Public health researchers team up on flame retardant study

Preventing house fires is important, especially in families with children – but there is growing evidence that flame retardant materials used broadly in furniture, electronics, and even toys, may create a new health threat.

Research has shown that many of the chemicals used as flame retardants persist in the environment and accumulate in people. While the health effects from flame retardants are not clear, data from toxicological studies show that some of the chemicals used as flame retardants may affect brain development – a conclusion that has led to the ban of many of these chemicals in the European Union. But in the United States, the federal standards have focused on fire safety, not necessarily the chemicals that are used as flame retardants.

The lack of regulation may relate to the dearth of applied research. While many experts agree that some of the chemicals used in flame retardants are toxic, few studies have focused on the risk of exposure to common household items, from furniture to rugs. Now a team of researchers at Oregon State University is hoping to fill some of those gaps.

“We know from animal studies that some flame retardants can have a neurotoxic effect, so brain development and cognition are at risk,” said Molly Kile, an OSU public health environmental epidemiologist who will lead a team of researchers to find answers.

“Given the fact that the numbers of children with neurological and cognitive disabilities is on the rise in the developing world, many have hypothesized that that exposure to chemicals may be a contributing factor,” Kile said. “In order to start designing studies that can examine this hypothesis, it is necessary to understand how children are being exposed to chemicals like flame retardants. For instance, why do some households have higher exposures and how are children coming into contact with these chemicals?”

Other OSU researchers on this team are focusing on potential for social factors to affect children’s ability to control their behavior, as well as other neurological and cognitive factors that can impact motor skills, attention deficit, and other aspects of school readiness.

Perhaps most importantly to parents, the researchers will examine different ways to reduce the effects of these chemical exposures on children’s health. This is a particularly critical aspect of this study since previous research has shown that 97 percent of Americans have one of the key flame retardant chemicals, known as polybromintaed diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, in their blood. And young children have been shown to have almost three times the levels of PBDEs in their blood as their mothers.

“We want to explore if a supportive home environment, with lots of active play, positive parenting, and educational activities, can help dampen the effects of these chemicals on children’s development,” said Shannon Lipscomb, an assistant professor at OSU-Cascades who is conducting surveys with the parents of the children in the study.

“There are large gaps in school readiness, despite most children having some amount of exposure to these chemicals. So we suspect that parents can help to protect children from some of the potentially harmful effects.”

This interdisciplinary group of OSU researchers is working under a grant from the university’s Environmental Health Sciences Center that will monitor 100 preschool age children in Corvallis and Bend during the next year.

Their methodology is as fascinating as the study is important. Over the next year, OSU researchers will visit the families of the 100 preschool children in their homes. The children will wear bracelets designed by OSU’s Kim Anderson that can monitor the amount of chemicals they are exposed to each day.

Anderson, a professor in the Department of Environmental & Molecular Toxicology at OSU, developed the silicone-based passive sampling device. It is fashioned as a plastic bracelet which can either be worn on the child’s wrist or ankle. After being worn for one week, Anderson and Kile will analyze the data, using a statistical model developed by Bo Zhang, a new faculty member and biostatistician in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

The researchers will also vacuum household dust in the areas where the children most often play to collect direct chemical data from the household. All participants of the study receive a free chemical analysis of their home, along with gift certificates to local businesses.

Both undergraduate and graduate students at OSU are heavily involved in this study. For instance, Andrea Gomez, a senior in human development and family sciences, is the project coordinator of the Corvallis site. Gomez has done research with Megan McClelland, an associate professor at OSU and one of the core directors of OSU’s Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families.

Kate Nordquist, a recent graduate in human development and family sciences and current master’s student at OSU-Cascades in elementary teaching, is the project coordinator of the Bend site, working with Lipscomb and her team of students. Jennifer Pryzbyla, a doctoral student in the Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety program, is also involved. With the help of other students, they are leading the efforts to collect the samples from the participants’ homes and assess children’s development.

“For me, being involved in research at OSU has given me a deeper understanding of children and families,” Gomez said. “It is a direct way to apply what is learned in the classroom.”

