Outreach and engagement work connects the university with communities to find ways to address wicked problems. By their nature, wicked problems are not easily solved. Making progress requires innovative thinking and different ways of looking at an issue. Many perspectives are necessary. Because people learn in different ways, conveying to stakeholders and community the work that needs to be done and the desired outcome in relevant and meaningful ways requires creativity and open minds.
“There is no one approach to solve the urgent problems of today and tomorrow. They demand the inspiration and genius of multiple disciplines and multiple perspectives. Collaboration across the arts and science directly advances [OSU’s] strategic goal to create transformative learning experiences for all Oregonians” (OSU SPARK initiative website).
University Outreach and Engagement is one of six units – along with the Colleges of Science, Education, Liberal Arts, Honors College, and the OSU Library and Press – supporting SPARK, a year-long collaborative initiative to celebrate arts and science. “Through SPARK, OSU hopes to elevate the relationship between the arts and science, their critical interplay with each other, and the rich partnerships and collaborations that make it possible.” Charles Robinson, who has a joint appointment with University Outreach and Engagement, College of Liberal Arts and Graduate School, is leading the SPARK initiative.
An approach to increase success with wicked problems might be “design thinking.” Ask, imagine, design, create, evaluate, refine, and share is the model. Sound familiar? This is art and science at work. Watch this engaging design thinking video (below) created by OSU’s College of Education. Even though the video is focused on helping teachers help students be successful in the classroom, the approach is applicable in many aspects of outreach and engagement work. It is 17 minutes well spent.
Have you used design thinking in your outreach and engagement work? Do you think the design thinking model would work with community problem solving? Share your comments below.
An Outreach and Engagement partnership is being built one step at a time with the League of Oregon Cities (LOC). LOC is a governmental entity formed by an intergovernmental agreement by Oregon’s incorporated cities (a direct quote from the LOC website). Founded in 1925, LOC works with its member cities to help local government better serve the citizens of Oregon. Introduced to LOC by Vince Adams and Lena Etuk through their work on the Rural Communities Explorer, Scott Reed, Lindsey Shirley and Patrick Proden, metro region administrator, continue to deepen the relationship.
The results so far? Sponsorship of the League of Oregon Cities’ 2016 conference and an article in the October 2016 issue of Local Focus, their monthly magazine. The issue focused on how universities – Oregon State University, Portland State University and University of Oregon – are helping Oregon cities. Proden and Maureen Quinn, Extension Family and Community Health Program, attended the late-September conference on behalf of University Outreach and Engagement, both indicating it was well worth their time to attend.
The article, titled “OSU Extension Service: Helping Communities Envision and Create a Better Future,” was collaboratively written with Patrick Proden. It was an exercise in squeezing the substantial, 100-year story of Extension and its impact in Oregon into a mere 1,500 meaningful words (plus a few pictures and a graphic).
By Mark Floyd, News and Research Communications, Oregon State University
Editor’s Note: A lot of fascinating work is being done by Extension faculty. This is one story that might surprise you. Be sure to watch the mesmerizing video! Leigh Torres, Oregon SeaGrant Extension, specializes in the spatial and behavioral ecology of marine megafauna including marine mammals, seabirds and sharks. The following was distributed to news media on October 4, 2016.
A lot of people think what Leigh Torres has done this summer and fall would qualify her for a spot on one of those “World’s Worst Jobs” lists.
After all, the Oregon State University marine ecologist follows gray whales from a small inflatable boat in the rugged Pacific Ocean and waits for them to, well, poop. Then she and her colleagues have about 20-30 seconds to swoop in behind the animal with a fine mesh net and scoop up some of the prized material before it drifts to the ocean floor.
Mind you, gray whales can reach a length of more than 40 feet and weigh more than 30 tons, making the retrieval of their daily constitutional somewhat daunting. Yet Torres, a principal investigator in the university’s Marine Mammal Institute, insists that it really isn’t that bad.
“We’re just looking for a few grams of material and to be honest, it doesn’t even smell that bad,” she said. “Now, collecting a DNA sample from a whale’s blow-hole – that’s a bad job. Their breath is horrendous.”
