Winter 2008

Lifelines

Winter 2008 Cover
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They often don’t become apparent until we lose them. And they may be more fragile than we realize. They are the lifelines that connect us to things that matter: roads and bridges that enable goods to get to market; a health insurance plan that provides access to medical care; a scholarship that keeps us in school. We may take them for granted, but it takes care and feeding to make sure they meet modern demands.

Strengthening our lifelines is part of the business of universities. So when inspectors find cracks in highway bridges or when a heavily used span suddenly crashes into a river below, research engineers get busy. In Chris Higgins’ bridge lab, he and his student team build full–size concrete beams and then break them to find out how they perform. Their goals are clear: more effective repair techniques, better construction methods and better ways to monitor what we already have in place.

But what happens when lifelines shift? New health–care technologies raise ethical dilemmas that our grandparents could hardly have imagined. For example, the blood of newborn infants has long been a source of information about potential life–threatening conditions. Now, gene–sequencing techniques can reveal details about an infant’s life–long predisposition to disease. The question is, How much control should we have over that kind of personal information? How do we balance social responsibility with personal rights? Such questions concern OSU philosopher Courtney Campbell, whose work has ranged across the bioethics landscape from stem cells to Oregon’s landmark Death With Dignity Act.

Ultimately, lifelines are personal. OSU’s SMILE Program has inspired hundreds of children to study science and attend college. In Oregon, the high school graduation rate is about 75 percent, but for SMILE participants who stay in the program for four years, the chance of getting a high school diploma is more than 90 percent. For more than 20 years, SMILE has been a lifeline to higher education for children from low–income and minority families. One girl told Terra writer Lee Sherman simply, “SMILE gives us a better chance.”

Terra is another kind of lifeline. Three times a year, we share stories about personal commitment and professional accomplishment. Now we need to know how well the magazine is doing its job. Please take a few minutes to complete the online questionnaire. You’ll be helping us to strengthen a lifeline between OSU and the people we serve.

Nick Houtman, Editor