work towards achieving the president’s ambitious climate goals,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. The undersecretary for science oversees the Energy Department’s Office of Science, advises the secretary of energy on energy and technology issues, monitors the department’s research and development programs, and advises the secretary on management of the DOE’s national laboratories, among other duties. A professor at the UO since 1985, Richmond has carved out a groundbreaking career studying the molecular characteristics of water surfaces, studies that have relevance to environmental issues such as oil remediation, atmospheric chemistry and alternative energy sources. She has designed state-of-the-art laser systems, optics equipment and computers that work in tandem to understand molecular processes at liquid surfaces that have environmental importance. Richmond also has been a pioneer in advocating for the advancement of women in science. In 1998, Richmond and Jeanne Pemberton of the University of Arizona co-founded COACh, the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists. The organization has delivered a series of successful workshops on negotiation, leadership and conflict resolution to more than 15,000 women in all fields of science and engineering around the U.S. Since 2010 Richmond has taken COACh to developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The international workshops, which include guidance on publishing and proposal writing, have been conducted in more than 20 countries. In addition, Richmond has served on the National Science Board and was a U.S. science envoy to Southeast Asia. She also served a term as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She has received numerous honors and awards, including the National Medal of Science from President Obama in 2016, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring from President Clinton in 1997 and the American Chemical Society’s highest honor, the Priestley Medal, in 2018.   Richmond is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Chemical Society, the American Physical Society and the Association for Women in Science. A native of Kansas, Richmond received her bachelor’s in chemistry from Kansas State University in 1975 and her doctorate in physical chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley in 1980. 

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  • Oregon gains additional seat in U.S. House of Representatives

    April 28, 2021 09:49 am On Monday, April 26, the U.S. Census Bureau released figures indicating that the state of Oregon’s population has expanded over the last decade enough to give it an additional congressional district for the first time in 40 years, increasing Oregon’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives from five to six. Ron Jarmin, acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau, led the news conference. He earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Oregon. In Oregon lawmakers redraw the state House, state Senate and federal congressional districts. State legislators have the biggest say over redistricting in many states, but other states use different methods for drawing lines, including independent commissions. This year’s redistricting effort will be hampered by a major delay in the availability of data. The number of state legislative districts is set by the Oregon constitution. Lawmakers can only move the boundary lines and they must be equal in population. Congressional districts are added and subtracted to states based on population. These districts must also be equal in population. Oregon was close to adding a new district in 2011 but fell short compared to other states, making its five districts among the most populous in the nation. The U.S. Census Bureau announced that the state of Texas will gain two seats, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon will gain one seat, and the following states will lose one seat; California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. The U.S. Census Bureau’s original plan was to deliver redistricting data to states by March 31, 2021, but like most things during the pandemic and also due to the Trump administration’s efforts to disrupt and shorten the census process, it was delayed. The bureau predicts that data will not be distributed to Oregon until August. Under the Oregon Constitution and state laws, the deadline to redraw districts is July 1, well before census data is released. This deadline prompted Oregon’s Senate and House leaders to file a petition with the state Supreme Court to ask for an extension, which was approved this month. The Oregon Legislature now has until Sept. 27 to complete the redistricting process. Patricia Southwell, UO political science professor, is quoted in multiple news articles regarding the political picture in Oregon regarding redistricting. “The real quandary for Democrats is that Oregon is much more of a competitive state than you would think,” said Southwell. “In the 2020 election 42% of Oregonian voters cast their ballot for a republican us house candidate, but they still only have one representative.” Southwell continued, “I think (Democrats are going to come under a lot of pressure, probably from Republicans more than anyone else, to recognize that there are a lot of Republicans in the state of Oregon and have been underrepresented in the U.S. House.” Democrats agreed to give up their advantage in redrawing the state’s political boundaries in exchange for a commitment from Republicans to stop blocking bills in the Legislature with delay tactics. With the agreement, Democrats and Republicans each have three members on the state’s redistricting committee.  Should lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on U.S. boundaries, the matter would be settled by a panel of five judges, one from reach of the state’s current congressional districts. If the lawmakers are unable to complete the state legislative maps by their deadline, the task would fall to Oregon Secretary of state Shemia Fagan. Follow this process on the Oregon Redistricting website.

