Destruction and horror on an unimaginable scale lashed the people of Oregon in a series of epidemics beginning 500 years ago. Details of the devastation are described in this excerpt from The People Are Dancing Again: The History of the Siletz Tribe of Western Oregon (University of Washington Press, 2010) by Charles Wilkinson. Currently at the University of Colorado Law School, he previously served on the law faculty at the UO, where he received the university-wide Ersted Award for Distinguished Teaching. He was honored at a reception on campus in April.
The first blow hit Indian people before they even saw the faces of the intruders. The killing germs may have invaded Oregon as early as the 1520s. The spark, set off by an arriving Spanish seaman infected with smallpox, ignited in what is now the Dominican Republic. The disease spread like wildfire, to the mainland, then up the East Coast, into the Midwest, out to the Great Plains. All of that is documented. What is not finally known is whether the smallpox moved beyond the Rocky Mountains. Some researchers believe that it did, while others consider the evidence incomplete.
But there is no question that European diseases ravaged Oregon by the 1770s. Smallpox epidemics came first, but the helpless people of the Siletz tribes who lacked immunity to the foreign germs also were infected by measles, malaria, gonorrhea, typhoid, tuberculosis, and other diseases. The attacks were relentless, hitting Oregon tribes at least every decade from the 1770s through the 1850s and beyond.
The effect was grotesque beyond any understanding. In his major contribution to the history of the Pacific Northwest, The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence, historian Robert Boyd documented the epidemics, estimated the aboriginal populations of Pacific Northwest tribes, and compared them to the post-epidemic population numbers. For the tribes in the Siletz confederation, the estimated population declined from approximately 52,000 to 4,200. In less than a century, they lost roughly 92 percent of their people.
Where did the affliction come from? When did it start? The most likely culprit is a crew member infected with smallpox on the 1775 voyage of two Spanish ships, the Santiago and the Sonora, captained by Bruno Hezeta and Juan Francisco de la Bodega. The explorers met with Indians at the mouth of the Trinidad River 225 miles to the south of Yaquina Bay, and at the Quinault River, nearly that far to the north. The Trinidad encounter is especially suspect because a large Tolowa village—with close social relations to the Tututni and other Athapaskan tribes of southern Oregon—was depopulated at about this time, probably from a smallpox attack. The disease easily could have moved north from there. But wherever the source of this first reported incident—and some scholars have speculated about even more distant origins—smallpox is a speedy, long-distance traveler that comes invisibly, in the dark of night, and then it is too late to react.
At first, Indian people were mystified by the invader. Amelia Brown, a Tolowa, recounted: “Old timers said that the sickness came from the south—it just came by itself.”
* * *
Suffering swept over the tribes. Coquelle Thompson of the Coquille solemnly explained the dread. “They were afraid to call it by name. They spoke of ‘That kind of sickness.’ One little spot and a person would die. It was just like cutting brush . . . Men, women, children—all go . . . No one could cure for that kind of sickness. They were afraid, you know. Terribly.” Daloose Jackson (Coos) thought he heard cries from the old people buried in the graveyard. He knew the cries were a warning: “Oh, the smallpox is going to go through again.” A federal agent taking a census on the southern Oregon Coast found that the death toll of smallpox and measles epidemics in the Chetco and Rogue watersheds was so great that “many of their once populous villages are now left without a representative.” Of the Clatsop and Chinook tribes at the mouth of the Columbia, Meriwether Lewis wrote in his journal on February 6, 1806, that
the smallpox has distroyed a great number of the natives in this quarter, It prevailed about 4 years since among the Clatsops and destroy[ed] several hundred of them, four of their chiefs fell victyms to it’s ravages. . . I think the late ravages of the small pox may well account for the number of remains of villages which we find deserted on the river and Sea coast in this quarter.
Deeply ingrained tribal customs aggravated the effects of the unfamiliar diseases. When a person took ill, it was a tradition for medicine men, family, and others to gather around and give support. This hastened the spread of the viruses. The sweat houses, places of healing in precontact times, also contributed. The heat of the sweat, and especially the subsequent plunge into a river or the ocean, could seal the fate of the victim.
Terrible though the smallpox epidemics of the late 1700s and early 1800s were, the “fever and ague” crisis of the 1830s may have been worse. Robert Boyd calls this outbreak of malaria “the single most important epidemiological event in the recorded history of what would eventually become the state of Oregon.” The devastation started at Fort Vancouver and spread to the mouth of the Columbia, moved upriver a hundred miles, and raged through the Willamette and Upper Rogue valleys and into northern California. Chinooks and Clatsops were among the first to suffer:
During its worst years, the few surviving natives of the lower river could no longer bury their numerous dead in their usual manner. Corpses, denied canoe interment, piled up along the shores to fatten carrion eaters, and famished dogs wailed pitifully for their dead masters. Surviving natives dared not remove or care for the bodies as they normally so meticulously did. Nor dared they molest markers in the river in fear of more fever. Natives burned their villages attempting to destroy the contamination. For years skeletons of victims would bleach on gaunt and dreary shorelines like so many pieces of driftwood.