McClelland is also involved in the flame retardant study, conducting assessments of the participants’ ability to control their behavior, or “self-regulate.” Self-regulation has been found by McClelland to be a key predictor as to whether or not a child is ready for school, and uses a Simon Says-like task to assess these skills in children.

McClelland said this project, which combines the expertise of new junior faculty members with more seasoned faculty, is unusual for academia. She said it can be rare to find researchers from such different areas, such as analytical chemists, environmental epidemiologists and child development experts, working together

“Having this collaborative space available at the Hallie Ford Center has really been essential for this project,” McClelland said. “And it really fits with the mission of the center, to help children and families, along with the public health mission of our college.”

Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, is an expert on motor skills and developmental delays, such as autism. She is leading the group looking at cognitive functioning of the children.

MacDonald says that 1 in 88 children now have autism spectrum disorder, a rate that has risen far above the 2009 estimate of 1 in 110. Autism is the most common childhood neurodevelopmental disability, and identifying potential triggers for neurodevelopmental disabilities is more critical than ever.

“We’re trying to capture the fact that health, and things that can impact cognitive functioning in particular, are multi-factorial,” she said. “It’s never just one magic bullet.”

The researchers pointed out that while every child is exposed to the chemicals in flame retardants, some homes may have higher levels.

“Parents who can afford to buy all-natural wool mattresses for their child’s crib, for instance, may see a benefit,” McClelland said, adding that wool is naturally flame-repellant, and so does not usually have the same chemical profile. “But environmentally-friendly material is often much more expensive, and many parents simply can’t afford it.”

Kile said parents can’t be blamed when almost all materials are embedded with these chemicals. But she said policy change could be a long time coming, so in the meantime, OSU researchers want to help families develop tools to help their child’s health.

“Chemicals are innocent until proven guilty in this country,” Kile said. “In Europe, for instance, manufacturers have to prove chemicals are not harmful before they put them in a product. Here, you have to prove it is harmful before you can remove it.”

Kile said these different philosophies frequently cause confusion for manufacturers and the public who hear different messages depending on the source of information.

Assessing preschool-age children is important because this is considered a key time for brain development. Experts say intervening early to help children with behavioral and socialization skills is crucial to their academic success.

“Children live in a plastic, foam-filled environment, and they are susceptible particularly at this critical time of 4 to 5 years-old,” Kile said. “What we want to do is capture a snapshot of what is happening just in 100 homes in two cities, and cast a wide net to see what these chemicals are doing.”

Researchers, left to right: Megan MacDonald, Molly Kile, Megan McClelland, and Shannon Lipscomb.

Service is a way of life for Nick Christensen.

Nick Christensen
Nick Christensen

Nick Christensen and his Red Cross teammates stopped at Strawns on their last day in Shreveport, Louisiana. They had been regulars there for breakfast during their two weeks volunteering for victims of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. When they were getting ready to pay, their waitress told them it was taken care of. She pointed to a man in a booth in the back. The man said, “Thank you for what you do.”

For Christensen, an OSU senior and natural resource management major, getting that message was important, because he weaves service to others so tightly into his day-to-day life. In this Q&A, Christensen talks about his history of service and his work in Louisiana.

Describe your history of service.

I’ve been a Boy Scout for the last 16 years, and run a summer camp north of Mt. Hood National Forest along with three other people.

I’ve worked for Dixon for four years, which has been great. I’ve done safety programs, Emergency Response and Red Cross classes. Right now I supervise the emergency responders who go to high-impact sporting events around campus. I sit on the board of Rec Sports and am the president of the Student Activities Committee there, and in my spare time I officiate sports for high schools around Oregon

What motivates you to serve?

Serving is fun for me. I wouldn’t know what to do if I wasn’t. I want to do positive things. I want to help people and meet new people. Serving just seems like a logical thing to do.

Did working with the Red Cross in Louisiana give you a different appreciation for the work they do?

They teach you in disaster training to be flexible, but I never understood it until I went to Louisiana. I’d come with the understanding I would be doing mass care in Baton Rouge. But when I got there I was assigned to Shreveport, six hours to the north. I was supposed to work in a shelter there, but ended up fixing computers and working in staffing services. You go where they need you.

