OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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Among gun owners, culturally tailored suicide prevention messages work best

BEND, Ore. – Gun owners are much more receptive to suicide-prevention messages tailored to respect their rights as firearms enthusiasts than they are to messages that use language that aims to be culturally neutral, a study published last week suggests.

The research at Oregon State University-Cascades is significant because more than half of the roughly 40,000 people in the United States who take their own lives every year do so with a gun.

Past research shows that the vast majority of people with “suicidal ideation” – thoughts of killing themselves – will live meaningful, productive lives if they get past the rough patch that caused them to think about suicide.

But only 5 percent of people who attempt suicide via firearm survive; hence the need for messaging that’s effective in helping friends and family members hold onto guns while their loved ones are experiencing suicidal ideation.

The researchers conducted interviews in 2015 with 39 adult gun owners from rural communities in central Oregon. The goal was to understand the culture of gun ownership and learn about acceptable, non-threatening methods of improving firearm safety that respect the rights of gun owners while also helping suicidal patients stay safe.

The interviews led to a one-page suicide prevention message that encouraged restricting firearm access and also respected the cultural values and rights of gun owners; the opening, for example, read “People who love guns, love you. For many of us, firearms are an American way of life – a constitutional right and a necessity in order to protect ourselves and our families. And with this right to bear arms comes responsibility. Just as we must refuse to be a victim of violent crime, we must also use common sense.”

The culturally tailored message was then used as part of a nationwide survey of more than 800 gun owners to determine the likelihood of it causing owners of firearms to engage in multiple key gun safety behaviors for suicide prevention – such as asking a suicidal person to give away his or her guns temporarily to another trusted individual.

Survey participants were randomly assigned to receive one of four messages: a control message that read only, “Mental health and suicide prevention are important public health issues”; a standard, one-page message explaining that suicide is preventable, what the warning signs are, and how to take action; the culture-specific message that resulted from the interviews with gun owners; and a message that combined the tailored message with the standard message.

“Respondents who received our culturally specific message in conjunction with standard suicide prevention content reported the greatest likelihood of taking steps to restrict access to firearms for those deemed at risk of suicide,” said OSU-Cascades anthropologist Elizabeth Marino. “This tendency was enhanced for individuals who were more politically conservative, lived in more rural areas, and supported gun rights to a stronger degree.

“The findings underscore the importance of cultural factors in public health messaging,” she said. “Messaging that respects the values of gun owners could hold promise in promoting firearm safety for suicide prevention. It’s important to understand what matters most to people and not use language that inadvertently promotes values or judgments that are not meaningful to the group you’re trying to reach.”

In this case, inadvertent promotion could come via words or sentences that suggested an anti-firearm bias.

The study found the standard one-page public health message was no more effective in moving people’s attitudes than the one-sentence control message, which was effectively no message.

“Information by itself isn’t changing minds at all,” Marino said. “But if the language in the message is sensitive and respects culturally specific values, then people are more open to the information and will maybe change their decisions. In such politically and culturally divisive times, it’s especially worth noting that there are in fact joint goals that people with diverse perspectives can talk about and reach consensus on as long as we understand each person’s cultural framework.”

Marino said one of the findings from the informational interviews was that many gun owners are already intervening when necessary by temporarily limiting access to firearms when someone is suicidal.

“This really speaks toward understanding the coping strategies and resilience in communities to solve problems and find ways to build on those,” she said. “We based our message on what people are already doing.”

Joining Marino in the study were two OSU-Cascades colleagues, psychologist and corresponding author Christopher Wolsko and public health specialist Susan Keys, as well as Holly Wilcox of Johns Hopkins University. The La Pine Community Health Center and its medical director, Laura Pennavaria, also collaborated on the study.

“That interdisciplinary perspective really helped us pay attention to the cultural framework from which all of these attitudes and actions emerge,” Marino said. “There are more deaths by suicide than deaths by car accidents every year in the U.S., and suicide is the No. 1 means of violent death globally. It’s a really important, pressing issue nationally and internationally.”

Marino notes that often someone will make the decision to take his or her life, and then act on it, inside a five-minute window.

