Emily Burkhart: embracing undergraduate research

Emily watching the sunset

Emily Burkhart, a natural resources student, loves being part of the Oregon State community. As a member of the National Society for Leadership and Success, the Natural Resources Club, an intern at Avery Nature House and student arboretum specialist technician at Peavy Arboretum, she’s always reaching out and getting involved.

During the summer of 2017, Burkhart worked in Starkey Experimental Forest. Research in the riparian forest focuses on small mammals, cow and deer in relation to one another and the ecosystems they inhabit.

“When people think of ecosystem management and habitat relations, a lot of people think of large mammals and carnivores, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that it starts at a smaller level,” Burkhart says.

Burkhart spent two weeks checking about 200 traps every day to collect data on animals to learn about population dynamics in areas near water.

Species analyzed ranged from flying squirrels to jumping mice. The small mammals in these locations eat butterflies and their larvae as a food source, so researchers wanted to know population numbers and the roles they play in the conservation of species.

“Overall I processed and collected data on around 1,054 animals,” Burkhart says. “Once an animal was in a trap, we would tag its ears and collect data on its sex, age, weight, previous captures and reproductive state.”

Burkhart says she learned a lot from the experience and had a great time.

“At Starkey, I got to meet 25-year-old elk, explore Eastern Oregon and understand the importance of small species,” Burkhart says. “My amazing team made it a really great experience.”

Burkhart says she is grateful for her College of Forestry experience and how it opened her eyes to the world around her.

During the summer of 2018, Burkhart took part in a faculty-led study abroad experience to Malaysian Borneo. Back home in Corvallis, she enjoys spending time in the forest.

“We are so lucky to have the College Research Forests only 12 minutes away from campus.

By working at the arboretum, I really learned how these managed forests operate, and how much it gives back to us in research, recreation and pure happiness,” Burkhart says. “People really need to go check out the arboretum at least once in their life because one visit can leave such a positive, everlasting impact.”

Cody Knight: serving others through working with renewable materials

Cody Knight and crew

Renewable materials student Cody Knight is a recipient of three scholarships: the Lois & Dick Kearns Scholarship, John R. Snellstrom Scholarship and the Friends of Renewable Materials–Roseburg Forest Products Wood Science and Engineering Scholarship. Before coming to Oregon State, Knight served in the military.

The financial support he receives and his experience in the military inspired him to serve others through his work in the renewable materials program.

“My military experience left me asking a lot of questions about humanity, sustainability the western world and material possessions,” Knight says. “I want to create products from renewable materials that aid in sustainability.”

Knight, who grew up in northern Idaho, remembers spending summers at the lake, sleeping in log cabins.

“There, it was easy to appreciate the beauty of nature,” he says. “I want to preserve that beauty and those kinds of experiences for future generations.”

He’s working to reach his goals through hands-on learning activities outside the classroom. Knight has participated in undergraduate research with Arijit Sinha, associate professor of renewable materials at Oregon State. Knight is helping conduct testing on Freres Lumber’s new mass plywood panel product.

“I was also selected for the Research and Extension Experience for Undergraduates (REEU) program,” Knight says. “This is a three-month long mentored research program with students at Oregon State and from colleges across the United States.”

Knight says his research will evaluate the shear strength of plywood and oriented strand board (OSB) after it has experienced varying degrees of temperatures and cooling times to get a clear picture of the mechanical strength of both products in the event of fire and seismic activity.

“The importance of this is plywood and OSB are typically used in residential housing for the exterior sheathing, which provides lateral support and stability for the structure,” Knight says. “Little research has been done to test their behaviors under these conditions, and I’m excited to find some answers.”

Undergraduates explore use of mass timber

Students nervously pace the second-floor knuckle of Richardson Hall on a cool, spring day. Some flit to the walls to make sure their posters are perfectly secured and their models are ready to shine. Others nervously nibble on chips and watermelon.

