Park Blocks: Spring 2012
Author: Su Yim, Kathryn Kirkland
Posted: May 31, 2012


Welcome to the USA

THE SALIH FAMILY—Qusay, Ali, Shaymaa, Diana, Mohammed, and U.S.-born baby, Hussein—immigrated to Oregon from Iraq in 2010 with limited English language skills and even less understanding of American culture. Portland State student Kyle Hubbard, 19, visits them weekly to help. He is one of many PSU students, mostly from the Arabic language program, working with Iraqi refugees through a PSU partnership with Better Life – USA, a nonprofit based in Portland. Nearly 2,000 Iraqi immigrants have moved to the Portland area since 2009.

Calling small businesses

BUSINESS MAJORS are working with local small businesses and nonprofits to help solve their most pressing strategic challenges—for free. The PSU School of Business Administration is seeking more companies to participate in its Business Strategy Senior Capstone. Since the class started last fall, students have worked with 25 businesses, including the new Rogue Hall pub and restaurant on campus, pictured here. Students suggested changes based on their survey and analysis of Rogue’s competition. The restaurant has already “implemented some of the students’ ideas to great success,” says Jennifer Anderson, Rogue general manager. To enquire about becoming a community partner, contact Bill Jones at
503-725-9992 or email


Wind tunnel testing

YOU DON’T have to build full-size windmills to figure out ways to make them work better. Mechanical engineering students are doing it with six-inch miniatures, which they’ve placed inside a new state-of-the-art wind tunnel on campus. Under the guidance of professor Raúl Bayoán Cal, the students control the temperature and terrain as well as the angle and velocity of airflow. They also rearrange the windmills to see if, for example, putting one behind another helps—or hinders—electrical generation. The National Science Foundation underwrites the work.

Wisdom for graduates

WHILE IN HER 40s, Jean Auel reinvented her life. She received her first university degree, quit her longtime job, and became a novelist—an amazingly successful novelist. Her books, Clan of the Cave Bear, published in 1980, and the other five in the Earth’s Children series, have sold more than 50 million copies in 35 countries.

Auel could never have predicted the course of her life when she was in her 20s or 30s, and neither can today’s graduates, says Auel, the featured speaker at Spring Commencement on June 17. She will receive an honorary degree along with Ken Thrasher, local business executive and philanthropist.

“I want to tell graduates that what you are going to be today is not the same as what you will be at 45,” she says.

Auel had written poetry, but writing fiction was new to her. She had a glimmer of an idea for a book, and following meticulous research, created her main character, Ayla, an orphaned Cro-Magnon girl adopted by a tribe of Neanderthals. She received a $130,000 advance for Clan of the Cave Bear, at the time a record-setting amount for a first book, and her research of prehistoric Europe earned her the respect of anthropologists and paleontologists around the world. The Land of Painted Caves, the final book in the series, was published last year.

 At age 76, Auel looks back at a life of continual learning. Before earning a degree, she took night classes for years at PSU while working and raising five children.

Those early years at PSU are now coming full circle. Among the graduates at Spring Commencement will be two of her grandchildren.

“Life will come at you with all kinds of possibilities and different paths,” Auel will tell her grandchildren. “Be open and enjoy it.”

KEN THRASHER will receive an honorary degree at Spring Commencement June 17. He has held senior management positions at Fred Meyer, Inc., and Compli, a Portland software company. At PSU, Thrasher serves on the Foundation and Social Work Advisory boards, and, in 2006, he helped lead PSU’s successful $100 million comprehensive fundraising campaign.