“People believe if someone wants to kill himself or herself, they will just eventually do it, but that’s actually not the case,” she said. “If we can help them get past the rough patch, chances are great that people will survive. They go on to lead full, meaningful lives.”

The University of Rochester’s Injury Control Research Center for Suicide and the Oregon Health Authority supported this research.

Findings were published last week in Archives of Suicide Research.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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New modified toy car designs offer children with disabilities more options

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have developed two new modified toy car designs for children with disabilities in an effort to encourage them to further explore, play, and engage in physical and social activities.

The new cars were developed under the umbrella of the “Go Baby Go” program at OSU, which provides modified, ride-on toy cars to young children with disabilities so they can move around independently. Independent movement has been linked to a wide range of developmental benefits in young children. 

The sit-to-stand car is a modified version of the original Go Baby Go car, but encourages the child to stand up in order to activate the switch that makes the car move. The goal is to encourage the physical skills of pulling up to stand, bear weight and balance, while also fostering more interaction with peers.

The “Throw Baby Throw” car is a modified toy car that uses a toy pitching machine to throw foam balls. The goal is to provide a way for children who have upper extremity limits to participate in throwing, a fundamental motor skill, while also facilitating socialization. 

“Both of these devices are designed to encourage movement and social interaction, which are critical developmental skills for all young children,” said Sam Logan, an assistant professor of kinesiology in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and leader of the university’s Go Baby Go program.

“Movement and socialization are very often combined early and continually as children develop.” 

The two new car designs were featured in a technical report published recently in the journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI. A study of a child using the sit-to-stand car also was recently published in the journal Pediatric Physical Therapy; researchers found the child was more engaged with peers when using the sit-to-stand car.

Modified toy cars are an inexpensive way to help toddlers with mobility issues get around, experts say. Power wheelchairs can be costly and typically aren’t available for children until they are older, and may not always be an option for children who are expected to eventually be able to walk. Toy cars and their modifications start at about $200, while motorized wheelchairs can run thousands of dollars. 

The sit-to-stand car was designed for children who may or are expected to walk eventually but their walking is delayed. In the study of the sit-to-stand car in use, researchers found that a child with disabilities spent about 10 percent more time engaging with his peers on the playground or in the gym at school when he used the sit-to-stand car, compared to using his forearm crutches.

“That’s exactly what you want to see,” Logan said. “This car gets you up and gets you moving. It’s also a way to introduce some fun around the practice of these skills that will help a child stand and walk on their own.” 

In developing the new car, researchers found the process takes just a few different steps than the original car. The “go” switch is located under the car’s seat, rather than on the steering wheel or elsewhere. Training others to modify cars for sit-to-stand would be fairly simple and could be done in a few hours in a workshop, Logan said.

The Throw Baby Throw car uses the same “go” technology as the original car, with the added element of the pitching machine, which is also activated by a switch that a child could press. 

“With the switch, kids with upper-extremity limits can throw the same as other kids,” Logan said. “The design is really about facilitating this interaction with other kids. You also need someone to catch, retrieve or dodge the balls being thrown.”

The engineering behind the throwing car is more complex and needs more refinement before the design could be shared more widely across the Go Baby Go network, Logan said. The throwing car also has not been studied in action. There is one car in use by clinicians in Portland now but the design is still considered a prototype, he said. 

The overarching goal of the new car designs is to find more ways to encourage children with disabilities to move, play and engage with their peers from a young age, Logan said.

“We encourage families, clinicians and teachers to embrace a ‘right device, right time, right place’ approach that takes into account each child’s specific needs and abilities,” he said. “Whatever typically-developing kids do should be the gold standard for all children, including those with disabilities.”

Co-authors of the technical report include Kathleen Bogart, William D. Smart, Brianna Goodwin, Samantha M. Ross, Michele Ann Catena, Austin A. Whitesell and Zachary J. Sefton of OSU; Heather Feldner of the University of Washington and Cole Galloway of the University of Delaware. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Co-authors of the study of the sit-to-stand car include Megan MacDonald and Haylee Winden of OSU; Feldner of UW; Galloway, Michele Lobo and Tracy Stoner of University of Delaware; and Melynda Schreiber of the University of Utah. The research was supported by the Unidel Foundation.