It’s final exam time, and for students in assistant professor Mariapaola Riggio’s class, that means making a presentation in front of their classmates, other faculty members and industry professionals.

The class, Timber Tectonics in the Digital Age, examines how the design and construction of timber structural systems benefit from digital techniques. Architecture students from the University of Oregon’s School of Design are invited to enroll alongside Oregon State students studying renewable materials, wood science, civil engineering and construction engineering management.  All students work collaboratively, as part of a small team, thinking critically about how digital tools might be able to change the wood construction sector.

For their final project, the students were tasked with creating a ‘wood products pavilion’ that might represent the TallWood Design Institute at the International Mass Timber Conference in Portland in 2019. The institute is one of the nation’s top research collaboratives focusing exclusively on the advancement of advanced wood products. The students used parametric techniques to design adjustable forms, and then refined them according to structural analysis information. The final challenge has been to plan the construction process appropriate materials and detailing.

“We’ve had a great partnership,” says Nancy Yen-Wen Cheng, Architecture Department head at the University of Oregon. “And it has been a privilege to co-teach with [Riggio]. She brings knowledge of the latest advances in timber structures and has been insightful about how to employ my digital design specialization.”

Brent Stuntzner of CB Two Architects in Salem agrees. He served as one of the judges of the students’ final projects.

“I’m always really excited to go in and ask the students questions,” Stuntzner says.

Despite their nervousness, the students prevailed and presented thorough and exciting final projects.

“They are full of creative ideas,” says Stuntzner. “And after this class they are prepared to go into a variety of different environments within the construction and wood products industries.”

Congratulations, Class of 2018

excited student at commencement

Congratulations to our 2018 College of Forestry graduates. We believe these graduating students will go on to be extraordinary citizens of the world continuing our legacy of proactively managing our forest resources, protecting our vital ecosystems and keeping our communities safe and healthy. They join the almost 10,000 other alumni who have earned degrees during the 112-year history of the college.

Our two commencement speakers are Alyssa B. Forest and Benjamin Victor Post.

Alyssa B. Forest of Sacramento, California, graduates Oregon State this year with a degree in natural resources with an option in natural resource policy and management. Her childhood adventures throughout northern California inspired her love of natural resources. Forest served as a College of Forestry ambassador, representing the college at a variety of events and programs. Forest says she hopes to “be a bridge between science and policy, so the decisions of our leaders reflect the best possible future.”

Benjamin Victor Post of Portland graduates from Oregon State this year with a degree in forestry with a forest management focus. Post also earned a GIS certificate and Spanish minor. He spent summers as a wild land firefighter and forest naturalist with the Oregon Department of Forestry and completed an internship with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. During his Oregon State career, Post also served as an officer of the Society of American Foresters OSU student chapter and studied abroad in Chile.

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.”

Savannah Stanton

Savannah Stanton is just a junior, but she already has plans to graduate from Oregon State debt free and work to change the world.

“I’ve always wanted to do something for my community and for the world,” she says. “Through renewable materials, I have the opportunity to do that.”

The Newburg High School valedictorian chose to attend Oregon State after she was awarded an academic achievement scholarship, but she still attended classes simultaneously at Portland Community College to get her baccalaureate core classes out of the way and discover her passion. She found it in a class taught by Seri Robinson called “Are You Wearing Mold?”

“The class drew me into the world of renewable materials,” Stanton says. “In the class, we dove into the world of fungi and what could be done with it. It was fun to do a hands-on class like that. It really appealed to me.”

Stanton believes an interdisciplinary course of study will be the key to her future success. He focus within renewable materials is science and engineering. She’s taken business classes, math classes and she will also earn a minor in Spanish.

“Every time a new term starts, I get new ideas,” she says. “My business classes inspired me to think about owning my own business someday instead of working for someone else.”

But Stanton isn’t exactly sure what she wants to do yet. Instead, she’s excited about a world of possibilities at home in Oregon and around the world.

During the summer of 2016, Stanton interned at a wood mill in Chile.

