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Engineers excel at solving problems. They can design systems that provide clean drinking water, generate electricity from sunlight and improve personal health. While the design of these systems demands technical skill, success or failure ultimately resides with the people who use and maintain them and whose lives depend on them — that is, with a social network.
Our students want to understand that meaningful context. They come to us with a desire to make an impact with their lives, and Oregon State is embracing the challenge. We have launched a Humanitarian Engineering program (HE@OSU) to offer a transformational education focused on problem-solving and a deep understanding of culture and social relationships.
Nationally, engineering education may not be living up to this vision. In fact, Erin Cech, a sociologist at Rice University, recently noted that engineering education may foster a “culture of disengagement.” In a survey of more than 300 engineering students at four universities in the Northeast, she tracked students’ perceptions of cultural factors, such as public welfare, social consciousness and understanding of the consequences of technology. Cech found that after four years of college, the students were less concerned about public welfare than when they entered.
Humanitarian engineering means developing solutions in partnership with communities.
This provocative result challenges us as educators. Indeed, as we endeavor to ensure students’ competence in fundamental engineering concepts, it’s all too easy to lose sight of what it means to be an engineer: to create solutions for difficult problems, to be aware of the context within which these problems arise and to anticipate the potential consequences of our solutions.
As engineering educators, we find ourselves at a crossroads. We need to engage the millennial generation, open up opportunities to connect engineering to community service and encourage creative problem-solvers to understand the importance of community engagement. These skills are as important for a corporate client as they are for a village halfway around the world.
Humanitarian engineering means developing solutions in partnership with communities. Examples include designing easy-to-maintain water filters, composting toilets, renewable energy systems, wastewater systems, communication systems, vulnerability assessments of local infrastructure and more. Our curriculum will include ethics, social-science methodologies, engineering design for low-resource environments and multidisciplinary case studies of development projects.
We’re well positioned to succeed. Oregon State has tremendous strengths in engineering for global development and strong connections to public, nonprofit and business organizations around the world. We have an award-winning student chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Our HE@OSU team consists of committed faculty from across campus: engineering, public health, social sciences, humanities and natural resources.
The timing is right for HE@OSU. Our emphasis on engagement is a great fit for the university’s ethos of service and commitment to a healthy planet. We are poised to be a leader in this field. Our students expect nothing less.
First thing every morning at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Warsaw, Gregg Walker attends meetings in his capacity as a steering committee member for a coalition of organizations called RINGO (Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organizations to the UNFCCC).
“RINGO is for universities, think tanks and NGOs doing research on climate change,” explains the Oregon State University professor of speech communications.
On the fifth day of the conference, he joins his fellow RINGO leaders in the Crakow Room to recap yesterday’s events. By the time the meeting comes to order, several dozen researchers and university students from around the world have wandered in, eager to share their scientific aspirations with like-minded conferees. There’s a Swedish sociologist working on crisis management, a Japanese researcher studying tech transfer, a Canadian student investigating ecological restoration of marine environments. There are scholars from Ontario’s University of Waterloo, from Sweden’s Gothenburg University, from the U.S.A.’s Swarthmore, Duke and University of Colorado. There’s a biologist from Honduras, an environmental law expert from Stockholm, a chemist from the Netherlands.
For university researchers and students, RINGO meetings are one of the few places they get to speak out and be heard. “It’s nice to sit at the table and say something,” one student remarks, alluding to her status as silent observers during the delegates’ negotiating sessions. In fact, as neutral third parties, observers often are shut out of the talks altogether. Someone suggests creating an online network, a “database of expertise” where RINGOs can connect and share. As the idea gains traction, a flurry of business cards is exchanged. Walker notes, “A number of research collaborations have come out of RINGO in the past.”
For more on Walker’s research on climate change negotiations, see The Warsaw Discourses.
