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.

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.”

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.”

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.”