Jessica Hightower is a post-doctoral scholar in the department of forest ecosystems and society, and was one of the leaders of the faculty-led international program Oil Palms and Orangutans: Forest Conservation in Malaysian Borneo.

Students on an early morning bird walk at Deramakot

Tell me a little about the Borneo program – what types of activities did you engage in, what kind of students participated, etc
The Borneo program offers an opportunity to learn more about the unique flora and fauna of Borneo and the threats to their conservation. We visited popular eco-tourism spots, logged forests, oil palm plantations, and undisturbed tropical forests. We spoke to people living in these communities and learned more about what these forests mean to them and what they are doing to protect and restore their forests. We also learned more about oil palm, exploring a truly complex issue. Activities included plenty of opportunities for wildlife sightings, including night drives, birding walks, and boat rides, but also included time to talk to people in the community and learn more about their lives. Our last program had a wonderfully diverse cohort, which really strengthened the program. We had both on-campus and online students- the on-campus students were able to share their on-campus learning experiences, while the online students came from all over the US (and even abroad) and contributed their own unique experiences and perspectives. It was a great opportunity for on-campus students to expand their network, while online students were able to establish a sense of community with their peers that can be difficult to do over a screen.

Why were you interested in participating?
My dissertation research was in Borneo, where I investigated how logging and conversion to oil palm impacts bird communities. While I was out in the field I would daydream about how great it would be to bring students over for a study abroad course. While I worked there I lived in a state of constant amazement over the flora and fauna of Borneo and I wanted to share the experience with others. When I moved to Oregon and began working in the department of forest ecosystems and society at OSU, I was offered the opportunity to co-teach the Borneo program, which really was a dream come true!

What is one memory that sticks out?
So many that it is hard to pick! The night drives at Deramakot were a personal favorite and it was exciting to share the experience with the students, instructors, and guides. Going out to look for wildlife is always an adventure, but the sense of adventure is multiplied when you go out at night, driving through beautiful tropical forests with all the accompanying sights, smells, and sounds. Our first night drive we lucked out with an abundance of wildlife; we saw giant flying squirrels, slow loris, and palm civets. But we hit the jackpot with a binturong feeding far up in the canopy. We thought nothing could top that, but then one of the students spotted a colugo (look it up, they’re crazy!) and we got to watch it glide between trees. As we were riding that high and returning to camp around midnight our luck continued and we wrapped up the night with a leopard cat! It was during that drive that some of the students discovered they had a knack for spotting difficult to see wildlife at night!

What advice do you have for students thinking about going on one of our faculty-led international programs?
Have an open mind towards new experiences. It is great to prepare, but leave your expectations behind and be ready to adapt. Traveling abroad is one of the greatest ways to build confidence and discover just how much you can accomplish. The faculty-led international programs offer the experience of traveling abroad, but the knowledge and structure to really immerse yourself in an incredible learning experience.

Anything else you would like to share?
I was really impressed with how much students do and see on the Borneo program. Some people (like me) have worked in Borneo for multiple field seasons and never get to visit some of the places this program takes students. It is a whirlwind of an adventure and you will want to stay at each location for much longer than the time allotted, but it is truly amazing the amount of ground we covered. It was a life changing experience for both the students and instructors.

Professors Matt Betts and Mark Needham

Mark Needham, professor in the department of forest ecosystems and society, was one of the program leaders in our faculty-led summer trip to Borneo. Oil Palms and Orangutans: Forest Conservation in Malaysian Borneo introduced students to the major conservation challenges facing Borneo while traveling around the Malaysian state of Sabah.

How long were you in Borneo? Was all the time devoted to the program or did you do some other sightseeing while you were there? 
The program lasted two weeks in June 2022.  All of my time was devoted to the program and I did minimal extra sightseeing.  There were 17 undergraduate and graduate students from various programs across campus (e.g., natural resources; fish and wildlife; tourism, recreation, and adventure leadership).  This course focused on intersections among forest management, wildlife conservation, ecotourism, community well-being, and poverty alleviation.  The students observed many animal species (e.g., orangutans, sun bears, pygmy elephants), engaged with local communities and organizations (e.g., palm oil plantation companies, community-based ecotourism enterprises, government agencies, non-governmental organizations), engaged in various experiences (e.g., tree planting, cooking local foods, playing local music), and participated in daily discussions and debates as well as working on their assignments.  Through this immersive and experience-based learning opportunity, the students gained a wide understanding and appreciation for these issues and the local cultures.  It also broadened their perspectives on various topics. 