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Sam Logan, 541-737-3437, sam.logan@oregonstate.edu

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GoBabyGo at Oregon State

Throw Baby Throw car

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Researcher Sam Logan

Sam Logan

Oregon State University announces plans for arts and education complex

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Building on a decade of investment in the arts, Oregon State University leaders announced plans today for a new arts and education complex on the Corvallis campus. The initiative will expand and enhance the existing LaSells Stewart Center, bringing together music, theater, digital communications programs and the visual arts to form a center of creativity infused with science and technology.

The lead gift of $25 million comes from an anonymous donor and launches an effort to raise an additional $5 million in gifts for the project. With $30 million in private support, the university will seek future approvals for $30 million in state bonds, providing a total of $60 million for the arts and education complex. 

“This is a watershed investment in our university,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “The arts drive the culture of creativity, innovation and diversity that is essential to a thriving research environment. I believe with all my heart that a relationship with the arts is integral to the human experience. In addition to enhancing our strengths in the sciences, this initiative will enrich the education and life preparation of all our students. We owe a boundless debt of gratitude to this generous donor.”

Expected to open in 2022, the OSU arts and education complex will feature performance spaces including a new concert hall and a revitalized auditorium as well as a smaller black box theater that can be configured in multiple ways for performing and teaching. The facility also will contain classrooms designed for a media-rich environment; practice rooms and spaces for choir, symphony and band rehearsal; shop space equipped for work with sound, lights, animation and video; faculty offices and seminar rooms. 

“The arts and education complex is the next major step for OSU’s development as one of America’s great land grant universities,” said Larry Rodgers, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “At OSU we are especially interested in how art intersects with science, humanities and technology. This facility will build on these connections, transforming the way our students and our community learn, perform, innovate and communicate.”

“I am certain this new complex will join other iconic facilities that stand as testaments to the lasting impact of philanthropy on our campus – Valley Library, Austin Hall, Reser Stadium,” said Mike Goodwin, president and CEO of the OSU Foundation. 

Goodwin noted that a turning point took place in early 2013 when a donor made a $5 million challenge gift to advance OSU’s performing arts programs. By the end of the year, 26 individuals, families and organizations had made gifts of at least $25,000 each. These philanthropic commitments and others resulted in more than $8 million to support scholarships, faculty, facilities, equipment and other programs in OSU’s School of Arts & Communication. This momentum in support of OSU arts programs continues to grow. In fact, over the last two years, donors have nearly doubled the amount of scholarships available for vocal music students.

Opened in 1981, the current LaSells Stewart Center has over 1,660 event bookings annually, attracting more than 150,000 attendees for academic and research conferences and cultural offerings. The Stewart Center’s 1,200-seat Austin Auditorium is often sold out for campus and community musical performances and presentations.

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Larry Rodgers, 541-737-4581, Larry.Rodgers@oregonstate.edu; Molly Brown, 541-737-3602, molly.brown@osufoundation.org

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Student Maria Rivera

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Soloists Logan Stewart, Megan Sand, Nicholas Larson and Kevin Helppie

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Art Professor Yuji Hiratsuka and students

Art

Study examines impact of common risk factors on outcomes for home and birth center births

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Women with some characteristics commonly thought to increase pregnancy risks – being over age 35; being overweight; and in some cases, having a vaginal birth after a cesarean section – tend to have good outcomes when they give birth at home or in a birth center, a new assessment has found.

However, women with some other risk factors, a breech baby and some other cases of vaginal birth after cesarean or VBAC, may face an increased risk of poor outcomes for themselves or their babies, researchers at Oregon State University have found. The study is believed to be the first to examine these risks and the outcomes.

About 2 percent of all births in the U.S., and about 4 percent in Oregon, occur at home or in a birth center, rather than in a hospital setting. Generally, women who are considered “low-risk” are good candidates for home or birth center births, also referred to as community births, if they are attended by a midwife or other trained provider and timely access to a hospital is available.  

However, there is little agreement among health providers on what should be considered low- or high-risk, and some women choose to have a community birth despite potential risks, said Marit Bovbjerg, a clinical assistant professor of epidemiology at Oregon State University and lead author of the study.