While Indians made up most of the dead, whites also were infected. Ezra Hamilton, an early settler who survived, left this account of the epidemic’s torment:
[Of] the fever and ague, intermitent feavor and other malarial diseases, The fever and ague was the worst and acted pecular. I was struck with it seven Sundays in succession. Would not have it durig the week. The act at work kep it of[f]. I have had shakes that lasted 2 ours, fevor two ours. It was no chill, but a geneuine shake. Seamed I would freeze. All the covers you might put on would not keep you warm. I used to rape [wrap] the covers around my feet and take the corners in my mouth. When got through shakig I found I had chewed the corners of the blankets. The fever and ague was about 4 feet deep all over that country!
The “fever and ague” cut deeply into Willamette Valley tribes, the once populous Kalapuya and Molala tribes, until they were all but extinguished, fragments of their former selves. Farther south, the Takelma and Shasta lost many people. All tribes endured serial attacks, as numerous other epidemics of smallpox and other diseases were close behind.
With most of their people gone—nearly every tribe lost more than 80 percent, with the more remote south coast Athapaskans losing about two-thirds—one wonders how the survivors could cope. Who among us today can fully comprehend losing nearly the whole population of our own town or city? Most of our family and friends?
For some, athletic competition is a somewhat cold calculus of distance and time, training and technique; but for Olympian runner Kenny Moore ’66, MFA ’72, competition at its most elevated levels also enters the realm of the tribal and the global, the archetypal and the transcendent. Track Town, USA—Hayward Field: America’s Crown Jewel of Track and Field (Richard Clarkson and Associates, 2010) by Kenny Moore, Brian Lanker, and Rich Clarkson, tells the story of Oregon track and field with Moore’s text and an astounding collection of images—from Hayward Field’s earliest days through its most storied moments and up to athletes competing there today. The book’s first chapter is titled “That Hayward Feeling,” which begins with the following excerpt.
There is a reason Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, is the great American track and field magnet. There is a reason champions have come here for a century to battle it out, driven by deafening crowds. There is a reason Track Town, USA hungers to see the closest, most brutal contests.
Part of it is the impossible human spectrum that is track and field. Hayward roars on nine different body types: explosive, 300-pound weight men, touchy, prideful, bullet-body sprinters, fashion-model high jumpers, gymnast-god pole vaulters, cat-flexible hurdlers, regally proportioned milers, blocky, whippy javelin and hammer throwers, and bouncing-stork triple jumpers, hurling themselves distances that crack bones. Hayward especially cheers ectomorphic distance runners, even though they look “skinny to the point of disfigurement.” When your mother tells you that, you know you’re ready to race.
Hayward Field has always been awestruck by things 10 standard deviations from humble normal. Of course that doesn’t explain why track grew ever more beloved here and not elsewhere. But who can speak for elsewhere? Hayward speaks for itself. It became track’s Carnegie Hall by pursuing a powerful moral purpose. Hayward’s sustaining faith is not a spirit so much as a feeling, a recognition arising from our deepest atavistic nature. Since we are all descended from ancestors who survived by running and throwing, we cannot turn away from a tight race or a looming, whistling hammer. Hayward embraces everything we have evolved to understand as glorious.
Part of the Hayward feeling is knowing that there is no higher calling than to be of service, rigorous, sacrificial service. The runner going for a record is one with the soldier on the beaches of Normandy, driving on, under orders from the stamping, thundering greater good.
Part of the Hayward feeling is understanding, with the ancient Greeks, that there is more honor in outrunning a man than killing him. Competition is the Olympian’s answer to war. Giants lifting pilsners an hour after being screaming enemies in the ring is the meaning of civilization.
Actually Thinking vs. Just Believing (Authorhouse, 2010) by Douglas Matheson, MA ’84 (actuallythinking.com) . “In Actually Thinking vs. Just Believing, Doug Matheson discusses the importance of learning how to think, not just what to think” by using a variety of real-world examples.
Consumer Behavior Knowledge for Effective Sports and Event Marketing (Psychology Press, 2010) coedited by Lynn Kahle, UO marketing professor, and Chung-Hyun Kim. “As a whole, this book reflects the core ideas: To influence consumer behavior in terms of time, money, and emotional attachment to brands and products, one must first understand the behavior.”
It Was Over When . . . Tales of Romantic Dead Ends (Sourcebooks, Inc., 2011) by Robert K. Elder ’00. Described as “addictive” by fellow author Kevin Smith (AKA Silent Bob of the comic duo Jay and Silent Bob), Elder’s latest book compiles snippets of insight on how relationships can go awry.
Lincoln’s Enduring Legacy (Lexington Books, 2011) coedited by William D. Pederson, MA ’72, PhD ’79, Robert P. Watson, and Frank J. Williams. This latest look at Honest Abe is “a veritable smorgasbord of stimulating and provocative reflections about Lincoln’s life, legacy, and leadership.”
Microfinance and Its Discontents: Women in Debt in Bangladesh (University of Minnesota Press, 2011) by Lamia Karim, UO associate professor of anthropology. “In a series of ethnographic cases, Karim shows how NGOs use social codes of honor and shame to shape the conduct of women and to further an agenda of capitalist expansion.”
