Job Shadow Program helps students find focus

Junior Tourism, Recreation and Adventure Leadership student Chris Galbreath has a passion for the outdoors, but wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he landed at Oregon State. When he learned about the recreation management field in an introductory course, he felt a spark.

“I could see myself in a position like that, and decide that’s what I wanted to do,” Galbreath said.

To further explore his potential field, during spring term 2017, Galbreath participated in the job shadow program, facilitated by the College of Forestry’s Office of Student Resources and Engagement. Job shadows are usually short, one-day experiences during which students follow professionals in their chosen field to learn more about what they do.

“The office helped me explore what kind of job shadow opportunities were available, and I decide to job shadow an interpreter at the Yaquina Head Interpretive Center.”

From there, Galbreath communicated with the professionals there, who invited him out for a day to learn more about their positions and the work done at the lighthouse’s protected area.

“The day I went, there was a school group coming in, so I got to see how they deal with those as opposed to the general public,” Galbreath says.

He also explored tide pools and hiking trails.

“Before I went to do the job shadow, I didn’t have an idea of what they do, but while I was there I got to see how they manage people and how they run the business. It gives you a good insight into what this particular section of the job world looks like, and then you can reflect on that,” Galbreath says.

Galbreath enjoyed the field of interpretation so much that he spent the summer interning with the Oregon Department of Forestry as interpreter at the Tillamook Forest Center.

“My job there was to learn material about the forest and pass that on to the public so they understand it and can go have a great time out in the forest as well,” he says.

Galbreath was the first student to participate in the job shadow program, and there are many opportunities available.

Brooke Harrington in the Office of Student Resources and Engagement says the job shadow program is a great way to explore future employment opportunities.

“These opportunities are a way to start exploring different career paths, make important industry connections and see how classroom work can create success in the work place,” Harrington says. “The goal of this program is to connect students with short-term opportunities that can help them make important career and academic decisions.”

Christian Vedder

During stints in the military and his 20-year career as an emergency room nurse, forest management student Christian Vedder spent all of his free time in the woods climbing mountains or rolling over trails on his mountain bike. When the stress began to get to him, his wife suggested he look for a career that would allow him to work outside.

The Portland native began to look into the idea of studying Forestry at Oregon State.

“I was always fascinated by the subject of forestry,” says Vedder. “I attended logging sports competitions as a spectator when I was a kid, and my book shelves are filled with books about Northwest logging history.”

He reached out to Professor John Sessions, who invited him to Corvallis to visit the College of Forestry and learn more about the program. After that, he was hooked and decided to take a leap of faith, quit his stressful job in the ER and pursue his new dream.

Once enrolled at Oregon State, Vedder jumped into opportunities like the Forestry Club and Student Logging Training Program, which provides an opportunity for students to experience real-world logging applications on the McDonald-Dunn College Forest. Through the process, the student crew becomes proficient at using modern technology and equipment to aid the logging process.

Vedder knew it was important to get involved and connected even though he was learning and working side by side with people half his age.

“I was intimidated at first,” Vedder admits. “And I think other students maybe felt uncomfortable with me, but now that we’ve taken some classes together, we get along and they joking call me ‘the old man.’”

Vedder doesn’t feel old. He works part-time as an arborist and enjoys the physical aspects of working in the forest.

“When you’re logging, you have to be very safety conscious,” Vedder says. “You have to have your head up all the time and use common sense and be aware of your surroundings. I love to be hyper focused, and I think a lot of loggers thrive on that aspect of the job.”

Vedder says the hands-on learning of the Student Logging Program combined with strong theoretical learning in the classroom is a perfect combination.

“When you’re in a classroom learning about forestry, you don’t always understand all the variables at play,” he says. “In the field, you have to decide which trees to utilize and which are easiest to extract. It’s not always cut and dry.”

This summer, Vedder stayed in Corvallis to attend class, but he still found time to get outside recreationally.

“There will always be mountains to climb,” he says.

Vedder plans to begin studying for his master’s degree in forest management soon. In the future, he is interested in consulting with property owners on land management issues and helping to shape management policy, and he wants to encourage others to chase their dreams and persue their career goals.

“These days, we all get caught in ruts in our lives, and we get too complacent,” Vedder says. “People stay in jobs they hate because they have bills to pay and mouths to feed and it’s difficult to break out of their routine, but I’ve learned that money is never going to buy you any kind of fulfillment. You need to love what you’re doing, and the money doesn’t matter.”

Practical applications discovered for Western Juniper

Scott Leavengood, director of the Oregon Wood Innovation Center, began his career at Oregon State twenty three years ago as a Klamath County extension agent. Back then, he answered many phone calls from county residents asking what they could do with their western juniper trees.