Who were the people on your Red Cross team in Shreveport?

A lot of the people I worked with were older and had a different appreciation for what disaster did to communities and people. One was a doctor. One worked for Hummer. One was retired military. Everyone there enjoyed helping. They were all very different people, very different backgrounds. I’ve never worked with a group that hated taking days off so much. I never heard anyone complain that we were there until 9 at night.

How were you received in the community?

The people in Shreveport were absolutely hospitable. This community had been bombarded with people from all over the state, but they were happy to have us there. I love the people there. They’re amazing.

What’s it like working for people who are experiencing a disaster like Gustav or Ike?

It’s by far one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. By the time people got to me, it was because they couldn’t find a shelter. They were frantic and upset. So for me it was, ‘how can we get these people what they need as quickly and correctly as possible?’ It was a sensitive time — Gustav and Ike hit so close to the anniversary of Katrina, and lots of these people had been through that. You have to remember that you’re not there for yourself. You’re down there to help people.

Marco Clark traveled to southwest China to study the effects of dam construction.

Marco Clark
Marco Clark

Marco Clark’s expedition to the Nu River Valley in southwestern China was off to a difficult start. Checkpoints lined the highway, blocking access to villages near the Nu, where there are plans to construct as many as thirteen dams. Even though Clark needed to get to the villages to do his research, he was reluctant to approach the checkpoints.

This challenge came as no surprise to Clark; his prior experiences in China had taught him to expect the unexpected. Still, he was nervous about the sensitivity of his research topic: human behavior in the face of an immediate environmental threat. But Clark continued to trek — mostly by bus or foot — approximately 230 miles up the Nu River Valley in search of an accessible village.

Clark’s research is associated with a cross-disciplinary project at OSU that unites the departments of Biological and Ecological Engineering, Anthropology, and Geosciences in order to examine the social, economic and ecological effects of dams on the Nu and Upper Mekong Rivers in China. Currently, China is the international leader in dam construction, and the project is being developed with the intent of assisting China in their quest for renewable energy. Clark’s interviews with villagers and political leaders will provide a better understanding of the effects of dam construction on people and the environment.

As an undergraduate studying political science at OSU, Clark developed an interest in human behavior. “I wanted to study how people feel about their environment and how they respond when that environment is threatened,” Clark says. Clark had visited China three times while pursuing an International Degree and was inspired to return. Currently in his second year of graduate study in anthropology, Clark was able to conduct more fieldwork in China with the help of a generous grant from the Institute for Water and Watersheds (IWW).

“Marco has done a great job of treading lightly and making good relationships,” says Bryan Tilt, Clark’s academic adviser and assistant professor of anthropology. “He was able to create connections in the area of his fieldwork through his excellent people skills.”

Clark improvised as he neared the Tibetan border, hiking two hours from the main road until he happened upon a privately owned dam under the support of the provincial government. The dam, near the village Dimaluo, was still undergoing construction when Clark came upon it. “The community was very removed and felt more secure,” Clark says. “It felt like a suitable place to be.” Dimaluo was where Clark would conduct his research.

While in Dimaluo, Clark was greeted warmly by the community. He formed a lasting friendship with a man named Aluo, who invited Clark into his home to stay with his family. Aluo assisted Clark with his interviews in exchange for English instruction and help translating for foreign guests.

Clark hopes that his research will help other scientists and policymakers better understand the potential impacts of dam construction, including the displacement and resettlement of villagers.

Clark is still deciding what to do after he receives his degree from OSU in 2009. He is thinking of pursuing a Ph.D. in order to teach and continue researching at a university. He is also thinking of continuing developmental work for either a governmental or non-governmental organization.

“Both of these paths will keep me involved in research in developing countries,” Clark says. “By completing assessments on the needs of small communities I hope to continue to help improve others’ quality of life.”

Current and former OSU student-athletes head to the Beijing Games.

