Latest news from the UO

  • 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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  • Next election is May 18, deadline to register is April 27

    April 23, 2021 01:15 pm The deadline to register to vote in the May 18, 2021 Special Election in Oregon is Tuesday, April 27 at 11:59 pm. The ballot will include candidates for local school board races, community college board races, park, fire, and water district boards, and county-wide ballot initiatives. UO Government & Community Relations asks you to check your registration and make a plan to vote. There are multiple ways to register as an Oregon voter or update your voter registration. Options include: Online at www.oregonvotes.gov no later than 11:59 p.m., Tuesday, April 27. The online option is available to those with a valid Oregon driver’s license, DMV-issued identification card or learner’s permit. Mail a voter registration card to the Elections Office with a postmark no later than Tuesday, April 27. Voter registration cards are available at the ASUO Office in the EMU and at local elections offices. In-person registration at a county elections office - A list of offices can be found here; due to COVID protocols you may need to schedule an appointment. Elections offices will start mailing ballots to registered voters on Wednesday, April 28. In Lane County, no voter’s pamphlet will be mailed for this election. The League of Women Voters’ VOTE411 website provides nonpartisan information on candidates and initiatives, and Lane County voters can see candidate and measure filings here. Ballots must be received by 8 p.m. on Election Day, May 18. In Oregon, ballots can be mailed postage free, or returned to an official ballot drop box. A ballot that has been postmarked by election day but does not arrive at the elections office by May 18 will not be counted. Ballots placed in official ballot drop boxes up to 8 p.m. on Election Day will be counted, and your vote will still count if you are in line at the drop box at 8 p.m. Find your nearest drop box here.

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  • CHC's Mikala Capage wins Goldwater Scholarship

    CHC's Mikala Capage, junior, won the highly prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.  April 22, 2021 Story by Sammy DiMinno, CHC CommunicationsPhoto by Maddie Knight, CHC Communications When junior Mikala Capage opened an email about the Goldwater Scholarship she applied for, she was prepared. And then she was ecstatic. It was the second time she had applied for the Goldwater; the first email resulting in disappointment. Now, after the second email, she can say she is the 2021 Goldwater Scholarship recipient. “It feels very satisfying, I think to do all of the work for the application, but also do all of the work for research over the last couple years and classes,” Capage, a biology major, said.  “It definitely is very satisfying, I think to kind of have that recognized at the national level.” The Goldwater Foundation provides up to a maximum of $7,500 to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. The scholarship is used to help cover the amount equal to the cost of tuition, mandatory fees, books, and room and board. Along with the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, Capage is also the Vice President for Research and Innovation (VPRI) Undergraduate Fellowship recipient of 2020 and the Knight Campus Undergraduate Scholar of 2021. Since her first year of high school, Capage has always had a passion for research and biology and her love for research has only continued to grow. She learned about epigenetics during high school from one of her favorite biology professors and knew that she wanted to know more. Her passion for research and epigenetics led her to join Professor David Garcia’s lab her freshman year at the University of Oregon. Capage has been part of Garcia’s research team since 2019. She explains that at the lab, she researches prion proteins as a potential beneficial epigenetic mechanism that would allow cells to respond to special conditions in their environment. Her research is focused on identifying novel yeast prions, which are prions that have not been characterized before. “Mikala excels in her studies, but it's her aptitude for research that won her the Goldwater,” Garcia said. “Not only does she work incredibly hard, but she is never afraid to question an idea or approach.” Melissa Graboyes, one of Capage’s mentors and an Assistant Professor of African & Medical History at the CHC, encouraged her to apply for the award again and helped Capage with the application process.  “There's a lot of great support in the research side of things and then also within the honors college,” she said of Graboyes. “So that's definitely two sides of how it was possible to apply and win this award. She's a really, really great mentor.” Capage’s mentors have helped shape her future and has helped her explore what she wants to pursue in the future. She hopes to advise future graduate and undergraduate students by leading a research lab at a R1 research institution and providing the same guidance that her mentors, like Garcia and Graboyes, have done for her.  “That's definitely the goal to kind of be the advisors that I have now and like be the mentors that I have now,” she added. “That means so much to me.” After graduating from the UO, Capage intends to apply to PhD programs to research and head towards a dissertation. The Goldwater award is just another step along that path to continue the work of her mentors at UO.