What is one memory from the program that sticks out? 
Seeing my first orangutans and first sun bears in the wild; the variety and diversity of wildlife species in Borneo are incredible!  I will also never forget how thoughtful, engaged, and kind all of the students were. This was the first multi-week study abroad course that I led and it impacted me more than I ever imagined.  I was energized by the student enthusiasm and passion.  I was encouraged by the student thoughtfulness and appreciation for the complexity of the issues discussed.  And, I was touched by the student compassion and caring for their fellow students and the local community members.

What advice do you have for students interested in this program? 
Just do it!  Step out of your comfort zone and go for it!  Traveling internationally in developing regions and with a class group can be difficult and challenge you in various ways, but the experiences, relationships, and knowledge gained are priceless, and you will never forget it.

I know you love photography, how many pictures did you take in Borneo?  
Yes, I am a professional wildlife photographer.  I took more than 2,000 images of wildlife in Borneo.  I am only now just starting to sort through and process (i.e., digitally develop) some of them, as right after Borneo, I traveled straight to South Africa, then Botswana, then New Zealand, and then Australia, so this summer has been a whirlwind of amazing places and adventures!

Anything else you would like to share? 
At the end of the course, many of the students said things such as “this trip changed my life,”  “it solidified my choice to study natural resources and all of the complexities associated with managing these resources and the people who depend on them,”  and “I now want to study these issues in much more depth, perhaps by continuing on with a graduate degree.”  This feedback is awesome and so gratifying!

Our faculty led programs offer students the opportunity to study special topics for academic credit with College of Forestry faculty. These programs are both led and conceived by our faculty, and may incorporate study with international students and instructors. They are often shorter than the length of a term and may take place during spring break, winter break, or the first or last few weeks of summer term.

2022 alumnus Radford Bean (tourism, recreation and adventure leadership, outdoor recreation management option) traveled to Malaysian Borneo as part of our faculty-led program, Oil Palms and Orangutans: Forest Conservation in Malaysian Borneo. Radford sent the following reflection to us as part of our “What I did this summer” series – thank you Radford!

I spent much of June on Borneo looking at the impact deforestation, especially related to oil palm plantations, was having on the environment and ecosystem of Borneo. The group, led by Dr. Matt Betts, explored different landscape practices related to logging that will improve sustainability of the environment, economy, and the community. We learned of the sustainability practices one of the largest palm oil producers were taking to protect the environment.

Part of the sustainability practices we explored included looking at tourism activities that benefit communities on Borneo by helping to find sustainable tourism activities that improve the economy and lives of local communities. Tourism can play a major role in the improvement of communities if done sustainably and with involvement of people in the local community like we witnessed at KOPEL, a village-based co-operative focusing on ecotourism.

The Kinabatangan River, the largest river on Borneo, is heavily polluted with tons of plastic waste. All the plastic waste has to go someplace, and most of it will find its way to the ocean, where it will pose harm to the marine life. The sad thing is that the river supports a broad range of life. I observed macaques and endangered proboscis monkeys, water monitor lizards, saltwater crocodiles, herons, hornbills, and other wildlife relying on the river. The people also rely on the river as a source of food and drinking water.

Borneo is not a wealthy country, and the energy and water infrastructure are in serious need of modernization. I needed to drink bottled water because of a lack of adequate purification infrastructure.

Weaknesses in infrastructure aside, the island and its wildlife and people are amazing. I had some awesome wildlife photography opportunities, and my wildlife photography improved under the guidance of Dr. Mark Needham. The people were so friendly. Locals wanted photographs with me and others in my group.

It was an amazing experience, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the trip. The trip allowed me to create a PowerPoint presentation I hope to deliver to local communities to inform them about the need to make wise consumer choices when it comes to purchasing products containing palm oil and its derivatives.

What I did this summer is a profile series of students, faculty and staff in the College of Forestry. Did you have a great job, vacation, or field research experience? Contact CoFThisWeek@oregonstate.edu and we will be in touch!

Nathan is a double major in renewable materials and forestry in the College of Forestry. This summer, he participated in our faculty-led program to the Italian Alps. Tradition and Innovation in the Wood Construction Industry: A Journey in the Italian Alps explored the past of European wood architecture and the future of timber engineering in the beautiful Dolomites of Italy.

What originally interested you in studying abroad?
I really wanted to go to Italy, and I thought the program sounded interesting.