OSU Olympians head to Beijing
OSU Olympians head to Beijing

From Aug. 8-24, the world’s attention will turn to Beijing, China and the 2008 Olympic Games. Five current, future and former Oregon State University student-athletes will be making the trip and trying for gold. “We are very proud of our extraordinary student athletes and alumni who are participating in the Summer Olympics, and we know they will represent Oregon State University well in every respect,” said OSU President Ed Ray. Read more about our Beaver representatives and how they made it to Beijing.

Heinrich Barnes

Heinrich Barnes chose to wrestle at OSU because he thought it would help him reach his full potential. He was right. After having one of the most impressive opening seasons at Oregon State in 2007-08, Barnes qualified for the Summer Olympics, earning a berth to represent his native South Africa. “It’s a big accomplishment for me to represent South Africa in the Olympics,” Barnes said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do all of this without my coaches and teammates at Oregon State. It’s a dream come true.”

Barnes, a junior business administration major, headed to Tunisia in March to compete in the FILA-African Senior Continental Championship at 66 kilograms (roughly 145.5 pounds), defeating three opponents to take the title and the automatic berth to Beijing. Barnes’ competition begins Aug. 20.

Saori Haruguchi

Saori Haruguchi

In March, Saori Haruguchi became the first swimmer in Beaver history to capture an individual NCAA title when she won the 200-yard butterfly in a school-record 1:52:39. But that was only the first of her goals for the year. The second was to clinch a spot on the Japanese Olympic swim team. Haruguchi achieved that, too, when she qualified in the 400 individual medley with a time of 4:38.94 at the Japanese Olympic trials in April. “It was awesome winning the 400 IM,” she said. “I even had fun with all the pressure. I saw so many of my friends cheering for me; it helped me deal with the pressure.”

Haruguchi, a junior majoring in human development and family studies, took a break from her studies at OSU after the winter term to train in Japan. “I am so excited to practice with the national team for Beijing,” she said.

Olivia Vivian

At 19, Olivia Vivian of Perth, Australia, is the oldest member of the Australian artistic gymnastics team that will go to the 2008 Summer Olympics. But she hasn’t even started at OSU yet. Vivian will come to Oregon State in the fall to join the Beavers gymnastics team. Until then, her focus is on Beijing. Vivian was one of six gymnasts nominated to form Australia’s national team. “I feel that we have picked the strongest team,” coach Peggy Liddick said. “The bottom line was their potential to contribute to the team score, and if all else was equal there, we had to go with international experience.”

Although Australia has never won an artistic gymnastics medal, Liddick believes her team has the talent and depth to make history in Beijing. To find out more about Olivia Vivian’s journey to the Olympics, check out her blog.

Brian Barden

Former OSU infielder Brian Barden was one of 23 players named to the 2008 USA Baseball Olympic Team, making him the first Beaver baseball player to compete in the Olympics. Baseball competition is scheduled to start Aug. 13 and conclude with medal games on Aug. 23. Currently with the Memphis Redbirds, a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate, Barden has played in 89 games this season and is batting .303 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs.

Barden, a native of Templeton, Calif., was drafted in the sixth round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was one of three Beavers who made their MLB debuts in 2007. He appeared in eight games with the Diamondbacks and 15 with the Cardinals.

Josh Inman

Former Oregon State rower Josh Inman and teammate Matt Schonbrich of St. Paul, Minn., originally qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team in the pairs in early June. Shortly after, though, the coaching staff made a change of plans and decided Inman would row in the men’s eight. “Competing in the Olympics has been a dream of mine since I started rowing at Oregon State,” Inman said. “The choice between rowing in the eight or the pair really came down to where I was most comfortable and felt I could be the most helpful.”

Inman, the 2005 U.S. Rowing Male Athlete of the Year, lettered on the varsity crew at OSU from 2000-2002. He led the Beavers’ varsity-8 to a fourth-place finish in the 2002 Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships in New Jersey, the highest finish ever for OSU.

Update: Josh Inman and the U.S. men’s eight won Olympic bronze on Sunday, August 16 in Beijing. Inman and his teammates finished in 5:25.34, behind gold medalists Canada and silver medalists Britain.