The wood is strong and durable, and extremely common in Eastern Oregon.

Due to changes in land management practices, wildfire suppression in particular, western juniper acreage in the western United States has increased dramatically in the past 100 years. Thinning juniper stands helps restore rangelands and habitats for animals like the sage grouse, but until recently, there’s been no practical application for the use of this resilient and durable wood species.

“A lot of people were interested in using western juniper in building projects, but for use in structural applications, engineering design values have to be published,” Leavengood says.

Throughout the years, inquiries about western juniper continued, but there were no funds to study juniper-based materials and their market potential until 2015.

USDA Rural Development, the Oregon Department of Transportation and Business Oregon provided funding for juniper testing. Sustainable Northwest managed the project and graduate student Byrne Miyamoto stepped in to do the legwork for the project including small-scale bending, compression and shear tests.

“I spent the entire first summer of the project in the wood shop just cutting samples and making sure there were no defects,” Miyamoto says.

Juniper is a species often riddled with knots and imperfections, making the work difficult, but Miyamoto and Leavengood prevailed and testing was conducted in the summer of 2016. A few durability tests will continue in years to come.

“I have some posts set up in Yaquina Bay in Newport, so we’ll see how well it holds up there and if shipworms attack it,” Miyamoto says. “We examine the samples one a year, and so far we have not seen any attack.”

The results of the western juniper certification project will be published in the National Design Specification in 2018.

“Many key market opportunities couldn’t exist for juniper without published values,” Leavengood explains. “We think that the ability for engineers to use juniper for things like sign posts and guardrail posts will have implications for everything from land management to job creation.”

Miyamoto is focusing on finalizing the focus for his Ph.D. research at Oregon State this fall, and he looks forward to seeing western juniper in use someday soon.

“I’ve spent two years of my life coming up with five values that engineers will be able to use to decide if juniper can be helpful in their projects,” he says. “I’ve spent a lot of time with my juniper samples in the lab, but soon I hope I’ll be able to see the values we produced  in use and say, ‘that was me.’”

Oregon Marbled Murrelet Project

The marbled murrelet — a small seabird native to the North Pacific — is a flagship species for healthy ecosystems. Murrelets are listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in Oregon, Washington and California, yet little is known about the nesting habits of this curious, short-beaked seabird in Oregon. Enter a world-class research team from Oregon State University.

Gene editing could be the future of forestry

Distinguished professor Steven Strauss focuses his attention on genetic engineering and gene editing in poplar and eucalypt trees. He’s using genetic technology to make state-of-the-art modifications to a variety of traits, including flowering and productivity.

“We’re working at the DNA level directly,” Strauss says. “In typical breeding you cross and select families of plants to make seeds that are going to be more productive or superior in other ways. By intensive selection and crossing you can change a tree’s DNA considerably, but it’s an indirect effect. In contrast, in genetic engineering we must know the science surrounding the target traits first, not just which plants grow better. This knowledge allows us to modify them at the DNA level.”

Strauss is working with students, faculty and researchers on a new type of genetic technology known as gene editing, or CRISPR. It gives researchers the ability to specify precisely where a genetic change will be made—something that was essentially impossible before. Strauss says the technology is only a few years old and is an exciting step for biotechnology.

By using CRISPR and directing it at different kinds of genes, plants may become disease resistant, pest resistant and more productive.

One genetic change Strauss focuses on is the prevention of pollen and/or seed production.

“It can provide a level of containment, and confidence in containment, that is unprecedented. This should help with public acceptance and regulatory approval, and may improve tree productivity,” Strauss says.

Genetic engineering is used widely in the agriculture. Gene editing will likely be coming to agriculture and medicine in the near future. Strauss says that gene editing could be an important tool for forest tree breeding too, and plans to continue working in this area and exposing his students to the rapidly growing technology.

“It’s mind-blowing in its power,” Strauss says, “and the training students get using it in the lab will help them whether they plan to work in forestry, agriculture, medicine, conservation, or many other biological fields.”

Putting CLT through the fire

“There’s a dirty little secret about wood,” says TallWood Design Institute researcher Lech Muszynski. “It burns.”

Muszynski studies the fire resistance of cross-laminated timber. When discussing this topic, he often refers to a photo from the great San Francisco fire in 1906. In the photo, two melted steel beams lay across a wooden beam.

The beam burned, while the steel softened. But Muszynski says the old photo proves the difference between flammability and fire safety.

“Materials that do not burn may be less fire safe than wood that does burn, but keeps its load bearing capacity much better,” he says. “In this case, the steel lost its load bearing capacity, while the wood, which didn’t burn completely, retains its ability to bear a load and saves the space below from being crushed.”

