Originally published in Around the O on July 6, 2018. It’s not easy to transform an institution.
Buildings and traditions date back more than a century. There are a thousand moving parts to recalibrate—programs, people, priorities. How does a 142-year-old university move boldly into the future while retaining the best of all that has been accomplished?
This is the comprehensive shift happening now at the University of Oregon—an evolution that will be as visible in the institution’s academic offerings as it is in the campus architecture. New buildings, new programs, new opportunities for researchers, students, and athletes, all anchored in a steadfast foundation.
The transformation is rooted in that which distinguishes the UO: innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, entrepreneurial spirit, and philanthropy—nearly $2 billion in support in the current campaign. Change will arrive in 2020, when the university touts the first phase of an unprecedented, $1 billion science-and-education campus; a reimagined Hayward Field that connects the legends of the past to champions of the years ahead; a campus-wide initiative to tap the exponential growth of data in our lives; and an ever-changing generation of students whose strength lies in their diversity.
These are just four of the paradigm-shifting changes that will remake the face of the institution, exemplars of the transformation that will characterize a new day—the University of Oregon, 2.0.
In a speech last spring unveiling the new Hayward Field, President Michael Schill issued a call to action that captures the moment:
“The message for every student, every faculty and staff member, and every alumnus is clear: Don’t come to the University of Oregon to be the best in town. Don’t come to be the best in the state or even in the country. You come to the University of Oregon to be the best in the world.”
Growing, and Growing More Diverse
Roger Thompson is excited about the future. It’s not just that fewer Ducks are graduating with debt (and less of it) than their peers nationwide—the vice president for Student Services and Enrollment Management has witnessed only upward trends since joining the UO in 2010: growth in student population and academic quality and, above all, growth in diversity.
The class of 2017 was the most ethnically diverse in the university’s history, a trend that has continued for eight years running. There are more first-generation college students and a better mix of those from urban and rural areas.
“The University of Oregon has become more diverse, both in terms of race and ethnicity, as well as a socioeconomic standpoint,” says Thompson. “We’ve also become more diverse from a geographic standpoint. We now have all 50 states represented at the UO, as well as about 100 countries from around the world. In every way that you can define diversity, our student body is becoming more diverse.”
The growth results from the effort to make the UO more of a national, even international school, than a West Coast destination. Thompson points out that the university is now more diverse than the state in which it resides.
“Our goal as a university is to prepare people to compete in a 21st- century global economy,” says Thompson. “The more we can expose students to students who are different than them, have a different worldview, give them the chance to live, learn, recreate, with students who come from outside of the US, the more it will help all of them to prepare for a world that’s becoming very small in many ways.”
|The Changing Face of the UO Student||2000||2017|
|GPA for entering freshmen||3.40||3.55|
|Percentage of ethnic minorities||12.8%||26.8%|
|Percentage of international students||7.7%||11.8%|
Accelerating Science Education and Research
In 2020, an ambitious $1 billion effort to transform science education and research will come to life: the opening of the first building on the University of Oregon’s Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.
An important milestone will be reached this summer when Robert Guldberg starts work as vice president and executive director of the initiative, made possible with a $500 million gift from the Knights. As a scientist and entrepreneur, Guldberg has completed research that has led to startup companies and new medical innovations that are now impacting patient care.
Guldberg, who currently leads the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at the Georgia Institute of Technology, brings a multifaceted background that dovetails well with the roots of the Knight Campus, which grew out of the UO’s decades-long interdisciplinary culture. Continuing this tradition, the campus will become an integration point where people and ideas come together, a place where biologists, human physiologists, chemists, and bioengineers work on effective diagnostics, therapies, and interventions to treat cancer, degenerative diseases, and traumatic injuries.
These points of integration help “complete the innovation cycle,” Guldberg says, and will be fostered by new partnerships.