Medical ethics and the tenets of maternal autonomy dictate that women be allowed to decide where and how they wish to give birth. That’s why it’s important to have as much information as possible about potential risks, said Bovbjerg, who works in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.

There are also risks associated with hospital births, such as increased interventions, which means there aren’t always clear answers when it comes to determining the best and safest place to give birth, said Melissa Cheyney, a medical anthropologist and associate professor in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts.

The goal of the research was to better understand the outcomes for women and babies with some of the most common pregnancy risk factors, to see how those risk factors affected outcomes.

“There’s a middle or gray area, in terms of risk, where the risk associated with community birth is only slightly elevated relative to a completely low-risk sample,” Cheyney said. “We’re trying to get more information about births that fall in that middle zone so that clinicians and pregnant women can have the best evidence available when deciding where to give birth.”

The findings were published recently in the journal Birth. Other co-authors are Jennifer Brown of University of California, Davis; and Kim J. Cox and Lawrence Leeman of the University of New Mexico.

Using birth outcome data collected by the Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project, commonly referred to as MANA Stats, the researchers analyzed more than 47,000 midwife-attended community births.

They looked specifically at the independent contributions to birth outcomes of 10 common risk factors: primiparity, or giving birth for the first time; advanced maternal age, or mother over age 35; obesity; gestational diabetes; preeclampsia; post-term pregnancy, or more than 42 weeks gestation; twins; breech presentation; history of both cesarean and vaginal birth; and history of only cesarean birth.

The last two groups are both considered VBACs and hospital policies and state regulations for midwifery practice usually make no distinction between the two types. However, the researchers found a clear distinction between the two groups in terms of community birth outcomes.

Women who delivered vaginally after a previous cesarean and also had a history of previous vaginal birth had better outcomes even than those women giving birth for the first time. On the other hand, women who had never given birth to a child vaginally had an increased risk of poor outcomes in community birth settings.

“That finding suggests that current policies that universally discourage VBAC should be revisited, as the evidence does not support them,” Bovbjerg said. “Women who in the past have successfully delivered vaginally seem to do just fine the next time around, even if they have also had a previous C-section. That’s really important because some medical groups totally oppose VBACs, even in hospital settings, and many hospitals don’t offer the option of a VBAC at all.”

Researchers also found that women whose babies were in breech position had the highest rate of adverse outcome when giving birth at home or in a birth center.

There was only a slight increase in poor outcomes for women over age 35, or women who were overweight or obese, compared to those without those risk factors. In some categories, there were not enough births in the data set to properly evaluate a risk’s impact, such as with gestational diabetes and preeclampsia.

“As is appropriate, women who face high complication risks such as preeclampsia tend to plan for and choose a hospital birth, rather than a community birth,” Bovbjerg said. “But even for these women, it’s important to remember that they can choose a community birth if their faith, culture or other considerations dictate that is the best choice for them.”

The researchers emphasized that the new information about risks and outcomes can serve as an important tool in decision-making for families making very personal choices about where to give birth.

“These findings help us to put information and evidence, rather than fear, at the center of discussions around informed, shared decision-making between expectant families and their health care providers,” Cheyney said.

Researchers next plan to examine how the healthcare culture and standards of care in different locations within the U.S. affect outcomes of home and birthing center deliveries.

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Melissa Cheyney, 541-737-4515, melissa.cheyney@oregonstate.edu; Marit Bovbjerg, 541-737-5313, Marit.Bovbjerg@oregonstate.edu

OSU’s College of Liberal Arts to offer four-year graduation guarantee to incoming students

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s College of Liberal Arts will guarantee that students can earn a bachelor’s degree in four years beginning with the freshman class entering college in fall 2017.

The College of Liberal Arts is the first college at OSU to offer a four-year degree completion guarantee. Under the program, if a student meets their obligations but still cannot get through all of their needed courses in four years, the college will pick up the cost of OSU tuition for the remaining required classes. 

The goal is to encourage more students to complete their undergraduate degrees and to do so in a timely fashion, which also helps reduce overall college costs for students.

“The guarantee we are offering CLA students exemplifies our dedication to their success,” said Larry Rodgers, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “We are offering students who sign up for the degree all the support they need to graduate in four years. We are happy to be the model for the rest of the university and our hope is that eventually a program like this will be available at other colleges at OSU.”

