Students and faculty at Southern Oregon University say a new academic plan focusing on hands-on research and internships will help open doors for jobs and graduate schools.

Students and faculty at Southern Oregon University say a new academic plan focusing on hands-on research and internships will help open doors for jobs and graduate schools.

"The hands-on approach makes a huge contribution," said senior anthropology student Treasa Cordero, as she sorted animal bones from a Coquille Indian site. "I feel much more confident approaching job prospects with more than just book learning. Research has given me a chance to test drive the science of archaeology and I love it."

Her professor, Mark Tveskov, said "It's a terrific direction for SOU to go, creating a distinctive niche among universities and being able to market it and making it an appealing place to come."

SOU's proposed Master Academic Plan focuses on more community-based learning, research, online learning and classes on environmental and economic sustainability. The university is seeking input on the five-year plan it hopes will ratchet up its quality and gain it 200 new students a year.

The university's new provost, Jim Klein, led development of the document and is calling for two rounds of input before it is finalized in March as the guiding document for everything the school does, he said. It would be the first such plan SOU has adopted.

"It's the way for us to start the conversation on campus," said Klein. "It will define what makes an SOU student an SOU student, as regards attitudes, values and skills."

The master plan emphasizes the expansion of hands-on research usually not found below graduate levels, involving close work under professors rather than graduate assistants, access to advanced scientific technology as well as publishing students' names, along with professors'names, on papers and articles.

"We want to make sure every undergraduate has research experience. Most universities don't have that," said Klein. " ... Research means new knowledge working closely with a faculty mentor. It's already going on a lot but we want to make it universal."

Anthropology senior Sam Nagode said hands-on research "connects me with theories taught in class and definitely makes me more marketable in the field of cultural resource management. It's key to getting a more desirable job."

The master plan also calls for expansion of SOU's internships and study programs off-campus with businesses, governments, organizations and schools.

SOU long has been stuck at an enrollment near 5,000 students and has suffered significant losses of freshmen after their first year. In response, the school set a goal of increasing enrollment by 200 a year through enhanced online and distance learning and by expanding four-year degree programs that include technical training and that can be marketed to regional industries.

The draft plan, which Klein put together after talks with all campus committees and the Faculty Senate, has seven goals: increased enrollment, demonstrated quality of academics, develop research, comprehensive advising system, professional development with appropriate workload for faculty and creation of committees to implement the plan.

"It's very important that we be mindful that we're building the new SOU," said Klein, "taking into account the way the world has changed in the last 25 years, changes such as the Internet and an older student population, along with the rise of independent learning online. Community colleges are going to be very important in this. We have to figure out what our piece of this is."

The provost's office is inviting feedback through Nov. 7 for the second draft. The plan is available at www.sou.edu/provost/news.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.