What surprised you most during your travels? Why?
Everything. I felt almost constantly surprised. If I have to pick I would say I was most surprised at how purposeful the wilderness is. In the United States, I am never quite sure if a wild place is protected, or just hasn’t been built on yet. In Italy, it was clear by the resort-style “huts” deep in the mountains that they mean to leave that forest a forest. It was also interesting to me to see how close each town was to the next town. It seems like it would make it harder to get horribly lost.

How did your time abroad influence your thoughts on your field of study?
I feel like this trip really cemented in me the idea that my career could be international, and that I would like to do that, at least for part of it.

If you had to pick one, what was your all-time favorite experience while abroad? Why was it so meaningful?
Just talking to people on transit. I feel like I am supposed to have a flashier answer, but I met so many interesting characters in between activities for the program. I was surprised at how few Americans there were, but how many other friendly English-speakers wanted to get to know someone far from home. I guess everyone on transit is a traveler, no matter how many kilometers they cross.

What advice would you give to students considering an international experience?
Stay longer if you can, and rest one of the days you are gone. Don’t be afraid to apply.

What I did this summer is a profile series of students, faculty and staff in the College of Forestry. Did you have a great job, vacation, or field research experience? Contact CoFThisWeek@oregonstate.edu and we will be in touch!

Dean Tom DeLuca plants a tree in Finland

Roughly every two years, the College of Forestry Dean leads a tour of the College’s senior stakeholders to learn about innovations in thought and practice in the world of sustainable forest management and wood product development. In May of this year, the group visited Sweden and Finland to learn about social license for forestry, and advances through the integration of digitization and artificial intelligence into assessment, harvest and supply chain practices. In Sweden, Skogforsk, the Forestry Research Institute of Sweden, and the forest owners’ association Mellanskog hosted the group. In Finland, Dr. Ritva Toivonen, Dean of Agriculture and Forestry at the University of Helsinki, hosted the group at her family forest/farm, and she and faculty members joined the group in a visit to the Metsä Bioproducts Mill at Äänekoski, the largest wood processing plant in the Northern Hemisphere, to learn about its energy generation and sidestream product development. The tour culminated with informational presentations from Trimble, Ponsse, and Collective Crunch, all companies working to integrate digitization into forestry practice and carbon assessment for greater accuracy and sustainability.

The trip was organized and run by the College of Forestry International Programs office. Thank you to Michele Justice, director of International Programs, for this summary of the trip!

Mill tour in Sweden
Forest management lecture in Sweden
Remote control operation of a forwarder

After a two-year Covid-19 hiatus, OSU relaunched 11 faculty-led programs abroad and 5 were from College of Forestry! One group of 15 students traveled to the Aysén Region of Chile, part of Northern Patagonia.

Associate professor Carlos Gonzales-Benecke and Ph.D. student Claudio Guevara from the department of forest engineering, resources and management, along with assistant professor Daniel Soto of the Universidad de Aysen in Coyhaique, Chile, led the program that explored the diverse forests and dramatic landscapes of the area. Chilean newspaper El Divisadero featured the trip, interviewed the students, and shot a documentary.

Bri Rose participated in the trip and loved learning about the native species of Chile. Her advice? “As a student, there are many scholarships and grants to apply for that will help cover travel expenses. So, my advice is to go. Apply for those trips. Leave the country. Get out of your comfort zone and see the world, you will grow so much as person.”

Next up? Borneo, Italy and New Zealand. The College of Forestry International Programs office offers study and internship programs from the biodiverse rainforests of Borneo to state-of-the-art wood manufacturing facilities in the Austrian Alps, and frequently host interns and exchange students from around the world.

Justin Ariah Fasana has always loved nature, especially the forests of the Pacific Northwest. As a natural resources major with an individualized specialty option in Indigenous environmental policy, he wants to do his part to protect the forests and the communities that rely on them.

“When I realized the importance of natural resources like timber and how communities like my hometown of Willamina rely on them, I knew that I wanted to do my part in making these resources accessible to those that need them the most,” Fasana said.

After graduation, his dream job would be to work in a natural resources department for a native tribe somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

“I am a proud member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, and growing up, I got to see how natural resources have provided so much opportunity for our Tribe to grow into what it is today from almost nothing,” Fasana said. “My uncle worked in CTGR’s natural resources department for many years, and I would love a job very similar to his.”

When it came time to choose a college, OSU’s College of Forestry appealed to him because the courses and degrees offered aligned with what he needed to learn to start his chosen career path.

“Being able to live close to home, study forests I am familiar with and meet people from all over with many different interests in forestry and natural resources were all part of my decision to come to OSU,” Fasana said. “Being so close to home has also allowed me to spend time with family, which is important to me. My dad and I are very adventurous and go on hikes, ride motorcycles, or snowboard together.”