“The world’s oceans have largely been left out of the mainstream discussion of global climate change.” — United Nations Environment Programme
Sparkling seas wash the Yucatan Peninsula — the Caribbean to the east, the Gulf of Mexico to the west. So it’s more than a little ironic that ocean and coastal issues were mostly absent from the official agenda when the UNFCCC met on the peninsula in 2010. Even as the azure waves lapped outside the Cancun venue, the negotiators inside talked mostly about land-based issues. As one observer grumbled, the delegates “can’t see the ocean through the trees.”
For Miriah Russo Kelly, an Oregon State University Ph.D. student who was in Cancun for the international climate change conference along with her mentor and adviser Gregg Walker, that oversight was unsettling.
“As the ocean heats up and sea levels rise, many, many, many thousands of people who live in coastal areas are becoming very vulnerable to immense hazards — storm surges, flooding, erosion,” says Kelly. “Quite frankly, if we don’t do something now to mitigate emissions at the international level, many of these communities, many of these cultures, will cease to exist.”
Ocean scientists and NGOs are pushing hard to broaden the UNFCCC dialog from the current emphasis on forests and agriculture to, for example, ocean acidification and “blue carbon” — the colossal promise of mangroves, sea grasses and salt marshes as carbon sinks.
Since Cancun, Kelly has undertaken a bicoastal study of communities that are preparing for climate change. She has four case studies — two in Oregon (Coos Bay and Neskowin) and two in Maine (Ellsworth and Saco Bay) — where residents are engaged in local or regional climate adaptation planning. “Oregon Sea Grant and Maine Sea Grant have collaborated in the past to do survey research on the perception of climate change in coastal communities,” she says. “While there are some significant differences, Maine is not unlike Oregon. They are dealing with a lot of the same issues that we are.”
As a scholar in environmental communications, she’s digging into the interpersonal dynamics of collaboration and cooperation among people who may share little in common except locale — fishermen and hotel managers, loggers and grocers, political leaders and homeowners, climate scientists and climate skeptics. “As more and more communities want to adapt to climate change,” she notes, “it’s going to require people to come together, to work together, from very different parts of the community.”
Her focus is the social psychology behind forging strong bonds among disparate members — the “human process of coming together and engaging in negotiations,” as she puts it. Investigating these “human dimensions” of climate change, Kelly’s research questions range from how climate science is used in decision-making to how individual, organizational and leadership roles best facilitate collaboration.
Trust is critical, she says, especially in the emotion-laden topic of climate change. When scientists listen, when they let group members steer requests for data and other scientific input, they win acceptance where they might have met resistance, Kelly is finding. “In all the projects I’ve been studying,” she says, “there is this ‘co-development of knowledge’ happening, where scientists are truly engaging with the community to find out what information they need.”
As a certified mediator who teams up with Oregon State professor Gregg Walker to conduct conflict-management trainings and facilitate multi-stakeholder dialog, Kelly blends professional negotiation skills with her deep commitment to a healthy planet, a commitment that awakened one day when, at age 12, she was scanning her parents’ book collection for something to read and happened upon Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. “That set me on a path to care about the environment and consider how humans interact with the natural world.”
Kelly is a founding member of the OSU student chapter of Mediators Beyond Borders International. “We do a lot of work on environmental conflict management, training students and others in how to deal with conflict effectively and productively.”
“The situation for Pacific lamprey is bad and getting worse,” says OSU fisheries biologist David Noakes, director of the Oregon Hatchery Research Center in Alsea. “We have enormous gaps in our knowledge of even the most basic aspects of life history, ecology and behavior of our native lamprey.”
To jumpstart the filling of those gaps, experts from around the Pacific Northwest and Canada gathered at the center in October for a Lamprey Research Workshop. Resolving uncertainties about lamprey, focusing research questions and raising awareness of conservation and restoration needs were the key goals for the 50 attendees. The scientists shared emerging findings in ocean ecology, molecular genetics and barriers to passage, as well as cultural implications for Northwest tribes, which are funding much of the Pacific lamprey research at Oregon State and elsewhere.