The College of Liberal Arts is the second largest college at OSU, with 17 undergraduate degree options, 3,917 undergraduates enrolled in fall 2016 and 972 undergraduate degrees awarded in 2016. However, of those students who entered college in 2011, only about 43 percent graduated in four years.

College leaders hope the new degree guarantee will boost that rate significantly. The changes also should lead to higher six-year graduation rates and help the university reach the goals of the Student Success Initiative, which includes a goal of 70 percent of students graduating within six years by the year 2020. 

To participate in the four-year graduation guarantee program, new students must:

  • Declare a major in the College of Liberal Arts by the end of the first quarter of freshman year
  • Meet with a designated adviser at least twice a year and follow their progress recommendations
  • Each year, earn at least 45 credits that fulfill degree and college requirements
  • Stay on track with financial obligations such as tuition

Embedded in the degree guarantee program is a shift in philosophy toward first-year students. 

In the past, academic advisors were encouraging first-year students to start with 12 to 14 credits in their first term of college. But now advisors will encourage students to take 15 credits per term starting with the first term, said Louie Bottaro, director of student services for the College of Liberal Arts.

“We have research that tells us that students who take 15 hours from day one are more likely to succeed than those who take fewer classes and plan to ramp up to 15 later,” Bottaro said. 

Advisors will meet more often with students – currently they meet at least six times with students but that will jump to eight to 10 times or more during the student’s college career. The goal of those meetings will be to ensure that students have the information they need to stay on track, are getting the appropriate classes and receive regular updates about their progress toward their degree, Bottaro said.

Regular monitoring also will help better predict which courses students might need access to in order to graduate on time, so that enough seats are available or sections can be added to address student needs, Bottaro said. 

Students who fail a class, accidentally take the wrong course or decide to change majors may need to take additional steps, such as taking a summer class. For some majors, such as music and graphic design, students must begin their major course work in their first term on campus in order to complete a degree on time.

If students do fall off course, they may not be eligible for the four-year degree guarantee, but advisors will continue to work with them to help them achieve their goals as expediently as possible, Bottaro said. 

“Ultimately, our goal is to help students reach their academic goals and complete their degrees,” he said. “This new degree guarantee is one way to assist with that process, but we are committed to meeting students wherever they are in their academic plan.”

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Louie Bottaro, 541-737-0561, Louie.bottaro@oregonstate.edu

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MRI brain scans may help identify risks, prevent adolescent substance abuse

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Neuroimaging of the brain using technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs, increasingly is showing promise as a technique to predict adolescent vulnerability to substance abuse disorders, researchers conclude in a new analysis. 

A greater understanding of what such technologies offer and continued research to perfect the use of them may ultimately help identify youth at the highest risk for these problems and allow prevention approaches. These might include neuropsychological intervention exercises that can strengthen vulnerable cognitive networks in the brain.

The findings are of importance, researchers say, because underage alcohol and drug use is increasingly being recognized as a public health and social problem, with long-term consequences that include poorer academic performance, neurocognitive deficits and psychosocial problems.

Youth who begin drinking before age 15 have four to six times the rate of lifetime alcohol dependence than those who do not drink by age 21, researchers noted in this analysis, which was recently published in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences.

“Structural and neural alterations in the brain from drug and alcohol abuse have now been well established,” said Anita Cservenka, an assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University, and co-author of the study.

“It’s also becoming clear that some of these alterations can exist before any substance abuse, and often are found in youth who have a family history of alcohol and drug use disorders. These familial risk factors can play a role in future substance abuse, along with environmental risk factors such as peer influence, personality and psychosocial interactions.”

Family history of alcohol-use disorder is a strong predictor of substance abuse, Cservenka said, as it raises the risk for the development of alcohol-use disorder in adolescents by three to five times. Neuroimaging studies show significant overlap in brain scans between those with a family history of alcohol- and substance-use disorders and youth who begin using substances during adolescence.

Some of the findings in youth with family history of alcohol- and substance-use disorder include a smaller volume of limbic brain regions, sex-specific patterns of hippocampal volume, and a positive association of familial risk with “nucleus accumbens” volume in the brain. Other risk factors for adolescent substance use that have been identified include poorer performance on executive functioning tasks of inhibition and working memory, smaller brain volumes in reward and cognitive control regions, and heightened response to rewards.