“That was my first time working in a mill setting,” she says. “It helped me understand the traditional part of our industry as well as an idea of the current needs are and expanded who I know within the small world of renewable materials.”

Stanton says her entire experience in Chile was funded through scholarships from the College of Forestry.

Back at home, Stanton is also involved in the student chapter of the Society of American Foresters at Oregon State. SAF is a professional organization dedicated to education and scientific pursuit in the field of natural resources.

“I got involved in SAF because I think it’s important to know what other parts of the industry are up to and what their concern are for the future,” Stanton says. “If you’re able to understand what other components need to make the whole machine work, you won’t get bogged down as much.”

She says that as a new professional, she expects to depend on the timber industry for the renewable materials needed to produce wood products.

“Renewable materials has a lot to do with timber production at some point,” she says. “Right now renewable materials only make up about five percent of the market, but I think it’s important to keep that in mind as I work toward establishing my career.”

Kendall Conroy

Wood science graduate student Kendall Conroy is focused on sustainability. She says the issue has been a hot topic in the Pacific Northwest her whole life. Conroy grew up in Hillsboro in a family of Oregon State graduates. Attending Oregon State as an undergraduate was an easy decision, she says. Picking a specific area of focus, however, was a bit more difficult.

“Oregon State has so many great options that I felt OK about coming here, even with no idea of what I wanted to do,” Conroy says. “Initially, I was kind of interested in forestry, but I didn’t actually want to work outside. When I learned about the renewable materials program, and that I could kind of marry a forestry degree and a business degree, it seemed perfect.”

Conroy was awarded a scholarship from the Dean’s Fund for Excellence and Innovation and chose to major in renewable materials and later added a second major in sustainability to further explore her life-long interest in sustainability. She participated in the SEEDS (Strengthening Education and Employment for Diverse Students) program, which matches students with a mentor and gives them opportunities to participate in hands-on research as an undergraduate.

Conroy was matched with Professor Eric Hansen and worked on a project researching gender diversity within the forestry industry.

“I learned a lot through that research project,” Conroy says. “Within the wood science program we have quite a few female students, but when you look at the industry and when you do internships, there aren’t as many. Experiencing this during an internship I experienced made the study more real and relevant to me.”

During her undergraduate experience, Conroy participated in a short-term, faculty-lead study abroad experience in central Europe. During her time in Slovenia, Conroy connected with a researcher there, and returned the summer after graduating to complete a research-focused internship.

“I got to help out with a literature review for them and a few other ongoing projects,” Conroy said.

Conroy enjoyed Slovene culture, learning a bit of the difficult language and enjoy a different culture in an international environment.

“Everyone in Slovenia was so nice, and I really enjoyed being part of a research team there,” Conroy says. “It seemed like every other week someone would visit from another country, and I was able to travel to Austria and Hungary to attend conferences. It was an amazing experience.”

Encouraged by her professors, Conroy returned to Oregon State in the fall to begin working toward her master’s degree.

Her research will determine architects’ perception of wood products in terms of general knowledge and sustainability.

“From this we will be able to better understand material choice and potentially how we can get more information to the people making choices about implementing wood as a building material,” Conroy says.

Conroy says that after completing her graduate degree, she would like to work with architects and designers as a consultant on sustainability and material choice.

“When contractors want to build a green building and they want to use wood, I want to be the person who can show them the sustainability of the timber they’re using,” Conroy says. “We don’t have very advanced ways of explaining that right now, so it’s my goal to tell the story of the sustainability of wood in the built environment.”

Blair Ruffing

Growing up in Dallas, Texas didn’t afford senior natural resources student Blair Ruffing many opportunities to get outside. In high school, her mother took her on trips to the Mountain west of the U.S. and Canada, and while visiting snow-capped mountains and crystal clear streams, the potential to live, play and work outside became real to her.

“I didn’t apply to any colleges in Texas because I knew it was time to get out of the state. I ended up at Oregon State because of the top-ranked forestry program. As an added bonus, we have forests, mountains and the ocean practically in our back yard.”