One of his favorite experiences at OSU has been studying abroad at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, an opportunity available to students thanks to the college’s international programs office. Aside from the many traveling experiences and close friends he made during the five months he spent there, he had the opportunity to study similar topics in natural resources and forestry from a completely different context and learn about New Zealand’s indigenous culture.

Another powerful experience has been the opportunity to work on a research project with a PhD student in the college.

“Being able to see the practical application of all of the things we learn in the classroom has allowed me to better consider what I can do in the future and how I might achieve my career goals,” Fasana said.

When not in class, he can often be found at OSU’s Craft Center, throwing pots.

“Since freshman year of high school, I have been in love with ceramics, particularly wheel throwing,” Fasana said. “I have been working in the pottery studio of OSU’s Craft Center for the past two years, which has been an awesome pastime in between classes.”

Fasana was a recipient of the Finley Academic Scholarship and received an Intertribal Timber Council scholarship, which the college matched.

“These scholarships have made my learning experience much less stressful since I do not have to worry about paying for school as much. I would highly recommend applying for every and any scholarship you come across, in and outside of the College of Forestry, as it can make a world of difference.”

As Fasana looks to the future and towards the end of his undergraduate experience at OSU, he encourages other students to tap into the connections and opportunities available to them at the college.

“I believe I am speaking for everybody in the College of Forestry when I say that we are passionate about what we do,” Fasana said.

“Do not be afraid to talk to professors, test out job and internship opportunities and make friends with people in your major,” Fasana advised. “The college can have a huge impact on your life.”

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.

As a renewable materials major with an option in science and engineering, Quinn Smesrud wants to pursue a green building industry career after graduation. She sees the path as a way to combine her knowledge of wood products and her passions for art and environmental stewardship.

This passion for green building and sustainable architecture ignited during the summer of 2019, when she traveled abroad to Slovenia and Italy with the College of Forestry through the “Forest to Frame: Sustainable Manufacturing and Design in Alpine Europe” international program.

“Studying abroad with the College of Forestry was the best experience I have had during my undergraduate career at Oregon State,” Smesrud said. “The opportunity to travel to Alpine Europe and study mass timber in the region where it originated was an incredible experience.”

While in Alpine Europe, Smesrud closely followed the building process from design through construction, which expanded her understanding of the value chain. Touring various places provided her with a holistic view of the industry while experiencing and learning about European culture.

The experience abroad added to her on-campus experience, too. Her favorite class, “Developments of Building Design with Renewable Materials,” allowed her to tour buildings on the Oregon State campus that showcased the engineered wood products students were learning about in class.

“Now, learning about sustainable wood products in class is even more exciting because I can tie what I learn in the classroom to my experiences abroad,” Smesrud said.

Thanks to the generous contributions of college partners, Smesrud has received the Friends of Renewable Materials scholarship since her sophomore year and is actively involved in the campus and Corvallis community.

She worked as a technical assistant for OSU’s Botany and Plant Pathology Department, as a College of Forestry Student Ambassador, and she’s been a member of Kappa Alpha Theta since 2017.

“Being a part of the college has provided me with many opportunities to grow as a leader and be an active member of the Corvallis community,” Smesrud said.

Smesrud’s advice for incoming students is that it is okay not to know what degree you want to pursue as a freshman, and college is the time to explore your interests. As for Smesrud, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in sustainable architecture after graduation.

“The renewable materials program has shaped me into a well-informed environmentalist with a realistic perspective on the importance of combating climate change,” Smesrud said. “My motivation for pursuing a green career is to be part of the solution to create a more sustainable future.”

This story was part of the College of Forestry’s 2019-2020 Biennial Report.

Degree: TRAL Sustainable Tourism Management, Class of 2020
Hometown: Eagle Point, OR

What is your major and how long have you been studying at OSU?
I am studying Tourism, Recreation, and Adventure Leadership (TRAL) with a focus in Sustainable Tourism Management. I transferred to OSU in the fall of 2018 from Ithaca College, New York.

What would you like to do professionally after you graduate?
I would love to create travel itineraries for a sustainable travel company, or lead groups on unique travel experiences. I thrive in unusual situations and enjoy showing people new experiences. As long as I’m outside and going new places, I’ll be happy!

Have you been involved in any clubs or activities on campus? What has your experience been like with these opportunities?
Yes, last year I got involved with the International Forestry Students’ Association (IFSA). I am our Local Committee’s secretary, and I really enjoy it! IFSA has been a wonderful opportunity to travel, meet new people, and exchange ideas on how to create a more sustainable future with fellow students.