A factor contributing to a peak in substance use during adolescence, researchers say, may be emotion and reward systems that develop before cognitive control systems, leaving youth more vulnerable to risk-taking behaviors.

Almost two thirds of 18-year-olds, for instance, support lifetime alcohol use; 45 percent marijuana use; and 31 percent smoking cigarettes.

Various studies, Cservenka said, are examining such issues, including the National Consortium on Alcohol and Neurodevelopment in Adolescence, which includes five sites across the U.S. following 800 youth ages 12-21.

“We’re just beginning to understand the risk factors for substance abuse and the consequences of adolescent substance use with these types of large, long-term studies,” she said. “Ultimately such information should help inform us about who might be at most risk and what brain areas are most vulnerable, so we can target them and work to prevent the problems.”

If an MRI showed weakness in working memory, for instance, computer games or behavioral tasks might help strengthen the area of the brain that is deficient. Similar approaches might also be used to help address issues such as stress and depression, Cservenka said.

The lead author on this review was Lindsay Squeglia at the Medical University of South Carolina. The work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health.

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Anita Cservenka, 541-737-1366

anita.cservenka@oregonstate.edu

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Impulsive personality linked to greater risk for early onset of meth use

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Methamphetamine users who described themselves as impulsive were more likely to have started taking the drug at an earlier age, a study of more than 150 users showed.

Both attentional and motor impulsivity were linked to early meth use, even when accounting for total years of use. On average, people who use methamphetamine start at about age 22.

“It’s really unclear if impulsivity is a contributor or a consequence of early methamphetamine use; I think it’s both,” said Anita Cservenka, an assistant professor in the School of Psychological Science at Oregon State University and co-author of the recent study in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

“Impulsivity is highly related to the number of years of using methamphetamine, specifically in men. Our findings suggest that impulsivity likely both contributes to using this substance and increases as a result of using it.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded the study, and Lara A. Ray of UCLA was the corresponding author. The researchers looked at 157 meth users’ scores on the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, a widely used self-reporting measure of impulsive personality traits.

Those in the study sample were between 18 and 50 years old, reported using meth in the last 30 days, and reported not using any other substances other than alcohol, tobacco or marijuana. The subjects were free of major mental or physical health problems and were not seeking treatment for their meth use.

The Barratt Impulsiveness Scale is broken into multiple types of impulsivity, some of which include attentional and motor impulsivity. Attentional impulsiveness has been defined as an inability to focus attention or concentrate. Motor impulsiveness refers to a tendency to act on whims.

About 1 percent of 12th-graders report having used meth at least once, and more than 6 percent of people 26 and older have used meth in their lifetime.

“One possibility is that meth users are self-medicating,” Cservenka said. “If they have difficulty paying attention, they may try to use meth to perhaps improve their attentional ability, as amphetamines are clinically prescribed for this purpose.”

Illicitly manufactured and distributed, methamphetamine is a toxic, strong, highly addictive central nervous system stimulant. Using it can cause disturbed sleep patterns, hyperactivity, nausea, delusions, aggressiveness, irritability, confusion, anxiety and hallucinations.

“Methamphetamine use is such a big burden on the individual and also at the societal level,” Cservenka said. “We pay a lot for users’ health care because meth use impairs both psychosocial function and physical health. These results suggest that if we find individuals during adolescence who show elevated symptoms of impulsivity or a lack of inhibitory control, they may be individuals we want to target for early intervention.

Cservenka says longitudinal studies – tracking subjects over time – are needed to better determine if impulsivity is a trigger for early meth use.

“Because this was a cross-sectional study, we can’t say that impulsivity led to meth use,” she said. “We can only suggest that perhaps impulsivity might be a trait that individuals should pay attention to in at-risk youth, especially when it comes to late adolescence or young adulthood, when most meth use is initiated.

“We can only see the complete picture if we track adolescents at an early age and then follow them into young adulthood to understand what risk factors contribute to starting using a substance like meth. Impulsivity may be one of them, but there are likely a number of other risk factors.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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OSU Board of Trustees approves new degree, bond sales

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University plans to launch the state’s only four-year degree in hospitality management beginning this year at the OSU-Cascades campus in Bend. The proposal was approved Friday by the OSU Board of Trustees.