“We need to share the concerns of tribal peoples for the Pacific lamprey,” emphasizes Noakes.
For more on lamprey research, see Survivors from the Depths of Time.
One of Earth’s most ancient animals has inhabited some of the modern world’s hottest locations: Facebook and Twitter.
Thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Pacific lamprey last year had a virtual life on social media in the character of “Luna,” an imaginary fish that kids could follow online as she migrated through the Columbia River Basin.
Now, Oregon State has joined USFWS to create a multimedia lamprey curriculum for students in grades four through six.
“The curriculum helps students meet core standards in science and social science,” says Maureen Hosty, the Portland-based OSU Extension 4-H specialist who is leading development of the Pacific Lamprey in the Classroom Project along with Sean Connolly and Donna Allard of USFWS. “Students are able to move through the six learning modules at their own pace and in an order that is intuitive to them.”
Contact Hosty at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
For more on lamprey research, see Survivors from the Depths of Time.
Pacific lamprey, Entosphenus tridentatus, after many years of flying under the radar, have just recently received increased attention and awareness. Three events are planned for February, “Lamprey Awareness Month,” as christened by Jeremy Monroe of Freshwaters Illustrated, to give one of the oldest vertebrates some due.
To clarify, the anadromous Pacific lamprey are a species of lamprey that is native to the Pacific states and provinces of North America. Oregon and Northern California alone contain over 10 identified species of lamprey, most of which are not anadromous and therefore do not leave their native freshwater streams. Most of this blog post will focus on Pacific lamprey.
Elmer Crow, a Nez Perce elder, fisherman, and traditional leader, had a large role in “The Lost Fish.” On July 26, 2013, Elmer passed away while saving his two grandsons, who had been swept into the water by an errant wake on the Snake River. Elmer died just as he lived: heroic and selfless. He was a family man, who befriended everyone he interacted with. His passion for lamprey started in the 1970s, when he began to notice declining returns in the Salmon River Basin.
Elmer was a tireless lamprey advocate. Many will remember his presence in scientific meetings, forums and tribal councils, where he was not afraid to let his voice be heard. Even as Elmer has moved onto another world, his presence and achievements will continue, as he famously worked with “no budget” and was the first to implement supplementation and translocation projects in the fight to restore Pacific lamprey. For a deeper look into the continued success of Elmer’s work, see this story in The Observer newspaper from La Grande.
Pacific lamprey have important medicinal and cultural uses to Native American tribes of the region. They are central to the cultural identity of the tribes and seen as providers of life, as well as teachers. In the Pacific Northwest, lamprey were originally called ksuyus’ or asum’. You might also hear folks refer to them as eels, based on interactions with early English speakers. As the creation story goes, the lamprey was a boastful gambler, full of confidence. The lamprey was eager to prove his superiority over others and placed a bet with the Sucker Fish, waging his scales and bones that he would beat him in a swimming race. The lamprey ultimately lost and thus lost all of his scales and bones to the Sucker, who still holds them to this day, while the lamprey remains a slow swimmer, lacking true bones and scales.
Lamprey have long been overlooked in the United States, with much of the focus on the invasive sea lamprey in the Great Lakes region. Oregon State University has played a large role in the field of lamprey conservation. Carl Bond, the founder of the OSU Ichthyology Collection, and Ph.D. student Tin Tien Kan, described the world’s smallest predatory lamprey, Miller Lake lamprey, Entosphenus minima, in 1973 using museum specimens, because the lamprey was presumed extinct from lake poisoning by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1958. Doug Markle, Bond’s successor, along with Dan Logan and Dave Simon, rediscovered Miller Lake lamprey in 1992, and with Chris Lorion, they described its expanded range outside Miller Lake. Roger Smith, an OSU graduate, wrote a Miller Lake lamprey conservation plan for ODFW in 2005 and successfully reintroduced them into Miller Lake in 2010. In 2004, Doug’s graduate student, Abel Brumo evaluated different methods for quantifying Pacific Lamprey spawning in the Coquille River in southwestern Oregon.