Samuel Rothchild: A Jewish Pioneer in the Days of the Old West (CreateSpace, 2011) by Jack T. Sanders, professor emeritus of religious studies. This “truly American story” chronicles the life of Samuel Rothchild, a German immigrant whose adventures in eastern Oregon “epitomize the quest for the American dream.”
Your Green Abode: A Practical Guide to a Sustainable Home (Skipstone, 2010) by Tara Rae Miner ’96. “Encourages readers to start small, do what interests them, and handle only what they can afford” to make their homes greener.
The People Are Dancing Again: The History of the Siletz Tribe of Western Oregon by Charles Wilkinson. Copyright 2010 University of Washington Press.
Track Town, Usa—Hayward Field: America’s Crown Jewel Of Track And Field by Kenny Moore, Brian Lanker, and Rich Clarkson.
What is the economic effect of the University of Oregon on the state? Plenty, according to a study by Tim Duy, MS ’98, PhD ’98, an adjunct assistant professor of economics at the UO. Some highlights of the study are below. Duy is director of the Oregon Economic Forum and monthly publishes the UO Index of Economic Indicators, a measure of Oregon economic trends.
The University’s total economic impact on the state of Oregon for the 2009–10 fiscal year was $1.97 billion. The UO is tied to $1 out of every $84 in Oregon’s economy.
The UO produces $33.64 in economic impact for every dollar it receives in state appropriations.
The University had 5,799 employees and directly or indirectly supported 13,247 jobs in Oregon, with associated household earnings of $658 million.
UO researchers brought in a record $135.6 million in competitively awarded external funding (2009–10), and the University’s 137 percent growth in research expenditures over the past decade is eleventh best among sixty-three institutions in the elite Association of American Universities.
The UO generated an estimated $35.5 million in state income taxes, based on total aggregate earnings tied to the University. That offsets the state appropriation of $58.5 million received by the UO and brings the net cost of the University to the state down to $23 million.
The decline in state funding has been largely mitigated by an increase in revenue from tuition and fees—fueled by surging numbers of students. The UO’s total of $243 million in tuition and fees more than quadrupled the state’s funding for the University in 2009–10.
Duy cites the UO’s ability to attract nonresident students as critical in light of declining state appropriations. The spending by nonresident students on tuition, housing, food, and other expenses represents new dollars flowing into the Oregon economy—economic activity that would not otherwise take place in Oregon.
The University’s greatest impact on the state economy is the increased earning potential of its graduates. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures indicate that twenty-five-year-old high school graduates who were employed full-time in 2009 had median weekly earnings of $626, while twenty-five-year-olds with bachelor’s degrees had median earnings of $1,025.
The full report is available at economicimpact.uoregon.edu.
This year’s Oregon Bach Festival theme is “In Praise of Women,” and a highlight is sure to be Joan of Arc at the Stake (Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher). Former Eugene Symphony conductor Marin Alsop conceived the production and will conduct Arthur Honegger’s sensuously dramatic 1938 oratorio as part of her “Joan of Arc project,” which celebrates the 600th anniversary of the saint’s birth. Renowned opera director James Robinson has created a semistaging (lighting and other theatrical elements) of the work for this OBF premiere production. The performance takes place in Eugene at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, July 2. UO professor of French Barbara Altmann will deliver a preconcert lecture exploring the various ways the girl-warrior’s story has been told throughout history.
Alsop will later perform the piece with her own ensemble in Baltimore, followed by dates at Carnegie Hall and London’s Barbican Centre.
The 2011 Oregon Bach Festival will take place June 23 to July 10 in Eugene with additional concerts in Ashland, Bend, and Portland.
For more information, go to OregonBachFestival.com.
News, Notables, Innovations
Twenty years ago, an unsuspecting ant crossed the floor of a basement laboratory at the University of Oregon’s Volcanology Building and laid a trail for Robert Schofield, PhD ’90. The senior research associate was then studying physics under Harlan
Lefevre, now professor emeritus. Schofield was working on a new type of microscope, one that uses protons rather than electrons or light to generate an image.
Once the machine was built, the two men set out to discover something with it. Schofield saw the ant, placed it under the microscope, and was amazed. The proton microscope showed the ant’s mandibles and the striations of the muscles that moved them. And because it also identified chemical elements, Schofield saw “these weird little zinc teeth” on the tips of the mandibles. “That’s how I got started,” he says. “It’s continued to enchant me to this day.”
Scofield went on to study other creatures: spiders, scorpions, even fruit flies. Their mandibular teeth, tarsal claws, legs, and stingers possessed biomaterial of heavy elements: zinc, manganese, bromine. This biomaterial is present in the sharp, translucent tips of the walking legs of Dungeness crabs, for example. It can bend six times farther before breaking than material found elsewhere on the crab. Schofield’s discovery was ground-breaking at the time. “I found this stuff everywhere,” he explains, “and biologists didn’t know about it.”
