Alexis Walker explores why women care for family members before they care for themselves.

Alexis Walker is a professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences
Alexis Walker is a professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences

Alexis Walker, a professor in OSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences, is looking at a conundrum: The typical middle-aged woman takes care of everybody in her household except one — herself. The consequences of this benevolent self-neglect can be dire: chronic disease, even death.

Even the healthiest lifestyle can’t always prevent disease. Still, millions of wives, mothers and grandmothers could better fend off, or at least slow down, the ravages of diabetes, heart disease and stroke if only they could find the time (or make the time) to exercise and eat right. Walker is digging into the social and psychological reasons they can’t (or don’t). If she can identify barriers, she can help craft interventions that break them down.

Walker’s area of expertise, family dynamics, is the third prong of a cross-disciplinary OSU investigation into lifestyle choices among women who have been diagnosed with “metabolic syndrome” — a dangerous complex of risk factors that has reached epidemic levels in the United States.

Afflicting fully one-quarter of middle-aged Americans, metabolic syndrome is the coexistence of high blood sugar, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, elevated blood pressure and extra fat at the waistline. After menopause, women’s risks go up. So middle age is the “last window of opportunity” to head off illness, Walker stresses.

Tackling the first prong of the metabolic syndrome study, motivational interviewing, is Rebecca Donatelle in Public Health. The second prong, diet and nutrition, is being handled by Melinda Manore in Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

“My role in the study,” says Walker, “is to pay attention to how women’s family lives and responsibilities limit their ability to make changes that would benefit their health.”

For women juggling jobs, kids, husbands and homes, going to the gym usually means dropping something else. And then there’s the eternal question, “What’s for dinner?” When the answer is, “spinach salad,” the groans can be heard in Missoula.

“Women feel they have to keep the machinery of their families running — the psychological machinery, the emotional machinery and the practical machinery,” Walker says. “This research is really about helping women to be self-caregivers.”

Alexis Walker’s Web page

Department of Human Development and Family Sciences

College of Health and Human Sciences

OSU Foundation

National Institute on Aging

Terra article on Melinda Manore

OSU Faculty to Speak at National Gerontology Conference in Dallas (OSU news release 11-1-06)

The robots compiled by OSU’s nascent electrical engineers help students learn hands-on skills, exercise their creative muse and forge bonds with fellow TekBotters.

Tekbots help student engineers at OSU learn throughout their four years
Tekbots help student engineers at OSU learn throughout their four years

Educating tomorrow’s electrical engineers has come to this: Teamwork, creativity and ownership are as important as the principles of theory and design. All get rolled into a box that first-year Oregon State University students receive in their introduction to the field. Inside are circuit and charger boards, wheels, a steel roller ball and assorted electrical components. Batteries and instructions are not included. Working in teams, students must put the parts together, learning leadership and problem-solving skills as they go.

The resulting “TekBots” are far more than clever machines. They are the students’ companions through four years of lectures and labs. From course to course, year to year, students transform their TekBots with advanced electrical engineering concepts.

“It’s their own robot,” notes TekBots program director Don Heer. “They put their own money, their own time into it.”

The TekBots “give students the big picture,” says Terri Fiez, director of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Success arrives, she adds, when students get excited about an upcoming course that will help them solve a problem or add a new feature to their TekBot.

Some students even develop a fondness for their bot, giving it a name, such as Billy or Toby. Katy Humble called hers FlutterBot. The 2005 OSU graduate added motor-controlled wings and decorated them with lights. Her parents, Larry and Dona Nixon of Yachats, have put FlutterBot on the mantle like a trophy.

In 2000, Tektronix — the Beaverton, Oregon, high-tech manufacturer — gave OSU a $500,000 grant to start the program. Humble was part of the first corps of undergraduates hired to develop the kits.

“TekBots is all about debugging something that doesn’t work. It’s a constant problem in industry,” says Humble, who credits her TekBots experience with helping her to land a job with Intel in Hillsboro, Oregon. Today, she continues to mentor students with her employer’s full support.

Over the years, the students’ bots have taken on personalities. There was one that could balance on two wheels, like the Segway Human Transporter. Another morphed into a four-legged walking creature. And then there was the giant TekBot that grew to the size of a wheelbarrow.

The National Science Foundation and high-tech firms have supported the program, and OSU has sold kits to other universities, including Texas A&M, Rochester Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Fukuoka Institute of Technology in Japan.

