A Culture of Engagement

Cynthia Sagers, vice-president for research at Oregon State University

By Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research

The shouts of children echo through the halls, gym and swimming pool of the Women’s Building on campus. It’s IMPACT day, a typical Friday in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. These kids with special needs are developing new skills, and the Oregon State students who guide them are getting an invaluable educational experience.

Beyond the campus, Latino high school students and their families are meeting in weekly workshops, after-school clubs and summer camps. They are also visiting college campuses. The program called Juntos (meaning “together” in Spanish) is raising graduation rates and academic achievement. It is offered by OSU Extension in more than 20 school districts across Oregon.

In coastal communities from Port Orford and Newport to Astoria, OSU is partnering with community colleges and other local organizations to expand educational opportunities and ensure the resilience of our ocean-based economy. The Marine Studies Initiative builds on the university’s longstanding commitment to the coast. The MSI draws strength from an oceanography research community ranked No. 3 in the world on the basis of scientific publications.

I could cite many more examples that underscore Oregon State’s “Community Engagement” classification by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. OSU is the only Oregon university to hold both that distinction and the foundation’s ranking for “very high research activity.”

These two recognitions go hand in hand. OSU students benefit from the experiential opportunities and research that stem from the communities in which they live and work. This kind of education doesn’t happen in a bubble. It reflects the practical issues and needs that shape our neighborhoods, state and nation. It is informed by the daily lives of people who make their living from the land and sea and strive for a better future for our children.

As a 21st century land grant university, OSU research combines this commitment to practical application with support for basic, curiosity-driven work. This strategy emerged from lessons learned by the “greatest generation,” our predecessors who struggled through the Depression and World War II. The advances in science and technology they unleashed led to America’s global leadership in innovation. This reputation attracts students from around the world to Oregon State and other American universities.

In this issue of Terra, we share some of that work. We explore what’s known about brain injury and athletics, a growing concern for coaches, athletes and parents. We consider how hunting by indigenous people affects wildlife populations, how solar electricity can succeed in some of the world’s most remote corners and how rising seas might spur future migration across the country.

As we embark on OSU’s yearlong 150th anniversary celebration, we share our research journeys and welcome citizens into the day-to-day work. It is in the shouts of the children, the accomplishments of our students and the solutions to difficult problems where we find the real value of what it means to carry out the land grant mission, “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life,” as the Morrill Act of 1862 directed us to do.