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  • Biden skinny budget proposal includes increases for Pell Grant

    April 14, 2021 12:07 pm On April 9, President Joe Biden sent a letter to congressional leadership outlining his request for FY22 discretionary spending. The “skinny budget” includes investments in public health, the economy, the climate crisis, advancing equity, restoring America’s global standing and confronting 21st century security challenges. A formal budget request is expected in May. The 58 page request can be found here. The $1.5 trillion budget includes a 40 percent increase in education spending and an increase for health but provides little detail about allocations to specific higher education programs, apart from a recommendation for an increase to the Pell Grant. Overall, the budget represents an 8.4 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The proposed budget also requests significant increases for federal research investments, including increases for: the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy Office of Science, NASA, and climate research across several federal agencies. It also proposes funding for the creation of two new federal research agencies -- ARPA-H on health research and ARPA-C on climate-related science -- modeled on the Department of Defense’s DARPA. Financial Aid: The budget would increase the maximum Pell Grant award by $400 to approximately $7,000 in FY22. It also proposes making Pell Grants available to DACA recipients. The proposal notes that the investment in the Pell Grant program “is one piece of a more comprehensive proposal to double the maximum Pell Grant.” Research and development: The request includes:  $15 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 17 percent increase from the FY21 enacted level;  $10.2 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a 20 percent increase above FY21 ($8.5 billion). This level of funding would support $1.2 billion for climate and clean energy related research, increase by $100 million funding for programs that aim to increase participation of groups traditionally underrepresented in science and engineering, and establish a new Directorate for technology, innovation, and partnerships within NSF to help translate research into practical applications (no funding level is specified for the new directorate); $46.1 billion for the Department of Energy (DOE), a $4.3 billion or 10.2 percent increase from FY 21 enacted level. The President’s request prioritizes and increases investments in climate-related research across several federal agencies. The discretionary request proposes over $4 billion to fund a broad portfolio of research across multiple agencies including the Department of the Interior, NASA, the National Science Foundation and others to improve understanding of the changing climate and inform adaptation and resilience measures. The President's request is silent on other student aid and student success programs such as the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG), Federal Work Study (FWS), TRIO, Title VI (International Education Programs), and the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN). The request is also silent on the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH). The Association of American Universities (AAU)’s overview of the proposal can be found here.

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  • White House releases $2.25 trillion American jobs plan

    April 14, 2021 12:01 pm On March 31, the White House released a framework for a $2.25 trillion, eight-year infrastructure package that aims to improve the nation’s transportation, renewable energy, and manufacturing infrastructure, including significant funding for scientific research. According to a White House fact sheet, the American Jobs Plan will include funds to “create millions of good jobs, rebuild our country’s infrastructure, and position the United States to out-compete China.” The Association of American Universities (AAU) issued a statement about the bill, saying it would “help undo years of neglect to the foundation of America’s scientific and innovation leadership by ramping up investments in basic science, critical technologies, research infrastructure, innovation incubators, and manufacturing.” The AAU summary of the American Jobs Plan outlines specific provisions of interest to research universities:   $300 billion for innovation, commercialization, and manufacturing; $180 billion for research and development and the technologies of the future; $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure to reach 100 percent coverage; $40 billion for high demand sector-based training programs; and $12 billion for community college facilities and technology. A visual breakdown of the infrastructure plan can be found here. This is the first of two plans the Administration will release as part of its “build back better” agenda. The administration is expected to release a second plan in April that will reportedly total $1 trillion and include proposals to expand health care, extend the child tax credit, and expand access to K-12 and higher education, including proposals for universal preschool and free community college. The second plan is expected to include tax increases for the highest income earners to offset proposed new expenditures.

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  • UO discovery could one day help rejuvenate the adult brain