Robbie Findley

Former OSU soccer star Robbie Findley is an alternate for the U.S. Soccer team this summer in Beijing. Findley was the first Beaver soccer player to be named First Team All-Pac-10 three times, and he finished his four-year collegiate career with OSU as the school’s third all-time leading scorer with 28 goals. Findley is the starting striker on the MLS team Real Salt Lake.

Oregon Middle School Students Get an Astronaut’s Education.

Math and science are the emphasis at this camp
Math and science are the emphasis at this camp

If middle school students don’t seem likely to devise a spacecraft that could bring humans to Mars, or a module that could support a crew of four to travel and live there for 700 days, think again.

Forty-eight Oregon middle school students from underrepresented and underserved populations are currently using creative teamwork and their knowledge of Earth systems to solve those problems at this year’s Oregon ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp at OSU.

The classes students are attending throughout the two-week residential camp are helping them prepare for these tasks — they’re learning about the interrelationships of calories for energy, plant production, soils, living things, water and landforms, habitat components and solar energy.

Competition to get into the camp is stiff — more than 400 students who are entering grades 6-8 applied to earn a spot — and students come from 21 of Oregon’s 36 counties.

The idea, says the camp’s executive director Virginia Bourdeau, is to follow kids who have been in the program throughout the rest of their schooling. Do they take more math and science courses after attending camp? Do they go on to college?

“The camp is an opportunity for students to come and say, ‘I can do this.’ If they have a positive experience, they’ll come back to a university when they’re 17 and 18,” Bourdeau says.

Bernard Harris, the first African-American astronaut to walk in space, visited the camp on Aug. 7. He founded the Bernard Harris Foundation in 1998 to develop math/science education and crime prevention programs for America’s youth.

The camp is the result of a grant from the ExxonMobil Foundation and the Bernard Harris Foundation, as well as the effort of OSU’s Extension 4-H Youth Development; College of Education, Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences (SMILE) program; Department of Science and Mathematics Education in the College of Science; and College of Engineering.

To follow the students’ progress, check out the Science Camp blog.

Michelle Inderbitzin and her colleagues focus on the positives of youth development.

Michelle Inderbitzin
Michelle Inderbitzin

In 1998, Michelle Inderbitzin decided to conduct a study of youth in a detention center for violent offenders. Almost every Saturday morning for 15 months, the University of Washington graduate student in sociology made the 90-minute drive from Seattle to an “end-of-the-line training school” for boys convicted of multiple property crimes, armed robberies, violent and/or sexual assaults and homicides.

At first, the reception was cold. Inmates ignored her, later saying they expected her to give up and leave. Eventually one of the older youths, a 19-year-old Hispanic boy respected by the others, approached her and began to talk. Gradually, others followed, sharing details of their lives, their dreams, frustrations and unsettled scores that awaited them back home.

Now an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University, Inderbitzin shares her knowledge with OSU students through courses on criminal justice and deviant behavior. In 2007, she became the first university professor on the West Coast to lead a class of students and men’s prison inmates through the national Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which promotes understanding of the criminal justice system.

Inderbitzin and her colleagues at OSU are tackling some of the most pressing challenges that confront families and youth: the development of positive behaviors; the channeling of youthful energy to meet community needs; the lengthening transition to adulthood.

Read more about Michelle Inderbitzin and her colleagues in the Summer 2008 issue of Terra.

The U.S. Postal Service Honors Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling Commemorative Stamp
Linus Pauling Commemorative Stamp

When Linus Pauling enrolled at Oregon Agricultural College — Oregon State University’s predecessor — in 1917 to study chemical engineering, he was taking the first steps on a path that would lead him to Stockholm, Sweden, in 1954 to accept the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

By the time Pauling died in 1994, he was not only the first person ever to win a second individual Nobel, but one of the most decorated and respected scientists of the 20th century. The U.S. Postal Service recently recognized Pauling’s lifetime of achievements with a new set of “American Scientists” stamps honoring Pauling, biochemist Gerti Cory, astronomer Edwin Hubble and physicist John Bardeen.