The multi-disciplinary degree will include options for eco-tourism and sustainability, a business minor, and practicum/internship requirements.

In Oregon, hospitality is a $9.2 billion industry that directly generates more than 91,000 jobs and indirectly creates another 41,000 jobs, officials say. In Central Oregon, tourism and hospitality are particularly important and continue to be the region’s largest source of jobs, growing at a rate of nearly 13 percent every year.

“It will create significant higher education opportunities for place-bound Oregonians in an area of the state reliant on the hospitality industry,” said Rebecca Warner, senior vice provost for Academic Affairs at Oregon State.

Warner said the proposed program has received statewide support from the hospitality industry.

Now the proposal will go to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission for review and consideration for approval at HECC’s February meeting in Corvallis.

The board on Friday also approved a resolution requesting the State Treasurer to issue bonds previously authorized by the Oregon Legislature in 2013 and 2014 for real estate and expansion of OSU-Cascades, renovation of Strand Agricultural Hall, partial funding for the construction of the Learning Innovation Center (also known as the new classroom building), and partial funding for construction of Johnson Hall – a new $40 million, 60,000-square-foot engineering building.

The board also approved a process to annually determine student tuition and fees. The board will receive a recommendation on tuition and fees from OSU President Edward J. Ray, who first will consult with student government leaders and other students on the Corvallis campus as well as the OSU-Cascades campus.

The board also heard reports from OSU administrators on risk management, long-range facilities planning, state funding for higher education, accreditation, educational goals and ways the university measures academic progress. Members also heard a presentation from OSU College of Liberal Arts Dean Larry Rodgers and liberal arts students on the growth, reorganization and expansion of academic programs and degrees, along with personal overviews of student experiences within the college,

The board also approved the appointment of Debbie Colbert, a former administrator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, as new board secretary. She will assume her new duties on Jan. 26.

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Steve Clark, 541-737-3808; steve.clark@oregonstate.edu

Matched “hybrid” systems may hold key to wider use of renewable energy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The use of renewable energy in the United States could take a significant leap forward with improved storage technologies or more efforts to “match” different forms of alternative energy systems that provide an overall more steady flow of electricity, researchers say in a new report.

Historically, a major drawback to the use and cost-effectiveness of alternative energy systems has been that they are too variable – if the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, a completely different energy system has to be available to pick up the slack. This lack of dependability is costly and inefficient.

But in an analysis just published in The Electricity Journal, scientists say that much of this problem could be addressed with enhanced energy storage technology or by developing “hybrid” systems in which, on a broader geographic scale, one form of renewable energy is ramping up even while the other is declining.

Wind energy is already pretty cost-competitive and solar energy is quickly getting there,” said Anna Kelly, a graduate student in the School of Public Policy at Oregon State University, and an energy policy analyst. “The key to greater use of these and other technologies is to match them in smart-grid, connected systems.

“This is already being done successfully in a number of countries and the approach could be expanded.”

For instance, the wind often blows more strongly at night in some regions, Kelly said, and solar technology can only produce energy during the day. By making more sophisticated use of that basic concept in a connected grid, and pairing it with more advanced forms of energy storage, the door could be opened for a much wider use of renewable energy systems, scientists say.

“This is more than just an idea, it’s a working reality in energy facilities around the world, in places like Spain, Morocco and China, as well as the U.S.,” Kelly said. “Geothermal is being paired with solar; wind and solar with lithium-ion batteries; and wind and biodiesel with batteries. By helping to address the price issue, renewable energy is being produced in hybrid systems by real, private companies that are making real money.”

Advanced energy storage could be another huge key to making renewable energy more functional, and one example is just being developed in several cooperating states in the West. Electricity is being produced by efficient wind farms in Wyoming; transmitted to Utah where it’s being stored via compressed air in certain rock formations; and ultimately used to help power Los Angeles.

This $8 billion system could be an indicator of things to come, since compressed air can rapidly respond to energy needs and be readily scaled up to be cost-competitive at a significant commercial level.