OSU’s TekBots program is run substantially by students. “All of the labs have been made by undergraduates,” Heer says. “It creates a culture where they are helping each other.”

The program has also fostered personal relationships. Katy Humble met her husband-to-be Ben while she was assembling TekBots kits. They married in 2006 and live in Beaverton, where Ben works for Tektronix.

“We say that TekBots brings people together,” laughs Ben. “That is really true for us.”

TekBots Web page

School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences

College of Engineering


National Science Foundation

OSU news releases offer more information about engineering education:

OSU “Driverless” Car Semi-Finalist for $2 Million Prize (6-8-05)

OSU Engineers Learn by “Playing” with Legos, Robots (5-24-05)

Tektronix Outfits Lab, Bolsters Hands-on Learning at OSU (5-24-05)

A former Beaver wins a World Series ring for himself, and free tacos for everybody else.

Jacob Ellsbury
Jacob Ellsbury

Beaver alum Jacoby Ellsbury is a bona fide star. In center field and at the plate, he helped his baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, win a lopsided 2007 World Series. But he also won national attention — and the hearts of millions of taco fans — when he stole second base in Game 2 of the series. A certain fast-food franchise had wagered that nobody would steal a base in the series, and pledged to hand out free tacos if it lost — and on Oct. 30, millions of people crowded Taco Bells nationwide to claim their Ellsbury-won prize. Ellsbury himself greeted fans at a Taco Bell near Boston University.

A native of Madras, Ore., Ellsbury led the OSU Beavers to the College World Series in 2005. His teammates called him Jack, as in jackrabbit, because of his speed and ability to avoid getting tagged out. The Beavers didn’t win the series that year, but the 2005 appearance set up back-to-back College World Series championships for the Beavers in 2006 and 2007. By that time, Ellsbury had already been drafted by the Red Sox as a first-round pick. After playing for Boston farm teams in Portland, Maine, and Pawtucket, R.I., he was called up to the majors for the first time last June.

OSU baseball coach Pat Casey was one of the first people Ellsbury called after getting called up to Fenway Park. After that first major league game, Casey overheard somebody compare Ellsbury to former Boston star outfielder Johnny Damon. “Johnny Damon is a great player,” Casey told the Boston Herald. “But Jacoby Ellsbury is going to be a superstar player.”

Ellsbury’s performance in a Red Sox uniform impressed manager Terry Francona so much he included him in the starting lineup when the Red Sox made it into the World Series. Red Sox fans helped that decision, signing a petition to have Ellsbury start in the series and calling in to local radio shows. And Ellsbury didn’t disappoint, batting in three runners with his seven hits during the series. “It’s unbelievable,” Ellsbury told after the final game. “I still can’t believe it. You dream about it, but for it to happen, it’s so unbelievable.”

Ellsbury’s mother is a full-blooded Navajo, and he is a registered member of the Colorado River Indians Tribe. He is the first Navajo to play in the Major Leagues, a distinction he was unaware of until the media informed him. “I didn’t know until I found out in the paper,” Jacoby told the Farmington, N.M, Daily Times. “I think it’s pretty neat. I’m surprised there hasn’t been one before.”

Ellsbury’s page at the Boston Red Sox Site

2005 OSU Barometer article on Ellsbury

2006 OSU Barometer article on Ellsbury

Michael Goodman has combined his love of language and computers to create a Japanese-English translation program.

Goodman's senior project combines his love for language and computers
Goodman's senior project combines his love for language and computers

Words and language have always fascinated Michael Goodman. Growing up in Florence, Ore., he liked tracing the roots of words that most of us take for granted. And at Oregon State University, he has minored in Japanese.

But it is his affinity for computers that is propelling the senior in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Combining his interests, he has created software that overcomes a barrier in translation.

Along the way, Goodman lived in Tokyo for an academic year, collaborated with OSU faculty members and set the stage for graduate work in computational linguistics.

The problem he tackled for his senior project stems from a fundamental difference between Japanese and English. “The Japanese language is different from English in the way pronouns — words such as he, she or they — are used. They exist in the language, but their use is less common than in English,” says Goodman. Instead, subjects in a Japanese sentence usually refer to the last proper noun mentioned in a conversation. This practice can make it hard for people whose primary language is English to keep track of whom or what is being discussed.