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  • College biology course goes outside for pandemic learning

    First published in The World Link on April 27, 2021. Most college students don’t take their classes on the beach. But most college students aren’t in Aaron Galloway’s marine ecology class. In some ways, last week’s lecture felt like a standard class, with a professor telling stories about his research on lingcod to a few dozen students scribbling onto their notepads and stealing glances at their cell phones. But look any closer and the scene was anything but standard: Driftwood, rocks and camping chairs took the place of lecture hall seats, and a small whiteboard — attached to a step stool with bungee cords in case of wind gusts — stood in for slide decks and projector screens. Off to one side of the group, the South Coast’s springtime sunshine dried out a set of dripping wetsuits some students had just stepped out of. “Are you ready for me to wipe that off?” Galloway would ask before changing what was on the white board and moving on to the next topic. Galloway, a professor at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology — a University of Oregon campus tucked away in Charleston — has reinvented his course for the COVID-19 pandemic this spring, coupling field study with outdoor lectures. “This is a hands-on program. That’s what we’re selling, that’s what we’re all about,” Galloway said. Aside from being a marine biology research center and the home of the Charleston Marine Life Center, the campus is the experiential learning arm of the university’s marine biology programs. After taking introductory courses in Eugene, students spend one or three terms taking classes in Charleston. Galloway’s day-long class sessions have always included time on the beach for field study. But in past years, he’d take students back to OIMB classrooms for indoor PowerPoint lessons on research skills. That changed in early 2020: By spring break, the university had warned professors and instructors about the possibility of online classes. A few weeks later, students hunkered down to finish the school year in Zoom lectures. Professors at the OIMB, however, had a big online learning hurdle to overcome: How do you study the tide pools if you can’t visit them in person? “We couldn’t figure out how to get people out here at all, so we just cancelled it,” Galloway said of last spring’s Marine Ecology class. Hannah Hartwell, who came to the university from Alaska for its marine biology program, was one of the students who’d hoped to be a part of that class and decided to wait out the pandemic. “A couple of us are in year five now, because we wanted to wait to get out here,” Hartwell said, standing on the rocks at Cape Arago’s South Cove last week. As the world began to learn to live with the virus, the university slowly began to open up. In-person classes began at lower capacity in the winter. And at the Charleston campus, Galloway began planning for his next courses.  

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  • Universities seek funding from state during legislative session

    First published in Around the O on April 23, 2021. As the 2021 session of the Oregon Legislature passes the halfway mark, a handful of bills supported by the UO are in play, including proposals that will connect students with various benefits and expanding financial aid. A current focus of the Legislature is building the state budget for the next two years and determining how to invest funding provided to Oregon through the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. The Joint Committee on Ways and Means is currently holding virtual budget hearings in each congressional district in Oregon to gather community feedback about the 2021-23 budget, particularly seeking information on how the Legislature should balance the state budget and use federal funding from the American Rescue Plan. The UO and Oregon’s other public universities are asking for investments in public higher education, including funding the Public University Support Fund at $900 million and the Oregon Opportunity Grant at $200 million.  The UO also is seeking $58.5 million for the Heritage Project. The project would renovate and modernize UO’s oldest buildings, University and Villard halls, including making them accessible to all students. UO Day at the Capitol is scheduled for Tuesday, May 25, as a virtual event. Faculty members, staff, students and alumni are encouraged to participate by advocating for higher education funding and support for UO initiatives being proposed during the session. A video explains the role of advocates at UO Day at the Capitol. Registration is required and can be completed online. A virtual orientation on Tuesday, May 24, will include special guest UO President Michael H. Schill. “UO Day at the Capital being a completely virtual event makes it easier than ever for UO students, faculty, staff and alumni to participate,” said Kimberly Koops, UO associate director of advocacy. “Unlike previous in-person lobby day events that are a full-day commitment, this year advocates will participate in a short training the night before and then a couple of 15-minute meetings with legislators on May 25.” Hans Bernard, associate vice president for state affairs, explained the value of UO Day at the Capitol. “Legislators respond when they hear from those who are impacted by the decisions they make,” he said. “Having current students, faculty, staff and alumni participate in UO Day at the Capitol will help us make the case regarding UO’s needs this legislative session.”

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