    First published in Around the O on April 14, 2021. Imagine a drug that could temporarily reenergize plasticity in the brain to treat autism or schizophrenia, or even help an adult’s aging brain pick up a new language or learn to play a musical instrument. Such are the potential, down-the-road medical implications of a discovery made by a postdoctoral researcher in the Institute of Neuroscience lab of Chris Doe, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor in the UO’s Department of Biology. In a basic science study detailed April 7 in the journal Nature, Sarah Ackerman identified nonelectrical cells that transition the brain from a highly plastic state, open to rapid learning, into a less moldable, mature state in the developing central nervous system of fruit flies. The cells, known as astrocytes for their star-like shapes, and associated genes eventually could become therapeutic targets, Ackerman said. “All of the cell types and signaling pathways I looked at are present in humans,” she said. “Two of the genes that I identified are susceptibility genes linked to neurodevelopmental disorders including autism and schizophrenia.” The failure to close so-called critical periods of brain plasticity in development also is associated with epilepsy, she said. “In childhood, you can rapidly learn new tasks, remember things and learn new languages, all of which becomes harder as we age,” Ackerman said. “The reason for that is that the circuits in the young brain are really plastic; they can change in response to experience and activity. I am interested in the mechanisms that regulate that shift from that plastic and dynamic state to the more stable adult state.” Astrocytes are glial cells found in large numbers in the central nervous system. They have diverse roles that are based on where in the brain and spinal cord they are active.  They are, Ackerman said, “the guardians of synapses in terms of assuring proper functioning in both their formation and later performance.” In the research, Ackerman focused on the motor circuitry of Drosophila fly larvae over specific points in development. These invertebrates are standard research models that allow rapid genetic exploration of molecular mechanisms using human-related genes. Ackerman used light-based optogenetics to selectively turn motor neurons off and on. The neurons, she said, exhibited striking changes to their shape and connections — their plasticity — in response to the manipulations. Curiously, Ackerman’s team saw astrocytes pouring into the nervous system, extending fine projections and enveloping neuronal connections just as the circuitry switches from a plastic to stable state. Ackerman then screened for candidate genes associated with astrocytes to determine which molecular pathways direct the window to close and shut down motor plasticity. That work pointed directly at neuroligin, a protein on astrocyte projections, that binds to neurexin, a receptor protein on dendrites from developing neurons. Eliminating that genetic pathway extended plasticity, while precocious expression of these proteins closed plasticity too early in development. Both proteins are present in the human nervous system. Changes in the timing of plasticity also were found to later impact behavior. A brief extension of plasticity resulted in abnormal crawling of the fly larvae several days later. Extending periods of plasticity in human development, Ackerman said, are tied to neurodevelopmental disorders. A tragic human example of how vital this critical period is, Doe said, may be the case of abandoned Romanian children found in an orphanage in the 1980s. Hundreds of babies had been neglected except when they were fed or washed, according to news reports. The neglect would have occurred during that key period of plasticity when experiences and learning mold the brain, Doe said. When later removed from the orphanage four of every five of the children were unable to engage socially, according to research that followed the children into adulthood. “If we can understand that mechanism of the closing of this critical developmental period, we could possibly reopen plasticity in children that were neglected or in adults who want to learn a new language or learn a new task,” Doe said. That therapeutic potential is a long way off, the UO researchers said, but it is a major future goal. Any such drug that may be developed will require precise titration to find “the sweet spot for plasticity,” Ackerman said. Her research will next move into similar studies in vertebrates, specifically in zebrafish, which were developed into a model research organism at the UO in the 1970s. Co-authors with Ackerman and Doe were former UO undergraduate student Nelson A. Perez-Catalan, now in a postbaccalaureate program at the University of Chicago, and Marc R. Freeman, director and senior scientist of the Vollum Institute at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Ackerman’s research involved mentoring UO undergraduate students, Doe noted. Perez-Catalan won a 2020 undergraduate research award for his work, which was detailed in his thesis “Jack-of-all-trades, The Role of Astrocytes in Circuit Formation and Plasticity.” The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and National Institutes of Health funded the research through grants to Doe and Freeman, a former postdoctoral researcher in Doe’s UO lab. Ackerman was supported by a Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship awarded in 2017 by the ALS Association for research related to which amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. —By Jim Barlow, University Communications

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  • Study unlocks how wild bees can survive habitat pressures