Being a marine pooper-scooper isn’t some strange fetish for the Oregon State research team. They are conducting a pilot project to determine how gray whales respond to ocean noise – both natural and human – and whether these noises cause physiological stress in the animals. Technology is changing the way the researchers are approaching their study.
“New advances in biotechnology allow us to use the fecal samples to look at a range of things that provide clues to the overall health and stress of the whales,” Torres said. “We can look at their hormone levels and genetically identify individual whales, their sex and whether they are pregnant. And we can analyze their prey and document what they’ve been eating.
“Previously, we would have to do a biopsy to learn some of these things and though they can be done safely, you typically don’t repeat the procedure often because it’s invasive,” she added. “Here, we can follow individual whales over a four-month feeding season and pick up multiple samples that can tell us changes in their health.”
The study is a pilot project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Acoustics Program to determine the impacts of noise on whale behavior and health. Torres, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon, focuses on gray whales because they are plentiful and close to shore.
“Many marine mammals are guided by acoustics and use sound to locate food, to navigate, to communicate with one another and to find a mate,” said Torres, a faculty member in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and an ecologist with the Oregon Sea Grant program.
Ten years ago, such a study would not have been possible, Torres acknowledged. In addition to new advances in genetic and hormone analyses, the OSU team uses a drone to fly high above the whales. It not only detects when they defecate, it is giving them unprecedented views of whale behavior.
“We are seeing things through the drone cameras that we have never seen before,” Torres said. “Because of the overhead views, we now know that whales are much more agile in their feeding. We call them ‘bendy’ whales because they make such quick, sharp turns when feeding. These movements just can’t be seen from the deck of a ship.”
The use of small, underwater Go-Pro cameras allows them to observe what the whales are feeding upon below. The researchers can identify zooplankton, benthic invertebrates, and fish in the water column near feeding whales, and estimate abundance – helping them understand what attracts the whales to certain habitats.
Joe Haxel and Sharon Nieukirk are acoustic scientists at the Hatfield center who are assisting with the project. They deploy drifting hydrophones near the whales to record natural and human sounds, help operate the overhead drone camera that monitors the whales’ behavior, and also get in on the fecal analysis.
“Gray whales are exposed to a broad range of small- and medium-sized boat traffic that includes sport fishing and commercial fleets,” Haxel said. “Since they are very much a coastal species, their exposure to anthropogenic noise is pretty high. That said, the nearshore environment is already very noisy with natural sounds including wind and breaking surf, so we’re trying to suss out some of the space and time patterns in noise levels in the range of habitats where the whales are found.”
It will take years for the researchers to learn how ocean noise affects whale behavior and health, but as ocean noises continue increasing – through ship traffic, wave energy projects, sonar use, seismic surveys and storms – the knowledge they gain may be applicable to many whale species, Torres said.
And the key to this baseline study takes a skilled, professional pooper-scooper.
“When a whale defecates, it generates this reddish cloud and the person observing the whale usually screams “POOP!” and we spring into action,” Torres said. “It’s a moment of excitement, action – and also sheer joy. I know that sounds a little weird, but we have less than 30 seconds to get in there and scoop up some of that poop that may provide us with a biological gold mine of information that will help protect whales into the future.
Healthy communities are important to our quality of life. Vince Adams, extension educator and coordinator of the Rural Communities Explorer (RCE), joined Scott for this month’s First Monday video. RCE is a web-based tool that provides demographic and economic indicators about all–rural and urban–communities in Oregon and should be used by Extension and community leaders as a resource to identify areas of community strengths and challenges. Vince announced that a new more intuitive RCE interface will launch at the end of October.
Let us know how you have used RCE in your community work by commenting on the blog.
Congratulations to Marilyn Lesmeister for sharing her thoughts on innovation on the O&E blog. The Innovator’s Dilemma, by bestseller author Clayton Christensen, will be heading her way. Thank you, too, to the others that shared how they focus on innovation. Click here to read all the comments.