To celebrate the stamp’s official March 6 release, OSU hosted an unveiling in the Memorial Union Ballroom featuring Linus Pauling Jr. and Corvallis Postmaster John Herrington, who stamped envelopes with a commemorative postmark (PDF) designed specially for the occasion. More than 300 people attended the event, and the city of Corvallis sold out of American Scientist stamps by the end of the event. “The way that Linus Pauling has taken off here at OSU is extremely rewarding, and OSU has my eternal thanks,” said Pauling Jr.

Linus Pauling

Pauling was known for working successfully in different disciplines throughout his life — physics, chemistry and biomedical research, to name a few. His stamp honors one of his most significant discoveries in molecular biology — a field he pioneered. Pauling’s studies of hemoglobin led to his 1948 discovery of the molecular nature of sickle cell anemia. “That discovery made him look into the scientific, social and political aspects of that kind of work,” says Cliff Mead, head of Special Collections for the OSU Valley Library. It was because of Pauling’s discovery, Mead says, that sickle cell anemia became treatable.

Though Pauling earned his bachelor’s degree in 1922 and spent the rest of his academic and professional life at California universities and research centers, his fondness for OSU never waned. In 1986, he donated his papers to OSU; the collection numbers more than 500,000 items, and it includes material on Pauling’s research into human blood and sickle cell anemia.

Linus Pauling

Two years after his death, the Linus Pauling Institute, which he helped to create, was moved from California to OSU, where it continues Pauling’s scientific legacy through internationally acclaimed research on vitamins and essential minerals. The institute was named a center of excellence for complementary and alternative medicine by the National Institutes of Health in 2003 — a status renewed recently with a $6-million grant from the NIH.

Pauling’s legacy lives on in many other ways at OSU as well, from the annual Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Memorial Lecture for World Peace to the Linus Pauling Chair in Chemical Engineering, held now by Dr. Philip Harding.

“Linus Pauling placed an enormous amount of trust in OSU to serve as the guardian of his legacy,” says Mead. “We take that responsibility very seriously, and we honor the faith he invested in OSU through our efforts to make his knowledge available to scholars around the world.”

Video Clip Pauling’s Interest in Sickle Cell Anemia

Audio Clip Molecular Disease Lectures Given at SUNY, New York, November 1970

Terry Christensen, with the help of his guide dog, Dutton, is earning a Ph.D.

Terry Christensen and Dutton
Terry Christensen and Dutton

For OSU History of Science Ph.D. candidate Terry Christensen, daily life is filled with rigors many doctoral students can relate to – 900 pages of reading a week, 25-page reading lists, and, of course, a dissertation. But unlike most doctoral students, Christensen meets those challenges without his eyesight. “Imagine looking at the world through waxed paper,” says Christensen, who is legally blind. Yet with support from Dutton, his guide dog, plus courage, mentors and OSU, Christensen is on his way — and winning awards in the process.

In 1994, Christensen had been a U.S. Merchant Marine deck officer for 13 years and a maritime science faculty member at Clatsop Community College for four. Before classes at Clatsop began that fall, Christensen noticed a problem with eye fatigue. By November he had a diagnosis: Leber’s optic neuropathy, a degenerative disease in the optic nerve. A month later, his visual acuity was below 20/200 – the threshold for legal blindness.

Christensen had been the kind of captain people trusted to navigate through the stormy Bering Sea, and he taught classes like celestial navigation and radar observer. Navigation, at least as he had known it, was out of the question. “I went through a time period when I thought if I couldn’t be a captain, I couldn’t be anything,” he says.

But Christensen — a physics major in college — was inspired while listening to a book by physicist Kip Thorne, who thanked his mentor, John Archibald Wheeler, in his acknowledgements. “It reminded me how much I missed physics and how much I enjoyed teaching,” says Christensen. “I wanted to get back to it.” When he did, Christensen also decided to focus his research on Wheeler, a theoretical physicist who revitalized the topic of general relativity and mentored 50 Ph.D. students, including Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman.

Christensen started at OSU in 2003 after earning a Master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies at Marylhurst University. His research on Wheeler is based on the idea that a skillful, proficient mentor may have a multiplicative influence through generations of scientists.

His work on Wheeler is attracting attention — in the past year, Christensen has received awards and honors from the National Science Foundation, the American Institute of Physics, the Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science and the American Philosophical Society.