In the early 1990s, OSU scientists Hiram and Judy Li were the first to acknowledge the decline of Pacific lamprey, as first recognized by Native American Tribes of the Pacific Northwest and brought to light by then graduate student David Close. David has since authored studies on the ecological concerns of Pacific lamprey and their cultural importance to Native Americans. This research remains a primary example of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) guiding western science and remains one of OSU’s “Points of Pride.”
Professor Carl Schreck laid a foundation for important ecological and physiological research on lamprey, initially working with Hiram and David. Carl currently leads projects that focus on the Willamette River Basin. The Willamette River supports one of the last traditional Native American harvest sites of Pacific lamprey at Willamette Falls. The Willamette River Basin holds a population that continues to persist despite the greater losses in adjacent basins.
Carl has advised or employed many who are strong advocates of lamprey conservation, people such as: Martin Fitzpatrick, Stacia Sower, Ben Clemens, Matt Mesa, Luke Schultz, Mariah Mayfield, Lance Wyss, Ralph Lampmann, Julia Unrein and April Lindeman. Aquatic ecologist Jason Dunham and his lab are on the cutting edge of Pacific lamprey research and have many great things in store. Have a great month of February!
For more on lamprey research, see Survivors from the Depths of Time.
If there’s a single message in the winter 2014 issue of Terra, it’s this: Language matters. It frames our relationships and defines our culture. It affirms common interests and ways of seeing the world. If you want to get something done, using the right language can make all the difference.
I learned that lesson early. At the dinner table, my parents would occasionally shift from English to their native Dutch. It often seemed to happen close to Christmas. My sisters and I, who spoke only English, knew the conversation was not meant for our ears.
As an ethnographer in Guatemala in the 1980s, Oregon State professor Cherri Pancake learned that understanding Mayan culture required extraordinary care in how she spoke during interviews and meetings. Later, when she became a computer engineer, she applied that skill to the world of software. She and her team in the Northwest Alliance for Computational Science and Engineering interview people who use computer algorithms (the steps programmers create to accomplish a task) to make decisions about everything from forest fires to crop insurance. The language of software — vocabulary, structure, logic — matters to them.
For Kayla García, who grew up in Wisconsin, learning Spanish felt more like an act of remembering than encountering something new. The professor in the OSU School of Language, Culture and Society has her feet in both English- and Spanish-speaking worlds. Her work acts like a prism for culture. It reveals peoples’ lives in colors that speakers of other languages might otherwise never see.
Language is also at the heart of Gregg Walker’s research on international negotiations. The Law of the Sea Treaty talks were complicated enough, he says, but they pale in comparison to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In Warsaw last fall, he listened and advised as delegates parsed words to underscore what’s at stake in the climate change debate: our survival and the world as we know it.
Their stories show Oregon State’s commitment to solving problems and enriching lives.
Remote Sensing of the Oceans
Award: 2013 William T. Pecora Award for achievement in Earth remote sensing
Sponsoring organization: NASA and the U.S. Department of the Interior
For more than 30 years, Chelton as led efforts to improve satellite-derived measurements of the four primary ocean variables that can be sensed remotely: sea surface height, surface winds, sea surface temperature, and ocean surface biological productivity. His work has led to new hypotheses in ocean studies and has inspired many follow-up investigations by the ocean remote-sensing community.
Award: Friendship Award of China
Sponsoring organization: People’s Republic of China
Major advances against some of the world’s most devastating plant diseases are starting to emerge from more than a decade of international scientific collaboration led by Brett Tyler. The holder of the Stewart Chair in Gene Research at Oregon State, Tyler coordinates a worldwide research program on plant pathogens known to scientists as oomycetes.
