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President's Progress Report 2013: People making a difference
Author: UComm
Posted: February 25, 2013

Scholarship creates opportunity for success

Nikki De Leon worked 30 to 40 hours a week at three jobs last year to pay her way at Portland State. This year, she received a full tuition scholarship that allowed her to drop down to two jobs and 20 hours. Now she has more time to focus on her schoolwork and campus activities, including leading the Filipino American Student Association. De Leon, a junior marketing major who moved to Portland from The Philippines at age 10, is thankful to be among the first in her family to go to college. She credits faculty and student mentors with helping her succeed. “PSU has a lot of people who take time to help their students,” she says. “It’s not just about teaching; they really look after me and other students.”

Studying transportation choices in our community

Businesses now have an incentive to encourage bicycling. A Portland State study led by civil and environmental engineering professor Kelly Clifton found that cyclists who arrive at bars, restaurants, and convenience stores by bicycle spend more money per month than people who come by car, mass transit or on foot. Clifton worked with her students to gather information about how people arrive at local destinations, and they discovered that businesses that provide bike parking and are closer to bike friendly streets have more bike customers than those that don’t. "This says something about marketing, about customer loyalty, and about the nature of neighborhood-based business," says Clifton.

Inspiring Oregon middle school students to soar

If I did it, they can too,” says Victor Vergara MA ’05, Oregon’s Middle School Principal of the Year. A relatively recent Chilean immigrant, Vergara learned English and graduated from PSU’s Bilingual Teacher Pathway program with a master’s in education. He went to work at a largely Latino, underperforming middle school, where he quickly figured out what had to be done: connect with both kids and parents. He was promoted to principal, completed PSU’s Initial Administrator program, and turned Valor Middle School in Woodburn, Oregon, into a top performing school. Test scores have increased dramatically and parent participation has significantly improved. “Our parents now understand that academic achievement by a child is directly related to their involvement,” says Vergara.

Understanding our history unlocks our future 

Marlon Holmes BS ’11 was a young man facing a bleak future in south Florida when he decided, at a friend’s invitation, to buy a one-way ticket to Oregon. That was in 2008 and three years later he earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Portland State. Today, he is a graduate student in education, vice president of the Associated Students of PSU and a recipient of the President’s Equal Access Scholarship. His goal is to teach history. “Young people don’t know how important they are and how important their ancestors were,” Holmes says. “History hands down that knowledge, and lets them know that the world is their oyster.”

Hunt for viruses provides clues to how life evolved

Biology professor Ken Stedman and his research team find viruses in the most inhospitable places. They have retrieved new viruses from the acidic hot springs in California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park and from the sulfur springs at Pisciarelli near Naples, Italy. Filtering through one such haul, Stedman and his students discovered something unique: a hybrid incorporating both RNA and DNA structures into its genetic design. This virus could be a model for how life bridged the gap from its rudimentary RNA designs to more complex DNA codes — a model for how life evolved 4 billion years ago. This research from Stedman and students in the PSU Center for Life in Extreme Environments could also provide clues as to how new viruses emerge today.

Singing with the Metropolitan Opera

Soprano Audrey Luna BA ’01 literally took singing to new heights this past fall. She sang the part of Ariel in a debut Metropolitan Opera performance of The Tempest at New York’s Lincoln Center, while perched on a chandelier 25 feet above the stage. Even so, her “vocal agility, color and power” won her widespread critical praise. Now a busy performer with opera houses and orchestras around the country, Luna credits PSU with preparing her to balance her numerous responsibilities. “A career in music is a precarious one,” says Luna, “and one that will seldom bring you fame and fortune. It must be something that you can’t imagine living without.”