Despite this evidence from the early 1900s and recent research conducted in Europe, the American public is still concerned about fire when it comes to wooden buildings, and American construction companies don’t have enough data to ensure tall wooden buildings are up to code. Muszynski hopes to provide this data and put minds at ease with his latest research project, which tests the fire resistance of cross-laminated timber floors and walls.

“The point of my project is not to generate new science, but to provide a large-scale demonstration of how cross-laminated timber panels react to fire,” Muszynski says.

When Muszynski says “large scale,” he means it. Many of the panels he tested in a large furnace at the Western Fire Center in Kelso, Washington were too large to be transported in one piece, and had to be assembled on site.

The samples went into the furnace completelyunprotected with any kind of fire-proofing materials typically used in wooden construction. Thermocouples, which measure temperature, were attached to the panels to collect data while the panels were exposed to fire.

Muszynski said that each panel experienced similar, gradual and predictable charring rates: the surface of the panels darkened within two minutes, caught fire and eventually a layer of char formed on the surface of the wood.

“Every floor panel we tested survived two hours of fire exposure,” Muszynski says. “After two hours we cut it off and inspected the sample. Only one wall sample failed after 90 minutes, and that’s still pretty good.”

The next step of the project is evaluating the charred samples. For this, Muszynski employed two Oregon State undergraduates.

“At first he tried to talk me out of the job,” says senior forestry student Cassie Holloway. “We were starting in the middle of summer, and doing this kind of heavy manual labor in the heat is pretty difficult.”

But Holloway and her partner prevailed. They cut each sample into one-foot by one-foot samples and evaluated the char depth to ensure consistency with data from the thermocouples.

Holloway first heard about CLT in her junior seminar class and was immediately intrigued.

“Growing up, I was very interested in conservation and sustainability,” Hollway says. “I think it’s awesome that people are using renewable materials to build up instead of out. I was really excited to be able to work on this project.”

Once sampling is completed, Muszynski says he will work to create a map of the char depth of each sample. Next, he hopes to test the fire resistance of connections used in CLT construction.

“Our ultimate goal is to make the TallWood Design Institute the one-stop place for testing anything mass-timber including CLT and glulam and whatever comes next,” Muszynski says. “This must include fire testing.”

Drones aid forestry research

Bogdan Strimbu heads the Management, Algorithms and Remote Sensing Lab (MARS) at Oregon State. Most of his research involves sitting at a computer and pouring over data, but recently, he’s been able to fill a niche in his field with his beloved ‘birds,’ a nickname for his collection of drones.

“People love drones because they are fascinated by flying,” Strimbu says. “God didn’t make us with wings, but now we can fly as we want with a first-person view. We can see what the cameras see right away, like a bird. It’s a miracle.”

Right now, Strimbu has a few drone-based projects, but word about the ‘birds’ has leaked around campus, and now his lab is assisting other researchers who need to see things from another perspective. They’ve worked with the Department of Ecosystems and Society, the College of Engineering, and the University Research Forests.

“It’s refreshing when we have a drone flight,” says masters student Scott Heffernan. “I mostly work in front of my computers, so it’s nice to get outside.”

Heffernan’s own project uses radar data from the Sentinel-1 mission in Europe to model ambient canopy moisture on a stand level. The projects will eventually help managers make better decisions about how to manage for fire threats.

Ph.D. student Chu Qi’s thesis is extremely theoretical, as it is focused on applying computer vision and deep learning techniques in forest inventory and operations. Qi holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Oregon State University, but was lured to the College of Forestry by Strimbu and the promise of working with drones. He uses his mechanical experience to repair the flying machines after their inevitable accidents.

Using his skills in forestry appealed to him because of the pollution problem his home city in China faces. He believes he can reduce the cost of labor when it comes to measuring ‘difficult’ forest attributes, such as taper.

“If I’m successful at developing my algorithm, you will be able to fly a drone over a stand, and the computation of stem volume and diameter will only take a few minutes,” Qi says. “It will be much faster than LiDAR.”

Qi says the accessibility of drones is what appeals to him.

“A few years ago, this wasn’t popular,” he says. “Air companies could see things from the sky, but now, as a normal person, I can gather information from the sky easily and cheaply.”

Strimbu agrees.

“It’s a very good time to fly for research,” he says. “It’s also very easy because of new, relaxed regulations in 2016. The biggest challenge our lab faces is lack of resources. I don’t even tell my students how many requests I get to do other work for faculty because it’s too overwhelming.”

Strimbu’s lab will continue to do their best to keep up with demand and to feed the passion they have for flight.

“We want to help give everyone a different perspective,” Strimbu says. “Getting higher helps you look at things in a new way.”