We have a major gem in our valley, and we should all be celebrating. We're speaking of Southern Oregon University.

We have a major gem in our valley, and we should all be celebrating. We're speaking of Southern Oregon University.

The university's impact reaches out into our valley far and above the town of Ashland. There are people all over the world in the fields of science, business, the arts, academia, athletics and education who received their degrees here in our Rogue Valley.

Countless numbers of graduates have gone to work locally in business, education, government agencies, and law enforcement. Emmy winner Ty Burrell (of "Modern Family") is one of the many outstanding graduates.

We would like to tell you about a number of exciting things that are happening at SOU, not only in Ashland, but also in Medford at their Higher Education Center.

Opening the Honors College, initially started with 28 exceptional students, supported by community mentors from a wide variety of fields to work one-on-one with students to turn learners into leaders. Launching of the House Program with coursework enriched by intense hands-on experiences in the community while working in cohorts to solve problems students are passionate about. Establishing and funding professional-level student jobs on campus as a means of engaging students to improve job search skills, provide professional development opportunities, improve employability of students after graduation and increase student retention. Being recognized as among the most environmentally responsible universities in the United States by establishing a sustainability center for learning innovative practices embodying the vision of SOU. In 2012, SOU offset 100 percent of its total energy use with onsite solar, and by purchasing renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets. Building the new Raider Village student housing complex and dining facilities as part of an innovative private-public partnership, replacing the costly and very outdated Cascade housing complex. The Theater Arts programs at SOU, working in conjunction with the Shakespeare Festival, is one of the most highly regarded undergraduate programs in the country.

As for athletics, SOU has had nationally ranked teams participating in everything from football to lacrosse. The games are exciting and well-attended. Student-athletes and coaches are to be commended for their hard work and dedication to their sports and to their academics. In addition, last year, SOU student athletics performed more than 3,500 hours of community service.

SOU is affordable, accessible and inclusive. With smaller classes sizes and individual attention from faculty, students are not just a number, they are coveted. Many of SOU's students are the first in their families to attend college, and 75 percent of students receive financial aid. Since 2003, the SOU Foundation has awarded $6.4 million in scholarships thanks to many generous donations from people like you who believe in higher education right here in this valley.

To hear how appreciative these students are for the help they receive from these scholarships touches the heart and gives us hope for the future. These extraordinary students are the reason we contribute.

Southern Oregon University is committed to student success, intellectual growth and responsible global citizenship. SOU — an asset to Southern Oregon — provides economic stimulus, culture and educational opportunities.

We are truly fortunate to have the visionary leadership that Dr. Mary Cullinan brings to campus to guide the university well into the future. All of her initiatives are forward-thinking and help us position the university for ultimate success in the long run.

The Southern Oregon University Foundation Board of Trustees supports the excellent work; innovative, strong leadership; and dedication of the university's leadership team. To learn more about who we are as a foundation, its community board members, and how you can help support SOU students, please visit http://soufoundation.org/.

Blair Moody of Medford, immediate past president of the SOU Foundation Board of Trustees, wrote this on behalf of the entire board.