Have you participated in any work experience (on-campus or related to your field) during your time as a student at OSU? Has this helped prepare you for a job after graduation?
Since the summer of 2018, I have worked at the College of Forestry International Programs office. Although most of the job involves working at a desk, I love it! I communicate with people around the world, I create events for the on-campus community, and I help market our programs to students interested in traveling abroad. This job has definitely given me a perspective of post-graduation life, which may not appear glamorous in the day-to-day, but has tremendous impact on a variety of audiences.

Have you participated in any experiential learning opportunities? How has this impacted your student experience?
In December, I embarked on a faculty-led program to Costa Rica with thirteen other TRAL, Forestry, and Natural Resources students. We traveled with OSU Cascade’s Ron Reuter and Andrew Hawley to the southern part of Costa Rica, where we backpacked, rafted, and chatted with local communities for two weeks. It was an unforgettable experience, and I still get shivers thinking of how we could see the concepts of community-based tourism in action.

Do you have a favorite College of Forestry course that you’ve taken? If so, why is it your favorite?
It’s impossible to pick just one! There are two courses that have tied for my favorite: Nature, Eco, and Adventure Tourism with Dr. Mark Needham, and Planning Sustainable Tourism with Dr. Ian Munanura.  Mark Needham’s class was a wonderful introduction to the field of international tourism, its problems, and potential solutions. This class showed me the impact (both positive and negative) that tourism can create in the world. Ian Munanura’s class was a deep dive into everything that goes into sustainable tourism operations. It taught me the tough lesson that tourism is a massively complication field with many stakeholders, and there is never a single right answer.

What’s one thing (or piece of advice) that you would like incoming OSU students to know?
Chase what sparks you. Take the classes that sound interesting, and befriend the professor that you think is cool. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions to smart people. 

How do you like going to school in Corvallis?
I love Corvallis. The campus is beautiful, and the town life is fantastic. There’s always something to do, whether it’s dance nights downtown or hikes in any of the nearby natural areas. Studying tourism and recreation here is particularly good because there are plenty of opportunities to go out and observe trails being used, new businesses opening, and people traveling and recreating. 

Have you received any scholarships from OSU or the College of Forestry? If so, what has it helped you accomplish?
When I traveled to Costa Rica, I received some very generous funding from the Dean’s Investment Fund for International Engagement, which is available for any College of Forestry student interested in traveling abroad in order to pursue their interests through international study, research, and internships.

Major: Renewable Materials; Year: Senior

Renewable Materials senior Joshua Stump is hungry for international experience.

He landed at Oregon State after earning a Jazz Piano Performance degree from Arizona State University and spending five years in the United States Navy.

“Music was my passion growing up, but my first experience in college was a hard lesson for me about what happens when you don’t take education seriously,” Stump says. “With mounting student debt hanging over my head, I joined the Navy to jump start my life financially.”

After five years, he was ready to move on to the next stage and decided to follow an interest of his since childhood: sustainability and the environment.

“I’ve always had enormous respect for nature and other forms of life,” says Stump, “My dad took me to Mount Rainier National Park as a child, and that made a huge impression on me.”

After researching degrees at Oregon State, Stump chose the renewable materials program, which he knew would lead him toward a career promoting the use of natural solutions for products we use every day, including sustainable building practices.

Stump completed an internship with Boise Cascade during summer 2018. He’s also an apprentice piano restorer.

During his Navy service, Stump traveled to Australia and several Asian countries. He has not visited Europe yet, even though he is extremely interested in the area.

“I have always been very interested in German culture,” Stump says. “I have family heritage there, and I have always been fascinated with their work ethic and interest in art and music. I think Germany would be an amazing place to live.”

He is planning to participate in the short-term, faculty-led Alpine Europe program. The program, offered through the college’s Office of International Programs, takes students to the European Alps and provides a holistic view of the sustainable wood products industry. He is also interested in completing an internship focused on piano restoration in Austria

“I am hoping to combine my interests,” Stump says. “Playing piano has been what has defined me since childhood, and I would love to focus on alternatives for soundboards in pianos. They are made exclusively with Sitka spruce. With Sitka forests disappearing due to climate change, I want to help find alternatives for soundboards.”

Stump says he would love to live in Europe someday.

“My dream is to build a completely self-sustaining home,” Stump says. “I would spend my time repairing and tuning pianos and use my free time to engaging in environmental activism.”

A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry. Learn more about College of Forestry research facilities and collaborations.