New Chemical Elements
Sponsoring organization: American Chemical Society
Loveland has contributed to the development of experimental techniques and theoretical understanding that have led to the synthesis and discovery of new chemical elements. His research on nuclear reactions has contributed to the understanding of fusion and the stability of products that result when nuclei collide. He has also applied nuclear chemistry to track the dispersal of pollutants in the environment.
Responding to the sting of declining honeybee populations, Oregon State University entomologists and engineers are planning to track native bumblebees with tiny sensors. Many aspects of bumblebee behavior are unknown, but better understanding may lead to bee-friendly agricultural practices, says Sujaya Rao, an entomologist in the College of Agricultural Sciences.
“Lack of pollination is a risk to human food production,” says Rao, an expert on native bees. “With our sensors, we are searching for answers to basic questions, such as: Do all members of one colony go to pollinate the same field together? Do bumblebees communicate in the colony where food is located? Are bumblebees loyal as a group?”
With support from a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rao will work with Oregon State engineering professors Patrick Chiang and Arun Natarajan to design sensors that can fit comfortably on the insects without affecting their behavior. Each sensor will consist of integrated circuits that broadcast wireless signals about the bee’s location and movement. The sensors will be powered by wireless energy transfer instead of batteries, further reducing weight and size.
“New technologies allow us to build sensors with extremely small dimensions,” says Natarajan, principal investigator in OSU’s High-Speed Integrated Circuits Lab and an assistant professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “The concept of placing wireless sensors on insects is a relatively unexplored area.”
Landscaping tactics, such as planting flowers and hedgerows near crops, are believed to promote the presence and population of bumblebees, as well as increase crop yields.
Decades of fire suppression have put the Ponderosa pine forests of Eastern Oregon at risk. Despite being adapted to frequent low-intensity fire, they have accumulated high fuel loads. Forest managers must decide when to let low-intensity fires burn and where to invest in costly fuel reduction treatments.
With a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Tom Dietterich, distinguished professor in the Oregon State College of Engineering, is leading a team of OSU researchers to develop computational methods for optimizing these forest management decisions. The team has developed the Oregon Centennial Fire Simulator, which predicts the consequences of management decisions over the next 100 years. With this grant, they will provide forest managers, landowners, timber-industry representatives and other stakeholders with methods for optimizing and then visualizing forest management policies. They will be able to improve those policies to address other concerns.
Dietterich and his team are also studying several problems of invasive species management. Like fire, invasive species spread across the landscape. Consequently many of the same mathematical and computational techniques can be applied to design optimal courses of action for controlling these invasions. The team will study three different invasive species that are threatening Oregon: tamarisk (salt cedar), cheatgrass and sudden oak death.
Some researchers are gene hunters. They track wildlife populations by following differences and similarities in genetic profiles. Now a research team led by Scott Baker, associate director of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, is helping scientists visualize genetic information from individual whales across the ocean. A member of Baker’s team, Ph.D. student Dori Dick in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, is developing a suite of mapping tools and the website, geneGIS.org.
When fully operational, the software will enable researchers to browse and summarize genetic records to understand how whale populations mix and move.
“The goal is to enable researchers to visualize and study spatial patterns of genetic variability,” says Dick. “This information is important for conservation and management purposes. It could indicate that different groups of individuals require different management strategies.”
The project focuses on an international effort to track humpbacks in the North Pacific. Baker recently showed that humpbacks there constitute five distinct populations.
Among collaborators are two scientists at Esri, the world’s largest GIS research and development firm: software developer Shaun Walbridge and Dawn Wright, Dick’s adviser and Esri chief scientist; and scientists affiliated with the Cascadia Research Collective and the Wildbook Project, a collaborative effort to use open-source software for tracking wildlife.
On Feb. 20, Dick will lead a workshop on geneGIS tools at the OSU Fisheries and Wildlife Graduate Student Association’s annual symposium.
The Office of Naval Research provided funding support.