In order to address this problem, Goodman has created a software solution that he calls Co-reference Resolution. The goal is to point a translation system to the subject in scanned Japanese text, increasing translation accuracy.

Goodman had help in bridging the disciplines of computer science and linguistics. His adviser in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Alan Fern, specializes in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Providing linguistics expertise was Setsuko Nakajima, a Japanese language specialist in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

“Doing this project has forced me to think long and hard about linguistic analysis and processing in a language that’s not my mother tongue, and has exposed me to the challenges and obstacles and ways to overcome them,” says Goodman. Not bad for a young man who taught himself computer programming at home “just by messing around.”

School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures

OSU Office of International Programs

OSU golfer Vincent Johnson won the PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship — and successfully battled Graves’ disease— this past year.

Vincent Johnson battled Graves' disease recently
Vincent Johnson battled Graves' disease recently

OSU junior Vincent Johnson was excited when he qualified for the 2007 PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship this past May.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to play in a tournament that provides opportunities for minority college golfers,” he said before the tournament. “It means a lot to represent OSU. Oregon State has provided so much for me that when I put on my OSU gear, I want to go out and show what the school is all about.”

He represented himself and the university very well. The tournament had its largest field ever, featuring 180 golfers from 38 different colleges.
Johnson took on that field for 54 holes at the PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and he came away with the victory — by a whopping 12 strokes.

A business major from Portland, Johnson hit every green on the front nine of the last round in regulation, finishing with five birdies and only one bogey on his way to a 4-under-par 68 that gave him a 210 for the tournament.

“It meant a lot, being the only guy there from Oregon State,” Johnson said. “I felt like I was also representing the West Coast. It was fun to travel all the way there and represent my school as best I could. I got some comments about how I carried myself well and that I did represent my school well, so that really meant a lot to me.”

While 2006-07 ended well, it didn’t get off to a very good start.

He missed most of the fall season while dealing with Graves’ disease, a type of autoimmune disease that causes over-activity of the thyroid gland, but he has since made nearly a full recovery. He was able to compete in all of OSU’s spring tournaments, shooting an average of less than 73 per round, ranking him fifth on OSU’s single-season stroke average list.

Johnson, who enjoys playing the piano and video games during his free time, is an excellent student as well as an outstanding golfer. He recognizes that he has a chance to become a professional golfer, but that’s not his primary focus right now.

“As a student-athlete, the student comes first,” he says. “Whether I’m going to be a professional golfer or not, the education is the most important thing to come out of here with.”

OSU men’s golf Web site

From seat transfer assistance to accessible lavatories, Kate Hunter-Zaworski and Joe Zaworski work to make intercity travel easier for people with disabilities.

Accessibility are this husband and wife's passion
Accessibility are this husband and wife's passion

Air travel is becoming less of a chore for persons with disabilities thanks to Kate Hunter-Zaworski and other researchers in Oregon State University’s National Center for Accessible Transportation (NCAT).

“Our focus is intercity public transportation,” says Hunter-Zaworski, NCAT director and associate professor in civil engineering. “We started with buses and now are working with aircraft. Air travel is the mode of choice for trips over 250 miles.”

Her husband, Joe Zaworski, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering and NCAT researcher, says the aircraft work has involved “improving jet bridges, transferring people from aisle chairs to seats and back, and making lavatories more accessible.”

A lot of the work occurs in a crowded campus laboratory cluttered with wheelchairs, airplane seats, special aisle chairs and lifts, an airplane restroom, and a variety of other equipment in various stages of development.

Hunter-Zaworski, who has been working to improve accessibility for people with disabilities for more than 25 years says, “I like to look at people’s abilities, not their disabilities. What we develop should make travel better for everybody.”

NCAT is funded by a five-year grant from the National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research. NCAT brings together researchers from various OSU colleges and departments and numerous students, both graduate and undergraduate.

Recently NCAT received attention for its work on developing an accessible restroom for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which will begin flying next year.

“The Boeing project was really fun,” Hunter-Zaworski says. “I didn’t have to tell them this is the right thing to do. They’re very committed to doing the right thing in this area. We had a lot of give-and-take. They picked my brain. I picked their brains. We hall have the same goal — to enhance the flying experience.”

NCAT Web site

Boeing 787 restroom development

KEZI-TV news report on Boeing project

The Cobarrubias children are on their way to health care careers, living their mother’s unfulfilled dream.

