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Small setting, big opportunities as the Honors College grows at OSU-Cascades

Small classes. One-on-one relationships with faculty. A more personal college experience. They’re big reasons why many prospective students choose OSU-Cascades or apply to the Oregon State University Honors College.

What many students don’t know is they can do both.

The first Honors College cohort at OSU-Cascades started in fall 2017 and has since grown to 22 students. And there’s room for more.

For high-achieving high school students who want to live in Central Oregon — and many of them do — having the Honors College at OSU-Cascades means they can continue along their path with advanced classes, unique research opportunities and interdisciplinary studies offered at the Bend campus. They’ll also graduate with the Honors Baccalaureate, Oregon State’s most prestigious undergraduate degree.

The first two OSU-Cascades-admitted students to earn the Honors Baccalaureate are graduating this year. Gertrude Villaverde completed her degree in energy systems engineering at the end of the winter term and has already accepted a job offer from Energy 350 in Portland. Casey Collier will finish his degree in kinesiology at the end of the spring term.

The honors experience at OSU-Cascades is similar to Corvallis, with unique classes that include students from different majors. Honors colloquium courses include Supernatural Physiology, Politics of Diseases and Speculating Futures. Pat Ball, a senior instructor in biology, emphasizes that while the coursework may be more in-depth or complex than non-honors courses, “the key is different work, not more work.”

The small classes also allow faculty to know their students individually. “It allows us to connect with them better, understand their strengths and weaknesses, and get to know what their dreams are,” Ball says. “For me, this brings out the desire to help them achieve those goals, because they feel like part of a family.”

“You know every single one of your professors, and every single one of your professors knows you,” Villaverde adds. “Everyone is always rooting for you.”

Such student-faculty relationships deepen throughout the honors thesis process, and it benefits them

OSU Cascades HC student Casey Collier and his thesis mentor Professor Timothy Burnett – Rob Kerr Photography

both. Honors College students bring a “mindset of curiosity,” says Tim Burnett, an instructor of kinesiology. Students’ theses can start the inquiry process or add knowledge to a faculty member’s field of study.


“An Honors College student might be the person you need to move your research further,” Burnett says. He served as an advisor for Collier, whose thesis on the bioenergetics of rock climbing helped Burnett test data collection technology and identify trends on his larger research study.

Villaverde wrote her thesis under the mentorship of Chris Hagen, an associate professor of energy systems engineering. It proposes converting excess hydropower into hydrogen that can be stored in the existing natural gas infrastructure and used when needed. The resulting blend can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 9.3 metric tons for every metric ton of hydrogen blended into natural gas. Villaverde and her team won third place in an international student design contest to develop hydrogen-based energy systems.

OSU-Cascades HC student Gertrude Villaverde and her thesis mentor Professor Chris Hagen – Rob Kerr Photography


“This is a really impactful project,” Hagen says. “We’re working with NW Natural on a proposal to change the way energy is managed in the PacificNorthwest, and students like Gertrude are integral that process.”

Beyond the thesis, OSU-Cascades and the Honors College have built a robust network of internship opportunities with community partners in Bend and Central Oregon. Students can choose from multiple real-world work experiences in areas such as biotech and pharmaceuticals, health care, software development and community services with businesses ranging from startups to large, multinational corporations.

Ultimately, the reasons why a student would choose the Honors College are the same, whether it’s in Corvallis or Bend. The Honors College exposes students to new ideas and topics they might not have seen otherwise. It can be an ideal stepping stone for graduate school. It offers a supportive community of like-minded students from a variety of academic programs. It encourages them to unleash their creativity and pursue their curiosity wherever it leads.

Including to OSU-Cascades.

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