The awards have helped Christensen conduct research all over the country. “He’s got a lot of courage, just setting out with a guide dog, getting on a train, getting on buses, getting on planes, doing what needs to be done,” says Mary Jo Nye, Horning Professor of the Humanities and Christensen’s mentor and adviser.

“It’s good to know that I’m doing something important and that the quality of my scholarship merits support,” says Christensen. But he won’t acknowledge his success without noting the people — and dog — that support him. Staff at Disability Access Services provides him with equipment and scanning services that let him keep up with his reading. Nye has been a patient mentor who believes in him. His wife, Betsy, is steadfastly encouraging. Dutton has been — in Christensen’s words — his pilot. “There is no better place to be a visually impaired scholar than Oregon State University,” says Christensen.

College of Liberal Arts
Disability Access Services
The OSU Award for Outstanding Service to Persons with Disabilities
Mary Jo Nye home page feature
Guide Dogs for the Blind
National Science Foundation
American Institute of Physics
Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science
American Philosophical Society

OSU student teachers in Portland and Salem immerse themselves in the communities where they teach.

Student teachers from OSU
Student teachers from OSU

For students in Oregon State University’s Master of Arts in Teaching immersion program, the line between work, school and home can get pretty blurry. The one-year program, offered jointly by OSU’s College of Education and Extended Campus, embeds students in a multiethnic school in Salem or Portland — and many of the student teachers, encouraged by program leaders, choose to live in the communities where they teach. Jean Moule, the program’s coordinator, says she doesn’t know of any other program in the U.S. where you can earn a master’s degree, a teaching license and an ESOL or bilingual endorsement all in one year. And on top of those credentials, the OSU immersion teaching program helps students build up cultural knowledge that makes them uniquely qualified to teach in today’s ethnically and culturally diverse classrooms.

Since its start in 2002, the immersion program has enrolled about 20 students a year. Typically, half of them live in Portland and the other half in Salem. They meet as a class in both cities, usually in a school where some of them teach – although the “cohort” has also been known to meet for class in a coffee shop in Northeast Portland. “The cohort is extremely supportive,” Moule says. “And part of the reason is that, without a physical campus, they have to be. Many of them commute to class together. The group becomes very close-knit.”

The students are able to teach one another through the experiences they bring to class from their host schools. The Salem schools tend to be bilingual, while the Portland ones typically have a prominent African-American population. But Moule says she thinks the skills they develop in their OSU classes and host classrooms are transferable among many different cultures. “Being culturally competent means to me that you get in the learner’s seat and stay there,” she says.

Eric Marsh, a 2006 graduate who did his in-school training at Martin Luther King Jr. school in Northeast Portland, now teaches fourth grade in a Hubbard, Ore., elementary school with a sizable Russian population. At both schools, he says, he has found use for the “cultural lens” he fine-tuned in the immersion program. The children in his class who belong to the Russian Old Believer religious tradition have dietary restrictions on certain days, for example, and Marsh has learned to schedule class parties around those days. This exposure to different ways of experiencing the world is what drew him to the immersion program. “It piqued my interest, teaching in a population I was not part of,” he says. “I wanted to try something out of my comfort zone.”

“It was a wonderful opportunity to stretch my cultural awareness,” Marsh adds, “and it had a lasting effect on me and how I view the world.”

M.A.T. Immersion Program Web site

Jean Moule’s faculty page

Jean Moule Q&A

OSU news article on the M.A.T. Immersion Program

Dawn Wright earns national recognition for her inspirational work in the classroom

Dawn Wright is known as "Deepsea Dawn"
Dawn Wright is known as "Deepsea Dawn"

Dawn Wright, an Oregon State University professor of geosciences, has been named Oregon Professor of the Year by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

An OSU faculty member since 1995, Wright is a marine and coastal geography expert so passionate about her subject area that she’s known as “Deepsea Dawn.” Her popular web site with links to many interactive features can be found at She has a joint appointment in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

Wright is an international expert in marine applications of geographic information science. She has taught more than 4,300 students during her 12-year tenure at OSU, in lecture and laboratory courses designed to “bring science to life.”