Fifty million years before humans developed agriculture, leafcutter ants had already begun the practice. Their crop, fungus; their soil, a mix of plant materials brought to the nest, often after being cut to size. Their agricultural skills support colonies populated with millions of ants organized by intricate communication and caste systems and living in gigantic, elaborate subterranean nests, each made up of hundreds of interconnected fungus garden chambers. They are, according to noted entomologists Bert Hölldobler and E. O. Wilson, a “superorganism”—composed not of cells and tissues but of closely cooperating individuals.
The leafcutter forager caste—the ants whose job it is to cut leaves—were the ideal insects to help answer one of Schofield’s research questions: does wear matter for such tiny creatures with such short lives (an average female worker’s lifespan is one to three years)? He suspected that the large amounts of zinc found in the teeth of their mandibles, like those of the ant in his lab, made them stronger. His hypothesis was that wear-resistant mandibles were essential to the well-being of the entire colony. His plan was to set up a colony in the lab, and then compare results with a colony in the wild, to prove it.
The ant colony in Schofield’s lab began with a single queen from Costa Rica. In the wild, she would have dug a shallow hole in the soil and begun to lay eggs. In the laboratory, her nest was constructed for her, as was an entire artificial landscape consisting of lengths of tubing, or trails, leading to separate glass and plastic chambers.
In the lab, Schofield, tall and thin with gray-blue eyes and dark brown hair pulled back from an angular face, drops leaves of the Northwest’s infamous Himalayan blackberry into a large aquarium. The tiny red ants, Atta cephalotes, diligently cut away at the greenery, travel the tubing trails, and tend to the fungal gardens. They are everywhere. Schofield estimates there are several thousand now. He carefully picks up a writhing ant between his index finger and thumb. It doesn’t take a microscope to see that her mandibles could inflict some damage.
This particular ant is a major worker, or a defender—the largest of four morphological castes, each with its particular tasks. “I like to call them the bulldozers,” says Schofield. “On a normal day when they’re not being attacked by a large animal like me, these ants maintain the trails.” Schofield points to examples of the other castes: the gardening and nursing ants, the in-nest generalists, and the foragers. The foragers are easy to spot: they are the ants cutting and carrying the leaves and the subjects of Schofield’s experiment, which began in 2004.
Schofield describes how coresearcher Kristen Emmett timed how long it took an ant to cut out a leaf disc, then measured the disc, collected the ant that cut it, and photographed the ant’s mandibles under a microscope. She did this over and over. From the photographs, Schofield and his team measured the length of the teeth of mandibles. Schofield then replicated the experiment with a colony in the rainforest of Soberania National Park near Gamboa, Panama.
“We could say that this ant cuts one millimeter a second, and this one cuts half a millimeter. And it turned out that the ants with the more worn mandibles cut slower,” Schofield explains. Was cutting also more difficult for these ants? Schofield built another machine to answer this second question—basically a tiny saw into which ant mandibles can be fitted like blades. The apparatus then moves the mandibles across the leaf, registering the force required to do so.
The results confirmed the team’s suspicions. Older, slower-cutting ants use twice as much energy to cut through a leaf as newbies with their razor-sharp teeth.
The answer to the question, does wear matter? “Is yes,” says Schofield. “It matters in a big way.”
The team’s findings, published last winter in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, received a tremendous amount of attention. National Public Radio’s Science Friday discussed the work. The BBC ran a story as did U.S. News and World Report. But articles about Schofield’s research focus on more than just its scientific implications. Their titles are variations on the riff: “Leaf-cutter ants have their own form of Social Security.” Schofield’s team had guessed that the colony, based so fundamentally on cooperation, might find another job for aging ants. They discovered that out of all the ants they collected, the 10 percent with the most-worn mandibles were not cutters but almost exclusively carriers. “It makes a lot of sense,” says Schofield. “It’s what you’d do if, for example, you were no longer a good basketball player because you’re getting a bit older. You might become a lawyer!”
Can an ant really recognize the fact that she’s no longer cutting so well and then make a conscious decision to change jobs? Schofield is quick to clarify that this hypothesis has not been tested. He offers two possibilities. One, as the ants reach a certain age, genetic programming instructs them to stop cutting and start carrying. Or two, they are capable of self-evaluation. Schofield suspects the latter. “I see it as I watch them cut. If it seems way too hard they’ll give up or go find a different place and start cutting. Well, maybe if they can’t find a place they’ll just carry a leaf back instead,” he says.
Schofield also believes that the leafcutters might have something more to teach us than a good fable. As humans continue to build smaller and smaller high-tech machines and tools, how might we learn from tiny creatures that have adapted to wear for millions of years? Is there something within the biomaterial of the ants’ teeth that might be useful to us?
In retrospect, it might not seem like such a leap for a physicist dealing in tiny things like protons to become interested in creatures like ants. In fact, Schofield still spends half his time studying astrophysics. He is part of a group of scientists that works at two Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatories, the nearest located in Richland, Washington. These instruments were built to detect vibrations set off across the universe when cataclysmic events occur, like stars exploding into supernovas or black holes colliding.