Ruffing was drawn to natural resources and developed her own individualized specialty which she named soil resource economics.

“I got excited about soils while taking the required natural resources major’s introduction to the subject,” Ruffing says.

“The idea of soil just clicked with me,” Ruffing says. “It made me realize that everything starts in the ground. Without soil, we don’t have anything above ground, and we don’t have life.”

Because of her passion for soils and natural resources, Ruffing has become involved in student life at Oregon State. She works two jobs: one as a high ropes course technician at the Adventure Leadership Institute’s challenge course and another as a communications student worker at the OSU College of Forestry Research Forests. She participated in the women’s varsity rowing team during her first year at Oregon State and is the president of the Natural Resources Club.

“The club existed before I got here, but it wasn’t very active,” Ruffing explains. “We’re still trying to find our ground and decide where to focus our efforts, but I think it’s important to have a club that explores the broader subject of natural resources. I’m excited to see what it turns into.”

Ruffing also completed an internship abroad, in Ireland in 2016.

“I got to work on an organic farm at a Tibetan Buddhist Center,” Ruffing says. “It was the highlight of my college career so far, and probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever done.”

Ruffing says working on the organic farm helped her think about the way she can apply the principles she’s learned in the classroom so far.

“I want to use my soil science background and my experiences working in organic farming and combine them in a way to help with the food culture in our world,” Ruffing says.

After she graduates from Oregon State, Ruffing hopes to pursue graduate school in Ireland and serve in the Peace Corps.

“I’m not exactly sure what the future holds for me long-term,” Ruffing says, “but I know I want to do real on-the-ground work to make this world a better place.”

Zach Leslie

Zachary Leslie spent his 2017 fall term in Chile working with terrestrial LIDAR. It’s something he never imagined when he came to Oregon State to study engineering.

“I declared a major in forest engineering after a friend and I agreed to do it together.” Leslie explains. “We were going to do it together.”

Leslie’s friend changed majors shortly after making the deal, but for him, it stuck.

“The professors were what really made me love studying forest engineering,” Leslie says. “They’re genuinely nice people, and my teachers and classmates feel more like family and friends.”

As a junior, Leslie visited the College of Forestry’s international programs office to find out where he could travel and participate in an international internship in order to fulfil the required six-months of work experience for his degree.

“I’ve done little traveling throughout my life,” Leslie says. “And I really wanted to go out and see the world to experience different cultures and ideas. I wanted to work somewhere unique than a locally.”

Director of International Programs Michele Justice pointed him toward New Zealand. There, he spent three months working for a research institute in his 2017 summer term.

“Another student and I measured Douglas-fir progeny trials through a variety of characteristics.  The seeds came from Washington, Oregon, and California, so it was pretty neat to my state tree being used 6000 miles away,” Leslie says.

In New Zealand, he saw first-hand how different ecosystems impact growth rates of trees.

“New Zealand has a similar moisture content as the Northwest. However, they have moisture is spread throughout the year so the summers are not as harsh.  Therefore, plants have availability year round which results in faster growing rates and a shorter rotation,” Leslie explains.

His first international experience made Leslie hungry for more, and because of the connections Oregon State has with Chile through the College of Forestry’s Chile Initiative, Leslie had the opportunity to take part in research and gain more work experience at the Universidad Austral de Chile.

During this trip, Leslie experienced a bit more culture shock due to the language barriers, but working with exciting technology in his chosen field lessened the frustration.

LIDAR stands for light detection and ranging and is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges to the Earth. Leslie used terrestrial LIDAR to understand the volume of trees in Chilean forests.

Leslie isn’t sure what his future holds, but he’s interested in attending graduate school so he can delve into the uses of LIDAR and unmanned aircraft.

“We can hook thermal cameras to unmanned aircraft to find an extinguish fires and hot spots,” Leslie says. “I would like to learn and research more ways to protect and manage our forest sustainably and efficiently.”