His own experience with Oregon Health and Science University and the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine serves as a prime example. Guldberg and his OHSU collaborator, Dr. Kenton Gregory, have led a national consortium of projects on treating severe extremity trauma—injuries to bone, muscle, blood vessels, and nerves. The consortium is developing numerous innovative regenerative therapies, some of which are now in clinical trials. Guldberg’s research is focused on complex bone injuries and his most recent work suggests that monitoring circulating immune cells in the blood may allow clinicians to predict which patients will heal well and which will have complications.
As the Knight Campus takes shape, the partnership between UO and OHSU will deepen. UO students will have access to the clinical perspective of a medical school and OHSU students will be able to explore computational science, core life-science areas like biology and chemistry, and entrepreneurial education offered by a comprehensive research university.
Entrepreneurship is key to understanding how scientific inquiry will be practiced at the Knight Campus. Guldberg describes it as building on the UO’s strong foundation of life and physical sciences by integrating applied scientists, biomedical engineers, and those with entrepreneurial experience.
Says Guldberg: “Instead of starting with a fundamental question, like how does a cell work, you might start with a fundamental problem, such as how do we cost-effectively make cells, [thereby] creating a shorter path toward translation into a commercial product or a new therapy for patients.”
Starting with a market or clinical need requires educational resources as well as a cultural shift. The Knight Campus will offer both, with new degree programs, including those in bioengineering and applied science, and opportunities for undergraduate research. It will also provide an economic impact to the state of Oregon, through the development of technology and startup companies.
“This, in my view, is going to make the UO one of the premier places in the nation that people identify when they think of institutions that are effectively translating research into real-world impact,” Guldberg says.
Making Sense of Big Data
By building an onramp to the superhighway of big data—both figuratively and through the hardware and software that improve connectivity—UO scientists and students will crunch numbers faster and more economically. Research projects that once were laborious and resource-heavy will move to supercomputers that run the same tests digitally, eliminating costs and saving time. Students in disciplines as different as business and biology will collaborate and will be trained in techniques that will prepare them for the skyrocketing number of new jobs using data science in these and many other fields. In effect, the UO will become an intellectual center for tackling some of the world’s most pressing questions.
Consider Leslie Leve, a professor in the College of Education who specializes in child development.
Leve is examining how a wide swath of environmental and biological factors influence child health and obesity. Historically, that meant the use of questionnaires and interviews to understand issues in the home or at school.
Today, Leve can tap large amounts of data across disciplines. She is collaborating with biologist Bill Cresko, director of the data science initiative, and fellow biologist Brendan Bohannan to use gut and skin microbiome samples to examine how genetics and biology influence child development; she is also working with geographers who use geocoding to identify geographic factors such as access to healthy food and clean water.
“When we blend expertise across disciplines and merge data science with more traditional methods, we can really elevate our research and deepen our understanding of these issues,” Leve says.
For centuries, liberal-arts schools have sought to provide students with the broadest education possible to help them succeed in the world. That world is changing rapidly.
Says Cresko: “In many ways the 21st century requires the expansion of that liberal-arts education to involve computation, to involve data science. Our long history of being an interdisciplinary liberal-arts research university positions us well to be a leader in this revolution.”
Welcoming the Worlds
“It will mean that we’ve grown up,” Ellen Schmidt-Devlin says, when asked what the new Hayward Field will mean for her.
The cofounder and director of the UO’s Sports Product Management Program speaks with authority. She ran at Hayward from 1976 to 1979, was mentored by renowned coach Bill Bowerman, is an AIAW All-American and number six on UO’s all-time outdoor mile list, and spent almost three decades leading divisions for Nike. When it opens in 2020, the new Hayward Field, made possible by Phil and Penny Knight and others, will enable the UO to recruit Oregon’s top athletes and those from across the world, Schmidt-Devlin says, as students and competitors at international events.