Yet, if detected, such events would create a wave whose crest would only rise a tiny fraction of the width of the nucleus of an atom. At the heart of the project “is a very fancy measuring device,” Schofield told a reporter. “All we do is measure distance.” Here is one way to consider how something as grand as an exploding star and as tiny as a leafcutter ant can be connected: through measurement.
—Tara Rae Miner ’96
Here’s an idea that would never work:
Recruit several professors from various University departments to gear existing courses toward real-world projects in one specific city, all in the same academic year. Convince the city’s officials to plan their projects in ten-week segments so that students produce workable design ideas within the frenetic timeframe of an academic term. Make sure city officials understand they’re part of an experiment that might very well fail. And get them to pay for it.
Marc Schlossberg, associate professor of planning, public policy and management (PPPM), calls this “the founding story” of Sustainable City Year, and if he’s able to tell it with a straight face, it’s because, well, it worked. It probably helped to offer it as a freebie the first time around. In any event, when Schlossberg and his UO coconspirators—whom he describes as “a few faculty members motivated by the urgency of meeting environmental challenges”—approached Gresham city manager Erik Kvarsten ’82 with their idea, Kvarsten didn’t kick them out of his office. Rather, he and Gresham’s department heads knew a good opportunity when they saw one and quickly lined up a slate of nine projects for the UO participants to work on.
That was two years ago. Today, Sustainable City Year is just one piece of the Sustainable Cities Initiative (SCI), a multidisciplinary teaching, research, and policy effort to promote environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable cities. UO provost James Bean selected SCI as one of the five Big Ideas that will define the University’s core work over the next five years, noting that “sustainability has been important on this campus for forty years.” But that’s getting ahead of the story.
Back to 2009–10, Sustainable City Year’s first year, Gresham’s projects ranged from the earthly (a new city hall) to the ethereal (a light-rail station that attracts commuters “with the dynamic qualities of sun, wind, and water”—to quote the SCI website, sci.uoregon.edu). Sixteen faculty members from PPPM, architecture, arts and administration, and landscape architecture devoted nineteen courses during the academic year to tackle the projects. In so doing, they unleashed a swarm of 350 energetic, idealistic students into Gresham’s streets and administrative offices: “a few hundred twenty-somethings,” as Schlossberg puts it, “hungry for doing good” and “desperate to make a difference.”
Kvarsten still remembers them “going out en masse and engaging residents” to learn what they wanted, and “interact[ing] with senior project managers, facilities managers . . . the folks who were doing the work.” The students’ level of interaction with city staff members and residents, he says, went far beyond what a consultant would have done.
One architecture class produced six possible redevelopment proposals for Gresham’s Rockwood area, a low-income neighborhood of vacant storefronts designated for urban renewal in 2003. Kvarsten expects the city will eventually implement a plan incorporating many of the proposals’ shared elements. Rockwood project manager Michael Parkhurst concurs, saying, “People here still refer to the students’ projects for inspiration.”
In fact, Sustainable City Year came through so well for Gresham that the city decided to pay after all. “We thought that the quality of the deliverables justified it,” Kvarsten explains.
Before the “Gresham year” was concluded, many cities were vying for the chance to be next. Salem, the selection for 2010–11, presented fourteen projects, which tapped Sustainable City Year for an even broader range of resources: twenty-eight courses, twenty-five faculty members, ten departments and programs (including journalism, law, and business management in an increasingly interdisciplinary mix), and 500 or so UO students (devoting 80,000 hours to SCY projects, according to a favorable New York Times story). Portland State also got involved, contributing its expertise in civil and environmental engineering. The agreed-to cost for Salem was $345,000.
Broader involvement, same result, beginning with another satisfied city manager, Linda Norris. “Having this kind of research done by all of these incredibly bright people in a short period of time has generated more ideas than we would have generated using our typical methods,” she says. “They have dared to think differently.”
Just consider what Assistant Professor Deni Ruggeri’s landscape architecture class devised for Minto-Brown Island Park, a popular 900-acre recreation area in southwest Salem. What the city wanted was an interpretive trails plan for educating the public about habitat restoration work being done in the park. What it got was a 150-page comprehensive vision that not only included the trail system, but suggested improvements to the restoration work and introduced ideas for urban agriculture and public programs that could take place within the park.
If Salem implements the students’ vision, park visitors may someday see goats grazing on invasive plant species, towers housing bats to keep a pesky insect population under control, and sculptures made from recycled materials in one of twelve “outdoor rooms,” all explained by interpretive signs bearing a poplar-leaf logo of student design. And the students’ plan for improving access will make the park easier to reach by foot, bike, and bus from neighboring parts of the city.
“They produced an enormous amount of work in a short time,” says an impressed Keith Keever ’88, Salem’s parks superintendent, whose staff worked closely with Ruggeri’s nineteen students throughout the term. “It’s refreshing to interact with students and absorb some of their energy and their enthusiasm.”
The story could almost wrap up here, but that would overlook everything else going on with the Sustainable Cities Initiative. SCI’s collaborative faculty research has garnered awards from the American Planning Association and the Partners for Livable Communities. In the policy arena, SCI expertise helped the City of Eugene to draft its Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategic Plan, and the State of Oregon to develop codes for sustainable urban growth.