All four of the Cabarrubias siblings attend OSU
All four of the Cabarrubias siblings attend OSU

Living their mother Amelia’s dream, four Cobarrubias children are studying at OSU.

Amelia longed to become a medical practitioner. But the tiny Mexican village where she grew up offered scant opportunities for girls. So she carried her dream to Oregon where her husband Florencio found work in the orchards of Hood River.

More than a decade later, widowed and juggling three low-wage jobs to raise her eight children alone, she still nurtured her childhood wish to bring health care and healing to those in need. But the dream was no longer for herself. Almost like a genetic gift, Amelia had passed it along to her offspring, math and science whizzes all.

Four of them — Genobeva, Florencio Jr., Elizabeth, and Kristina — are enrolled in pre-health programs at OSU. Majoring in microbiology and German, Genobeva (Genny) plans to go on for an M.D. in pediatrics. Kristina is in pre-dentistry, thinking about a children’s practice. Florencio is in pre-pharmacy, hoping to own his own pharmaceuticals business someday. And Elizabeth, with a major in biochemistry/biophysics, wants to be a surgeon, probably a cardiologist.

“At least one-quarter of the students in the College of Science are preparing for health professions,” says the Northwest’s most experienced pre-health adviser, Chere Pereira, who guides OSU’s pre-medical and pre-dental students from orientation through professional-school application.
“OSU’s pre-health programs are well-respected throughout the country,” says Pereira. “Our students are not only well-trained, they tend to be resourceful and grounded in the real world.”

With so many underserved ethnic communities across the United States, cultural competence is, Pereira notes, a big plus for prospective medical students. So, in partnership with OHSU, Oregon State is supporting greater diversity in health professions through special programs. And, through IE3 Global Internships, undergrads can get international experience working side-by-side with doctors in Bolivia, Mexico, Ecuador, India and South Africa.

For the bilingual and trilingual Cobarrubias siblings (in high school, Genny and Elizabeth studied in Germany and Italy, respectively), cultural competence is a given. Add to that their single-minded focus on achieving their goals, and it appears their mother’s lifelong dream will finally be realized — in quadruplicate.

OSU pre-professional programs in health

Microbiology Web site

Biochemistry and Biophysics Web site

Sea Grant Extension specialist Flaxen Conway helps distressed coastal communities deal with contentious issues – and groups.

Sea Grant Extension specialist Flaxen Conway
Sea Grant Extension specialist Flaxen Conway

Retired fisherman Scott McMullen sums up Flaxen Conway with one word: “peacemaker.”

In Oregon port towns from Astoria to Brookings, the OSU sociology professor is known for guiding factions often at odds — fishermen, scientists, policymakers, resource managers — toward common ground on some of the toughest issues facing rural communities.

“She runs meetings with groups that could be very contentious,” says McMullen, who owned and operated a shrimper-dragger for over 20 years. “Fishermen are oftentimes vocal and opinionated, but Flaxen keeps it under control. Amazingly, there’s never anybody yelling or throwing chairs.”

A specialist for Oregon Sea Grant Extension, Conway works with distressed coastal communities, helping to ease the tensions that flare when scarce resources and government policies bump up against ordinary people. With several Northwest fisheries declining, many shore-based families are facing financial insecurity and emotional upheaval. The 2006 salmon fishing closures were just the most recent blow to their livelihoods. Over her 13 years with Sea Grant, Conway has seen families struggle with the collapse of the commercial groundfish industry in 2000 and weather the severe salmon shortages of the mid-1990s.

“We’re used to evaluating the biological dimensions of resource management, but we rarely evaluate the social dimensions,” says Conway. “Sea Grant Extension is making sure that those human dimensions don’t get shortchanged.”

Her focus is what she calls “cross-community communication” — getting groups with competing interests and conflicting perspectives to talk. As a “neutral convener,” Sea Grant Extension opens avenues for collaboration among stakeholders more accustomed to competitive or adversarial stances.

When the U.S. Secretary of Commerce declared a disaster in the West Coast groundfish fishery (mainly rockfish and ling cod) six years ago, Conway pulled together a coast-wide, community-driven coalition to connect people to resources and jobs. The Groundfish Disaster Outreach Project helped hundreds of families secure food, housing, mental health services, and new careers.

The old paradigm of extension education — the “expert” extending scientific information to the masses — has evolved into a new model in which expertise is recognized on both sides, Conway says. Knowledge sharing runs both directions. “I’m constantly learning along with the people I’m working with. It’s a process of co-discovery.”

