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SOU's new centers are gateway to 'give back'

ASHLAND — Southern Oregon University has established a pair of research centers that will allow students and faculty to work on projects for area nonprofit agencies, governments and businesses.

The new SOU Research Center, or SOURCE, will be the point of contact for agencies seeking research help, while the Center for the Environment will work with organizations involved in natural resource projects.

SOURCE will coordinate the various departments, teachers and students needed for a project, providing specific expertise or an interdisciplinary team, said director Eva Skuratowicz, a sociology teacher. An advisory board of community leaders will help the center identify community needs where research would be helpful.

"A lot of the work has been going to (consulting firms) in Salem and Portland, but we have the expertise here," said Skuratowicz. "A lot of times, the infrastructure here hasn't been developed, but SOURCE will give faculty the support they need to work — and to serve and give back to our community."

The Center for the Environment will be the base of operations for students working toward a degree in Environmental Studies, which offers several concentrations. The center can provide faculty and students to work on a range of biological and geological projects in the region, said its director, Professor Charles Lane, chairman of the Environmental Studies Department.

The Center for the Environment will provide a platform for faculty to collaborate on grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and other sources, and will create opportunities for the university to be involved "real world" decisions and policies, said Lane.

"It's almost the only way to get grants now — to be involved in collaborative efforts," said Lane. "All agencies are looking for the most bang for their buck "¦ and the NSF doesn't want to see money put into field-based natural science data collection without a connection to policy "¦ and the informing of decisions."

The center, Lane added, will be a place for faculty members to do scholarly research that benefits the region and connect both teachers and students with research projects related to their fields.

"When students are able to leave college with hands-on research," said Skuratowicz, "it's incredibly applicable to the workplace. It's an invaluable skill, makes their studies much more meaningful and is incredibly marketable."

Among the tasks SOURCE can undertake are health care research, program evaluation for nonprofit organizations, small-scale economic analysis and research for local industry, said economics professor Dan Rubenson, the chairman of the SOU Department of Social Science Policy and Culture.

"We have a lot of faculty with the expertise and experience to do this kind of applied research, but local organizations don't completely know we have it," said Rubenson. "This gives us a better connection to the community and real world activities and programs "¦The faculty are excited to apply the training they have."

Possible projects are "all over the map," said Rubenson, but one example would be analyzing the effect on tourism of enlarging the Oregon Caves National Monument or the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

"We have faculty who can do that," he said, noting that students are assigned to such projects for credit — and that both faculty and students receive stipends for their work. Agencies or grants also pay SOU to cover the expenses of their project.

SOU seeks to work with natural resource agencies in such areas as watershed management, forest management, hydrology and other natural processes — and may hire a faculty member with expertise in those areas, said Dr. Alissa Arp, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who oversees both centers.

"It will help faculty and students connect with the community and real life experience," said Arp. "That's the main aspect of a liberal arts university, to teach people to think critically and communicate effectively — and also connect with potential employers."

The centers will not be a major money-maker for SOU and should augment, rather than detract from teaching, said Arp, adding that "It's part of teaching. It will attract and benefit students. We're curriculum-driven."

SOURCE will be guided by an advisory board of area leaders who can identify community needs and help identify relevant projects. Depending on the project, costs may be covered by grants or fees for the organization being helped or, in some cases, the work would be done without charge.

To contact SOURCE, contact Skuratowicz at 552-6278 or skuratoe@sou.edu. For the Center for the Environment, contact Lane at 552-6479 or Lane@sou.edu.

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