To better coordinate SCI’s growing number of participating faculty members and departments, Bean authorized funding for SCI to hire an executive director, Robert Liberty ’75, this past January. An Oregon native, Liberty had been serving on the Portland Metro Council since 2005 and brings a wealth of experience addressing smart-growth issues in the state.
Over time, Liberty will need to develop procedures to evaluate Sustainable City Year and SCI’s array of research and policy initiatives. But he won’t fix what ain’t broke. “Part of the genius of the Sustainable Cities Initiative is that it’s based on voluntary collaboration among professors and departments,” he says, “and we don’t want to fiddle with that.”
That should be good news for all the hundreds of enthusiastic students eager to be part of Sustainable City Year for 2011–12. Conveniently, their real-world assignments will be but a carbon-neutral bike ride away from campus—in Springfield.
—Dana Magliari, MA ’98
The dread of having to make a major oral presentation can haunt students for a whole term. Students in Sustainable City Year make presentations to actual paying clients who have contracted for their services. So you’d expect some cases of nerves from the three undergraduate architecture students who presented their design plans for a new police station to a Salem city council subcommittee meeting in February.
If so, it didn’t show. Afterward, they even spoke as if they enjoyed it. “For me,” said Alice Peterson, “it was really great [to] see who you’re designing for, and listen to their goals and their needs for a building.”
But what about all the scrutiny from, among others, the chief of police?
“It’s great to get that [kind of response] from people,” Dustin Locke insisted. “They really want to see their ideas happen in your design. So they are very critical and are willing to come straight forward and tell you what they think, which is great.”
“They’re looking for what you can provide,” added William Smith. “And it’s very important that we experience that in school, because once we get out there, clients want what we say we’re going to give them.”
Associate Planning Professor Marc Schlossberg, whose Hendricks Hall office is cluttered with maps and charts created by students for just such presentations, calls this face-to-face experience with clients “fantastic.” In his own classes, he has students give two-minute presentations, with the idea that in the professional world, that’s all the time they’ll have to sell their ideas.
He even makes them dress up for the occasion—DM
Last spring, students in Sara Huston’s product design class created a cardboard waste receptacle to place in public restrooms for collecting used paper towels that could then be composted. One of the partitioned unit’s sections was for the towels, which make up 85 percent of the waste generated in public restrooms. The other section was for nonrecyclable waste.
A typical academic scenario would have the project winding up at term’s end, with students going on to their next challenge and the receptacle stashed along a wall. But the innovative recycling container received renewed attention in the fall, when School of Journalism and Communication professor Kim Sheehan assigned the 120 students in her Principles of Advertising course the task of creating an advertising campaign to promote it.
To create a campaign that communicated why their product differed from others on the market, the students needed to understand the scientific terminology associated with green products, says Sheehan, who studies “greenwashing”—the advertising practice of making unsubstantiated claims that a product is “green” or Earth-friendly. “Students got the opportunity to learn about science in advertising class—the difference between recyclable and compostable.” (Recyclable means a product can be reused to produce other materials. Compostable means a produce will break down in a landfill.)
The two-term project illustrates in elementary form the goal of the Green Product Design Network, a multidisciplinary University group formed in 2009 to further the development, creation, and marketing of sustainable green products, from inception to end-of-life disposability. Green product design is part of the UO’s Big Ideas initiative, which defines areas that will shape the future of the University. The other four Big Ideas focus on planning and building sustainable cities, revisioning the Americas in a globalized world, redesigning education to create global citizens, and maintaining and enhancing human health and performance. Members of the Green Product Design Network include graduate students, instructors, and professors from the disciplines of chemistry, business, journalism, and product design.
“Throughout the University we have thought leaders in various sectors of green innovation, and they are all wrestling with the same ideas,” says chemistry department assistant head and network coordinator Julie Haack. “We’re asking, ‘What can we learn from each other? What can we do collectively to accelerate the movement of green products to the market?’”
Individually, some departments have already made inroads into the green frontier. Fourteen years ago, chemistry professors Ken Doxsee and Jim Hutchison developed a green chemistry curriculum—espousing waste prevention, use of low-hazard lab methodologies, and the design of safer chemicals and processes—that is now used in universities throughout the country. The Product Design Program, part of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts, has had a sustainability component from its beginnings in 2008. That same year, Sheehan and advertising professor Deborah Morrison, along with EnviroMedia Social Marketing, a public relations firm, created the Greenwashing Index, an online forum where people expose and investigate “green” claims made by advertisers, such as that a product is “eco-friendly,” “clean,” or “BPA-free.”
Sheehan says she was invited to be on the network’s leadership team because of high levels of concern about greenwashing. Postings to the index have challenged companies that offer businesses green certification without requiring validation, called out General Electric for its use of the term “clean coal,” and questioned British Petroleum’s much touted campaign slogan “Beyond Petroleum.”
“One way to combat greenwashing is to have people more educated about the environment,” she says, and promoting green products responsibly should be part of that process.