Flaxen Conway Web page

Sea Grant Extension Web

Coastal communities project news release

Groundfish Disaster Outreach Program wins national award

In recognition of Veteran’s Day, we’ve gone to our archives to reflect on some of the amazing OSU people who’ve combined education with military service. We salute our veterans and value their contributions to both the nation and our university community.

After two tours in Iraq, Marine Sgt. John Dickman is preparing to become an officer through OSU’s Naval ROTC program.

John Dickman signed up for the Marines shortly after 9/11
John Dickman signed up for the Marines shortly after 9/11

John Dickman signed up for the U.S. Marine Corps on Sept. 17, 2001, six days after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

He was planning to become a Marine anyway — in fact he had been in the Young Marines since age 13 — but 9/11 “sped up my plans by about a year,” he says.

Dickman’s first tour in Iraq was from January through September 2003, and he returned again from February through October 2004.

“The first tour was the actual invasion,” he says. “We worked up to Baghdad during the combat operation and then want to Karbala where we worked on stability and security operations. We built a couple of schools and got the power plant going.”

The second tour was in Al Anbar province on the Syrian border. “That was more of a search-and-destroy mission,” he says. “We were looking for munitions and insurgents. The province was an entry point for terrorists from Syria and other countries.”

Dickman says his experience with Iraqis is that “90 to 95 percent are very happy we’re there and recognize Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant.”

After the second tour, Dickman was accepted into the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program, which brought him to OSU, where he currently is color guard commander for the NROTC unit. The history major from Boise, Idaho, says he chose OSU because he wanted to stay in the Northwest, and only three schools in the area have Naval ROTC, which houses the Marine Corps officer program.

“I thought I might study engineering, so I wanted a school with a strong engineering program, and that was OSU,” he says. Later, he decided to go with his lifelong interest in history and major in that field.

His military background isn’t unique at OSU. More than 325 students are receiving veterans benefits, and it’s estimated that a few dozen of them have served in Iraq.

Dickman wants to be a career Marine officer, probably serving for 30 years. “I want to see the world and be the best citizen I can for the United States of America.”

And after retirement? “I want to start a custom hot rod shop. I like to build custom cars in my spare time.”

OSU Navy ROTC Web site

Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program

Young Marines Web site

OSU Department of History

An auto accident caused Holli Kaiser to rethink and refocus her life. Now she’s on her way toward a teaching career.

A car crash forced Holli Kaiser to refocus her life
A car crash forced Holli Kaiser to refocus her life

When Holli Kaiser was attending Medford High School a decade ago, no one — least of all her — would have envisioned her as a teacher. A halfhearted student, bored and restless, she dropped out and took a job at G.I. Joe’s. College was not on her radar.

But in the crumpled metal of a devastating car crash that severed her spinal cord, her life took a paradoxical turn. Her new physical limitations forced her to refocus her life. So began a 10-year intellectual quest that has earned her top academic honors and taken her — in another twist of irony — back to the high school environment she once rejected. This time, she’ll be at the front of the classroom.

Kaiser found in OSU’s Education Double Degree Program the optimal blend of subject-area specialization with a teaching focus. Launched in 2003, the program was designed to attract new talent to the teaching ranks and fill looming workforce gaps, especially in math, science and technology. Kaiser embodies the program’s goal: to draw a broader range of talented candidates into the teaching pool.

“The real problem is that most teacher preparation models create self-imposed structural limitations on who can access the field,” says Sam Stern, dean of the College of Education. “This innovative program takes advantage of the existing talent, knowledge and interests of our current undergraduate students and targets them to the hardest-to-fill teaching jobs where we need them the most.”

Combining teaching with her subject-area major, family and consumer sciences, Kaiser sees her degrees as a chance to give students what was missing in her own high school experience: real-life applications. She thinks she might have stayed in high school if the curriculum had answered that universal question, “Why do I need to know this stuff?” Family and consumer sciences, she says, is all about the real-world skills and understandings that underpin a healthy, satisfying, successful life.

“This discipline runs the gamut, from pre-birth all the way through aging,” says Kaiser, who was the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences student of the year for Oregon in 2005. “As a teacher, I want to make the connection of relevance for my students.”

Education Double Degree Program

Family and Consumer Sciences option

College of Education story on Holli Kaiser