Val Goodness believes in bringing many voices to the discussion of sustainability.
As a 50-year-old nontraditional student at Oregon State University, she has learned that balance can be achieved between the goals of environmentalists and the needs of the forest industry, due in large part to the faculty, staff and students she’s come to know as an undergraduate in the College of Forestry.
Goodness is happy to have found a place that feels like home in the Department of Natural Resources. Her life has been a series of challenges, including escape from domestic violence, and the strain of raising an autistic son, Caleb, who is almost 14. Now, as a single parent struggling to find the money to survive and to attend school, Goodness has faith that she’ll not only thrive, but that her education at OSU will give her the chance to help change the world.
“We can be the sustainability leaders of the country and the world, if only we can be given the chance,” she said.
Although challenged by lack of money, and tied down by her son’s need for constant support and supervision, Goodness has been finding ways to give back. She’s volunteered with the OSU Women’s Center, ASOSU’s Get Out the Vote and the OSU Student Sustainability Coalition, and more recently, has found ways to volunteer for the College of Forestry.
Recent statewide budget concerns have meant some potentially serious cuts to the college, and Goodness pitched in to help. As a student at Lane Community College she worked on fundraising efforts, and she wanted to put those skills to use for OSU.
“This is our future, for our state and our country,” she said of the College of Forestry. “We’ve fallen behind in this country in technology, academics and education. This is the prime opportunity to take advantage of the great minds at OSU. These are great students who want to give back. Why cut funding to the college when the potential is so great?”
With that in mind, Goodness wrote heartfelt letters to key legislators, and pledged to help in any other way she could.
“I can do phone banking, make cookies,” she said. “This is something really valuable and important. My school deserves it. They believe in me and support me. We need to help in any way we can.”
Salwasser was so impressed with her letter that he forwarded it onto other OSU officials, and made a point to meet with Goodness personally, to thank her for her dedication to the college.
Goodness believes that ideas will come out of the work forestry students are doing that will revitalize Oregon’s economy and provide a smarter, more cost-effective approach to using forest resources. Cutting back funding for such work would negatively impact Oregon at time when the state needs its most creative minds.
Part of Goodness’ dedication to sustainability is her grounding in Native American tradition. Her heritage includes Blackfoot and Tsalagi, and she has volunteered with the OSU Longhouse, and will be the activities director for the Longhouse beginning in September.
“I believe we can learn about sustainability from indigenous people,” Goodness said. “We’ve not been hearing their voices for a long time. We should implement some of their ideas and make them more available as stakeholders. They have valuable input.”
Goodness received a Ford Foundation scholarship for full tuition during her first two years of undergraduate work. If she goes onto graduate school, which she hopes to do, and maintains a high GPA, the scholarship will also pay 80 percent of her graduate school tuition. Meanwhile, she will continue to balance her school workload with her dedication to Caleb, who can only attend school part time because of his autism. But the struggle, she believes, will be worth it.
~ Theresa Hogue