“There are still a number of obstacles to overcome,” said Joshua Merritt, a co-author on the report and also a graduate student in mechanical engineering and public policy at OSU. “Our transmission grids need major improvements so we can more easily produce energy and then send it to where it’s needed. There are some regulatory hurdles to overcome. And the public has to more readily accept energy systems like wind, wave or solar in practice, not just in theory.”

The “not in my back yard” opposition to renewable energy systems is still a reality, the researchers said, and there are still some environmental concerns about virtually any form of energy, whether it’s birds killed by wind turbine rotors, fish losses in hydroelectric dams or chemical contaminants from use of solar energy.

The near future may offer more options, the researchers said. Advanced battery storage technologies are becoming more feasible. Wave or tidal energy may become a real contributor, and some of those forces are more predictable and stable by definition. And the birth of small, modular nuclear reactors – which can be built at lower cost and produce no greenhouse gas emissions – could play a significant role in helping to balance energy outflows from renewable sources.

The long-term goal, the report concluded, is to identify technologies that can work in a hybrid system that offers consistency, dependability and doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. With careful matching of systems, improved transmission abilities and some new technological advances, that goal may be closer than realized, they said.

“With development, the cost of these hybrid systems will decrease and become increasingly competitive, hopefully playing a larger role in power generation in the future,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.

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Video games could provide venue for exploring sustainability concepts

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Could playing video games help people understand and address global sustainability issues such as pollution, drought or climate change? At least two researchers believe so, outlining their argument in a concept paper published in the journal “First Monday.”

Video games have the potential to educate the public and encourage development of creative solutions to social, economic and environmental problems, said Oregon State University’s Shawna Kelly, one of the two authors of the article.

“Video games encourage creative and strategic thinking, which could help people make sense of complex problems,” said Kelly, who teaches new media communications in the School of Arts and Communication at Oregon State’s College of Liberal Arts.

“Entertainment has always been a space for exposing people to new ideas. Using video games, it’s possible to introduce sustainability concepts to the mass public in a way that’s not pedantic, that’s not educational,” Kelly said. “Instead, it could be fun and it could be challenging.”

Kelly wrote the paper with Bonnie Nardi, an anthropologist with University of California, Irvine's Department of Informatics, who studies sustainability, collapse-preparedness and information technology. 

Kelly and Nardi identified four key areas in which video games could support sustainable practices. The areas are:

  • Shift away from growth as the end goal of a game. Uncontrollable growth is unsustainable and asks little of players’ imaginations.
  • Emphasize scavenging instead of combat to collect resources. Encourage players to interact with their environment in creative ways instead of simply looking for targets.
  • Offer complex avenues for social interaction. Move beyond “us versus them” and focus on other types of social collaborations.
  • Encourage strategizing with resources such as scenarios that incorporate long-term consequences and interdependencies of resource use.

Some video games already are using some of the elements Kelly and Nardi recommend. Economics-based games such as “EVE Online” challenge players to strategize between their short-term personal resource demands and the long-term needs of a larger group of players, their corporation. “DayZ” is a combat simulation game that requires players to scavenge for resources and work with other players, deciding on their own which players are friends and which are enemies.

Those are the kinds of game mechanics that make video games fun and challenging, but those mechanics also could be used to encourage players to think about real problems related to sustainability, Kelly said.

The culture of video gaming rewards people for solving problems and coming up with unique solutions. There is a common interest and connection among players, and knowledge is easily shared via game-specific wikis, message boards, instant messaging and more, Kelly pointed out.

“There’s a huge set of people out there who love to problem-solve,” she said. “Why not harness that power that is already there?”

That doesn’t mean someone should go out and develop “The Sustainability Game,” Kelly said. While video games have proven to be a good educational tool, there is a sense that those who play video games for entertainment don’t want forced educational components, she said.

“The attitude is ‘don’t make me learn something,’ ” Kelly said. “Instead, make the problems accessible to the gaming community and see what emerges.”

Kelly plans to continue exploring the relationship between video games and sustainability through additional research supported by OSU’s New Media Communications department. She’s planning to conduct a systematic survey of the use of sustainability concepts in current video games during the 2014-15 school year using undergraduate student research assistants and resources from New Media Communications.

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