At the network’s mixer last November, the austere basement in the Lokey Laboratories buzzed with excitement as dozens of professors, students, and community members nibbled on crackers and exchanged names and hopes. Chemists chatted with architecture students. Business people spoke with product designers. “We are seeing a lot of cross-disciplinary fertilization that draws professors and students,” Haack says, “The opportunity to participate in this kind of collaboration and integration is unheard of.”
Last summer, junior Sara Tepfer augmented her chemistry major with a stint in a product design course that worked with Eugene electric car manufacturer Arcimoto and a Portland textile company. Students were given the assignment to design environmentally friendly seats for the company’s three-wheeled electric vehicle.
“It was really cool to see the similarities between the design process and the scientific method—the steps you go through in an experiment,” Tepfer said. “It helped convince me that there is a huge opportunity for interdisciplinary work.” She intends to stick with her chemistry major but she has also applied to the Product Design Program. “I want to be able to approach the question of greenness from two different angles,” she says, “and develop products that are as green as possible” because of her multifaceted background.
Network leadership team member Tom Osdoba heads the Center for Sustainable Business Practices at the University’s Lundquist College of Business. The center is researching businesses across the state to find opportunities to collaborate on green product design, manufacturing, and marketing. One promising area is in outdoor apparel, he says, where “there’s a ton of work being done to try and identify ways to reduce toxic components, improve recycling at the end of [product] life, and address problems in supply chains.”
Osdoba admits that forging collaborations with businesses is complex and will take time. The network, he says, is the best way to make it happen. “We have an opportunity to create a platform, a funnel, where companies can come to the University, say what they are interested in, and we can match that with the specific expertise and resources we have internally.”
Whereas business partnerships are still in the future, a project undertaken this winter shows how such arrangements might work. Students in John Arndt’s product design studio hunkered down in a former auto showroom on the east edge of campus designing low-energy street light fixtures. They were motivated by a Green Power Initiative grant from EWEB, Eugene’s water and power utility, written by product design head Kiersten Muenchinger, who is on the network’s leadership team. The project gave the students a real-world issue to wrestle with—improving lighting in areas such as the Autzen footbridge, the Amazon bike path, and Eugene’s Fifth Avenue shopping district.
Typically, says product design senior Annalee Kessler, designers would concentrate on creating just the fixture’s shell. But this project required students to think “with a greater vision not usual for product design.” Student teams spent two weeks studying green energy, from wind and solar to burning sewer sludge. They dove into the physics of light bulbs, reflection, and the properties of light. “We’re being forced out of our comfort zone,” she says. The students presented their prototypes—from sleek pole units to light a bike path to scalloped fixtures for Broadway Plaza—to EWEB representatives at the end of the term.
EWEB’s Tom Williams, who heads the utility’s Green Power Program, said he found a few of the projects aesthetically pleasing and thought they had possibilities. More importantly, he says, the project introduced students to an area of utilitarian design they previously weren’t aware of. “One student told me she had become much more interested in lighting. Suddenly, she was paying more attention to outdoor lighting and how different cities handle it. It heightened her curiosity.”
Faculty members involved in the network are devising ways to cultivate more sophisticated green awareness in students. Advertising professor Morrison taught a course in communicating sustainability this past winter, and Sheehan and her students are just completing a sustainability leadership course focused on how to market an Oregon company’s newly developed green product. Both courses were funded by the Meyer Fund for a Sustainable Environment, a gift from the T&J Meyer Family Foundation. Haack is creating a nonscience course that will expose students to the academic fields represented in the network and offer insight into how they integrate.
Whatever effort it takes to promote interdisciplinary collaborations and partnerships is worthwhile, she says. “I feel a sense of urgency, for the environment and for human health. We are running out of resources. Time is of the essence.”
—Alice Tallmadge, MA ’87
The University of Oregon’s Network Startup Resource Center, which has helped to build Internet infrastructure and provide technical training in more than 100 countries for nearly twenty years, will expand its activities thanks to a $1.25 million gift from Google Inc.’s Charitable Giving Fund.
An independent audit of the Matthew Knight Arena construction project finds it was completed on time and on budget and realized a $5.4 million savings over the original $200 million construction budget. This savings was reinvested, allowing construction of two practice courts, two additional elevators, an acoustical dampening system for live concerts, and other improvements. The economic impact of the two-year construction project is estimated at $320 million.
Kimberly Andrews Espy, a clinical neuroscientist and associate vice chancellor for research at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, will become vice president for research and innovation and dean of the Graduate School at the University of Oregon on July 1. She replaces Richard Linton, who has served as the UO’s vice president for research and graduate studies since 2001.
Under the direction of music professor Sharon Paul, the UO Chamber Choir recently traveled to Estonia to compete with fourteen choirs from around the world in the Twelfth International Choir Festival, “Tallinn 2011.” The only U.S. choir participating, the Ducks took top honors in two of the three categories they competed in: Chamber Choir and Renaissance-Baroque.
A team of two UO students competed among a field of sixty-four invited teams and won the national debate championship at the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence in March. Days later, the two won the National Parliamentary Debate Association national championship tournament in an open competition attracting more than 150 schools. UO debaters also won national championships in 2009 and 2001.
