OSU to honor two special grads at Commencement


CORVALLIS - Oregon State University will present special awards at its June 12 commencement ceremony to one of the world's top journalists and a pioneering researcher who helped identify and bring global attention to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Both are OSU graduates.

Chris Johns, editor-in chief of National Geographic magazine, will receive the university's Distinguished Service Award and give the commencement address. Ann Roth Streissguth, director of the Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit at the University of Washington, will receive an honorary doctorate degree.

OSU's commencement begins at 2 p.m. at Gill Coliseum and will be televised live on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Johns was named two years ago as one of the 25 most important photographers in the world by American Photo magazine. He also was appointed that year as editor-in-chief of National Geographic - becoming only the ninth full-time editor of the magazine since its inception in 1888.

From Anchorage, Alaska, to Africa's Zambezi River, Johns' National Geographic magazine assignments have taken him far from his birthplace of Medford, Ore. He has helped countless readers better understand the world and its people, animals and habitats. In a 2004 interview with the Oregon Stater, OSU's alumni magazine, Johns said he has had the privilege of traveling all over the world.

"I have worked in countries where it is hard for me to describe how bad it was for people…and still is," Johns noted. "I've seen some of the worst human behavior on the face of the earth and I've had violence directed at me. I've had some life-altering experiences. I've also seen hope come out of some of the darkest situations and it has reinforced in me, time and time again, how important leadership is."

Johns first became associated with National Geographic in 1985, when he took on contract jobs for the magazine, and he eventually joined the magazine staff in 1995. His career in photojournalism began while studying animal science at OSU. Johns graduated in 1975 with a degree in technical journalism and a minor in agriculture.

That same year, Johns became a staff photographer at the Topeka Capital-Journal and in 1979 he was named National Newspaper Photographer of the Year.

Until the 1970s, there was little if any knowledge or evidence that alcohol consumption by pregnant women could damage developing fetuses. Streissguth led an interdisciplinary team that in 1973 first identified the harmful effects of alcohol use during pregnancy and during the following year she was named principal investigator for the Longitudinal Study on Alcohol and Pregnancy, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Her research team found that nearly one in every 100 births was affected by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or alcohol-related disabilities.

The study continued and in 1981, the findings from her research team led the U.S. Surgeon General to make an official recommendation that women not consume alcohol during pregnancy, or when planning a pregnancy.

Streissguth graduated from OSU in 1954 with a degree in home economics, then earned a master's degree in child development from the University of California, and a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of Washington.

During her career, which has spanned nearly half a century, Streissguth has published more than 200 papers and three books, given more than 400 talks at conferences and meetings throughout the world, and appeared numerous times in the media to inform her peers and the public about the dangers of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Her studies continue. With colleagues, Streissguth recently began a five-year study of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and neuropsychological function in persons with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in an effort to find improved treatment methods.