Hayward will set world-class standards, becoming an optimal experience for both athlete and spectator, with permanent seating for more than 12,000 and a capacity that will top out at nearly 30,000 for special events. In 2021, one of the largest worldwide television audiences for the year will be trained on the IAAF World Outdoor Championships; nearly 1 billion viewers will behold the UO, and its new Hayward Field.
“What will make this stadium particularly special in the world of track and field is that, unlike almost all the other major track venues worldwide, it is specifically designed for that sport only,” says Jim Petsche, project manager. “That keeps the athletes close to the spectators, and spectators close to the athletes, making for a more exciting experience for both.”
The stadium will join the science evolution at the UO when the Department of Human Physiology moves to the northwest corner of the practice level. The department will enjoy new offices, conference rooms, and research and lab areas, including a roll-up door to the 140-meter indoor straightaway, allowing students and researchers close proximity to the athletes they study. The new facilities will support research in biomechanics, drawing the best scientists and pairing them with the best track-and-field athletes. An indoor, state-of-the-art training center will serve student-athletes.
Schmidt-Devlin believes science leads to business innovations, and in this way Hayward will, like the Knight Campus, also lead an entrepreneurial tack. “We are the Silicon Valley of the sports and outdoor industry here in Oregon,” she says. “We own it. The state of Oregon can continue to lead. Our facilities need to follow.”
A century of history is palpable at Hayward, where 20 world records were set. The new stadium will pay homage to the past through exhibits and displays housed in the field’s 165-foot-tall landmark tower and adjacent museum that will honor the history of the venue and the people who coached and competed here. Those who have experienced the roar of the crowd at the historic Hayward will never forget it, but the Hayward Field of 2020 will set new records if athletes worldwide dream of competing there, if our understanding of physiology is transformed, if new sports products revolutionize the industry.
“In the end, we had to do just exactly as Bowerman coached his athletes with runners on their tail,” says Petsche: “Don’t look back, look ahead.”
—By Tara Rae Miner
Tara Rae Miner, BA ’96 (English), is a freelance writer and editor in Portland. She has finished two Eugene marathons at Hayward Field.
The Knight Campus, Hayward Field, a data science initiative, and shifting student demographics are just four indicators of growth at the UO. Other efforts affirming the university’s rise:
- To assist in raising the four-year graduation rate by 10 percent by 2020, the UO will nearly double the number of professional advisors on campus and has adopted a data-driven advising platform that helps advisors and students collaborate to achieve graduation goals.
- The School of Journalism and Communication launched the Media Center for Science and Technology to research ways to convey scientific concepts, train students for the high-tech storytelling careers of the future, and enhance public understanding of science and technology.
- The Urbanism Next Center, supported by the Presidential Fund for Excellence, is working with US cities and is leading research examining the impacts of autonomous vehicles, ecommerce, and the sharing economy.
- The UO—collaborating with OSU, OHSU, PSU and the state—joined the Oregon Fiber Partnership, to build and operate a statewide optical network to advance research and innovation, education, healthcare, government services, and broadband development for all Oregonians.
- Online education: The UO will hire a first-ever associate vice provost for online and distance education to guide online- and distance-education strategy.
- Through new hires, the Prevention Science Institute, based in the College of Education, is expanding research into the genetic nature of obesity.
- Willie and Donald Tykeson Hall, a $39 million hub for the College of Arts and Sciences opening in 2019, will be home to a new paradigm of integrated career and academic advising, serving all first-year students across campus.
- Chapman Hall, academic home of the Clark Honors College, underwent a $10.5 million renovation to create cutting-edge, high-tech classrooms and improve other learning and collaboration spaces.
- The $2.2 million Black Cultural Center, slated to open in fall 2019, will accommodate studying, student meetings, and more while showcasing cultural pieces and artwork that celebrate Black heritage.
- Renovations continue on Pacific Hall, the UO’s original science building, to add modern labs, enable the recruitment of new faculty, and expand research opportunities for undergraduates.