“Professor Wright exemplifies the very best in undergraduate teaching,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “That’s because the pioneering science she brings to each of her courses is made personal and accessible by the genuine caring she conveys to each of her students.”

Undergraduate students are often mesmerized by tales of her first-hand experiences from 25 scientific voyages across the planet, including descents to the deep-sea floor in manned submersibles and explorations of endangered tropical coral reefs. Discussions about topics closer to home include efforts to map Oregon’s near-shore geology and continental shelf, with applications many students and others can relate to — tsunami preparedness, fisheries management, coastal erosion and wave-generated electricity.

“When you go down in a submersible, it feels very much like being an astronaut,” Wright has said. “You’re going through this alien world, but it’s inner-space instead of outer space. It has that wild, exploratory feeling.”

Wright also often speaks to younger students, especially girls and underserved students aspiring to science careers. She has received numerous other honors for education and mentoring, such as the Education Award from the Oregon Assembly for Black Affairs in 2006. Wright is featured on a website about “Women Exploring the Ocean,” and was profiled in Sally Ride Science’s “What Do You Want to Be? Explore Earth Sciences.”

Editor’s note: The following profile on Professor Wright is excerpted from the Spring 2007 issue of Terra, the OSU research magazine.

Pressing her face against the jetliner window, Dawn Wright scanned the azure expanse of the shimmering ocean for a glimpse of her destination: a tiny volcanic archipelago that is barely a blip in the vast South Pacific. Located 5,000 miles from Wright’s office at Oregon State University, American Samoa is closer to New Zealand than to Hawaii.

It was 2001, and the OSU geosciences professor was on her way to the outer reaches of Oceania to study the most remote of the U.S.’s 13 national marine sanctuaries, Fagatele Bay. Using state-of-the-art sonar equipment mounted on a small survey boat, she and a team of oceanographers from the University of South Florida “pinged” clusters of sound beams into the bay’s crystalline waters. These acoustic readings produced the sanctuary’s first precise seafloor map.

The mapping, though, was just one facet of the mission. As an international innovator in marine GIS — geographic information systems — Wright was laying the groundwork for a sweeping storehouse of data about Samoa’s sanctuary. Science and policy-making are stymied, Wright points out, when data are skimpy and scattered, as they are on this distant shore. And the dearth of data is not unique to Fagatele Bay.

Wright’s bigger vision is of a new era in global ocean data management built on the “seamless merging” of data into a Web-based clearinghouse. Drawing from oceanography, geography and geology, from the disparate agencies and jurisdictions that compile oceanic data, the clearinghouse would give scientists, resource managers, fishermen and conservationists fingertip access to simulated ocean systems from anywhere on earth. It is not an easy vision to implement, but Wright is undaunted.

Her intrepid spirit took hold early — throughout a sun-drenched Maui childhood, her mother, Jeanne, repeatedly told her: “You can be anything you want to be.”

At age 8, transfixed by the televised moon walk, young Dawn briefly mulled a space career. But another TV experience tipped the scales toward ocean science: “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” “I was riveted,” she says.

In 1991, as the first woman of color to dive in the three-person autonomous craft ALVIN, Wright realized that the two careers are strikingly similar. “When you go down in a submersible, it feels very much like being an astronaut,” she says. “You’re going through this alien world, but it’s inner space instead of outer space. It has that wild, exploratory feeling.”

Today, with reefs dying and fisheries collapsing across the globe, a profound sense of urgency propels Wright’s energies. Accurate predictions — and sound policy — about the “great blue engine” that powers the planet depend, she says, on getting the data right.

Dawn Wright’s Web page

Department of Geosciences

College of Science

OSU Foundation

National Marine Sanctuaries Web site

National Science Foundation’s POWRE (Professional Opportunities for Women in Research & Education)

OSU news releases offer more information about engineering education:

Samoa Research Proves Coral Reef Recovery is Possible (5-02-06)

New System to Provide Better View of Marine Biology (9-07-05)

OSU’s Dawn Wright Receives Fulbright to Ireland (8-24-04)

Coastal Atlas Allows Personalized “Smart Maps” (2-13-04)