    First published in Around the O on April 12, 2021. A research team led by University of Oregon biologist Lauren Ponisio has uncovered how native bee species may be best equipped to survive intensive agricultural practices and climate change in California’s Central Valley. Wild bees that are persisting amid shrinking habitats are those that are flexible in their pollination behavior when around other wild bee populations, Ponisio’s team reported in a study published April 1 in Nature Ecology & Evolution. The research examined 1,150 network interactions involving 157 wild bee species and 152 plant species at 63 sites spread across three counties. The final analysis focused on adult bees from 31 species whose pollination activities with at least five plants overlapped during crop-growing seasons. “We looked at the ability of these bees to change their roles in these plant-pollinator interaction networks,” Ponisio said. “This ability proved to be important for which species persisted in the landscape as well as for the higher number of habitat patches being occupied.” A key to that vitality was the ability of bee species to choose plants being less targeted for pollination by competing species, said co-author Marilia Gaiarsa, a postdoctoral researcher in Ponisio’s former lab at the University of California, Riverside. Ponisio joined the UO’s Data Science Initiative in July 2020 as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology. She’s also a member of the Institute of Ecology and Evolution. Gaiarsa is now a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow at the University of Zurich, where she is studying the response of species interactions to climate change. “In the Central Valley, there are areas of intensive industrial agriculture, monocultural farming, that are experiencing a 90 percent habitat loss for native bees,” Ponisio said. Understanding what factors promote ecosystem health and ecosystem services, including pollination, Gaiarsa said, is vital for helping species facing extinction from such drivers as intensive agriculture, deforestation and climate change. “One way to turn around these negative effects is through the process of ecosystem restoration,” she said. “By going into a degraded area and planting native plants known to be important resources for bees, we can restore some of the lost interactions and potentially restore the populations of these species.” The valley is a product of large land grants obtained for farming years ago. Large, single-crop enterprises dominate the region. Over time, hedgerows were added between some farms to restore patches of native plants that support native species, especially bees crucial to pollination. Bees, in turn, need the plants’ nectar for nutrition. Hedgerows observed in the study were created by planting flowers along the margins of fields more than a decade ago in a project led by study co-author Claire Kremen, Ponisio’s doctoral adviser at the University of California, Berkeley. “At these hedgerows there are tiny patches of bee populations in these seas of monoculture agriculture,” Ponisio said. “Some colonize these patches; others go live in them for a while but eventually go extinct.” By looking at the population dynamics of various species, the researchers sought to understand if some visited different habitat patches and, in turn, how well they persisted. Occupying different patches, Gaiarsa said, should increase interactions at each site and potentially increase plant diversity and overall ecosystem health. “If a particular bumblebee species pollinates several plants that are only pollinated by a couple of other bee species, maybe that bumblebee species will be able to colonize more habitat patches because there may be very little competition with other bees for its plant resources,” she said. The Army Research Office, National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture supported the project. —By Jim Barlow, University Communications

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  • Physics Student is Melting Glass Ceilings

    First published in Around the O on April 7, 2021. Nicole Wales will probably not be the only University of Oregon senior graduating this June with dreams of becoming a science professor. And there will also be others who represent the first in their family to attend college.  However, few of her fellow Ducks spent their spare time mapping their own brain using an MRI scan and learning code so they could research the physics of melting glass. What really sets Wales apart, though, are the challenges she overcame just to get to the university, let alone thrive as a scholar and researcher. “I’m an underdog,” says the 28-year-old chemistry and physics major from Coos Bay. “My mom was a bartender and my dad was a diesel mechanic. There was never any expectation that I would pursue a college degree. But I decided to try anyway.” While she was growing up, her family didn’t have a computer or internet access. But Wales worked hard at North Bend High School, earned a 3.93 GPA, graduated in 2010, and excelled at Southwestern Oregon Community College (SOCC). Then she faced the first of several difficult challenges that delayed—but never quashed—her promising academic career. In 2013, her father died by suicide.  “That was the day I hope will be the worst of my life,” Wales says. “I can’t even begin to describe the heartbreak. But I can say that I would eventually bust through this trauma with a relentless new drive.” Then another setback. Wales suffers from Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid. After being dropped from her deceased father’s health insurance, she tried in vain to find coverage. But this was before current laws that regulate the coverage of preexisting conditions.  She was unable to get the prescription medication she needed. Left untreated, her condition culminated in a thyrotoxic storm—a life-threatening condition that could have been easily prevented.  “I woke up in the emergency room and didn’t know where I was,” Wales says. “Ambulance rides and staying overnight in the hospital are expensive. That was pretty tough. It took years of working, often two jobs at a time, to pay everything off.” She worked at Taco Bell and Umpqua Bank. She had stints as a tugboat deckhand and a process server for local attorneys (Wales describes the latter as the most dangerous job she’s ever had). But she persisted, paid her medical bills, and returned to SOCC to take more classes, even though she had earned her associate’s degree. Wales explored becoming a pharmacist, shadowed a local surgeon, and continued learning until she ran out of science courses to take. Then she heard about the UO’s Scholarships for Oregon Scientists, a program for incoming physics, chemistry, and biochemistry majors. “I thought I might as well try,” Wales says. She was accepted and enrolled at the university in 2017. “Once I got that scholarship for the UO, I knew I couldn’t pass it up,” she says. “That was amazing. It changed everything for me. Once I got to campus, things started to pick up.” But adjusting to university life was challenging. Wales felt alienated and struggled to overcome a misconception that she didn’t belong or have what it takes to succeed—imposter syndrome. “Between the ages of 19 and 24, I was fighting every step of the way just to get an inch closer to school,” Wales says. “This was in sharp contrast to most of my peers. For them, college was simply something they were expected to do.”  Nicole Wales has distinguished herself through research into the physical properties of glass—and by what she’s overcome  

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