Responding to students’ hunger for nutrition information, the UO’s dining services now provide an online smorgasbord of detailed nutritional and ingredient information about foods served in University Housing dining halls. The website and accompanying mobile app includes menus, nutritional content, allergens, and vegan and vegetarian options.
The only female professor in her department, Miriam Deutsch can’t recall the day it stopped being weird to be a woman studying physics. The trend of few females pursuing science typically begins during the teen years, she says. Deutsch wants to get girls hooked early because “if they start thinking about themselves as scientists at the age of eleven then they might not let go of that later on.”
That’s where SPICE (Science Program to Inspire Creativity and Excellence) comes in. In 2008, Deutsch cofounded the program in which UO undergraduate and graduate students introduce science to middle schoolers (girls and boys) in fun, hands-on investigations. In creating the activities, Deutsch uses a strategy she calls “hiding the broccoli in the brownies.” She disguises chemistry in solving a CSI-like faux crime scene, physics in playing with prisms, and engineering in constructing crazy Rube Goldberg devices.
During the school year, Deutsch and her UO students meet with middle schoolers on weekends and after school. Come summer, her program brings the teens to the UO for a weeklong camp during which they can “get in there, get dirty, do experiments, mess up, break stuff, make mistakes.
“We really want to make them comfortable with just the process of exploring, of not knowing something but not feeling that they’re going to shy away from it because they don’t know it,” Deutsch says.
For many of the middle schoolers (sixty in all this year), camp is their first experience on a college campus, offering a chance for them to grow familiar with University life. In turn, UO students gain teaching experience while making a little money in the process.
Deutsch (who receives no salary for SPICE) focuses the program the way she does her regular University classes: by making science interesting. She aims to have her students understand “why you should care about this particular physical phenomenon or physical principle.” She does this by offering real-life problems and then introducing the physics needed to solve the puzzle. “You always have to have a hook,” she explains.
Figuring out how to accomplish this goal is the same type of problem-solving Deutsch originally fell in love with during her own time as an undergraduate.
“My classes made sense. They were challenging. They made me think,” she says. “And that, for me, was really the best thing about going to university. To think really hard about something.”
Name: Miriam Deutsch
Education: PhD ’97, Hebrew University, Israel
Teaching Experience: Joined the UO faculty in spring 2001.
Awards: National Science Foundation CAREER Award.
Off-Campus: Deutsch likes to hike at Mount Pisgah, swim, and cook with her two daughters.
Last Word: “My mom used to say that if you want me to do something, tell me it’s challenging.”
You Are Where You Eat?
It’s June in Portland: a time for sidewalk dining and riverside cycling, outdoor concerts, and blooming roses. In this green-conscious and food-loving city, June also means that all forty-one of the metro area’s farmers’ markets are in full swing, offering the bounty of local farms to eager cooks and shoppers.
The much-touted urge to “eat local,” for those with the financial resources and geographic good luck to be able to do so, seems like a no-brainer. Transporting asparagus to Portland from Canby, instead of from Mexico, uses far less energy, thus creating fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Simple, right? But the number of miles a particular cut of meat or pint of berries travels is only part of the picture, says James E. McWilliams, the UO’s 2010–11 Kritikos Professor in the Humanities and author of Just Food: How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly.
McWilliams spoke at the White Stag Block in April as part of the Oregon Humanities Center’s yearlong exploration of “Sustenance.” He is a vocal and often divisive critic of the wholesale embrace of the local food movement, working to impress upon food-mile-counters just how complex food supply chains truly are. Eating local seems an easy rule to follow, at least during these abundant summer months, but most regional climates can’t produce everything required for a healthy modern diet. And even given the negative consequences of long-distance shipping, are we all really ready to permanently give up bananas? Or (one shudders to consider) coffee, tea, and all things chocolate?
McWilliams argues that many other factors are at work in getting our food to us. One British study, for example, found that lamb raised in New Zealand and shipped by boat to London (a food-miles nightmare journey of 11,000 miles) created far fewer pounds of carbon dioxide emissions than lamb raised and sold locally in Britain. The British lambs were fed grain (which had to be sown, grown, harvested, bagged, and transported), while their Kiwi cousins grazed in New Zealand’s naturally verdant pastures. Meat itself is far more energy-inefficient than produce; cutting out meat from a family’s diet just one day each week can have the same emissions-reducing benefit as buying all of that family’s food locally.
Like most global environmental problems, this one turns out to have no easy, two-word-slogan solution. “Buy Local,” while a positive idea and one McWilliams supports, still isn’t the end of our sustainability woes. It might just be the beginning, however, of a new and more complete understanding of how our food and where it comes from affects, challenges, and sustains us.
For More Information
View an interview with James McWilliams on the program UO Today, by clicking here.
During the 2011–12 academic year, the Oregon Humanities Center will explore “Conflict” through a yearlong series of events, talks, performances, and discussions held in Portland and Eugene. Find out more by clicking here.
McWilliams’ four books, including Just Food: How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly (Little, Brown; 2009), are available at your (yep) local library or bookstore.
—Mindy Moreland, MS ’08