When hiring faculty for its new campus in southwest Bend, Oregon State University-Cascades needed people of a certain type.
Faculty members who were ready to wear many hats. Who didn’t rely on strict direction to get work done. And who were not afraid to start at a new four-year university undergoing growing pains. OSU-Cascades’ first academic year on its campus on SW Chandler Avenue proved to be a success: The university will graduate more than 270 students.
But new buildings, new faculty and staff and the hope of continued growth — from the campus to the classroom — means the university is still making updates and adjustments.
“One challenge with OSU-Cascades is we’re building an airplane while it’s in the air,” said Yong Bakos, an instructor in the computer science program.
For Bakos, and other faculty members in their first year at OSU-Cascades, the idea of shaping a university while it serves students was not a drawback.
Bakos, who has been a software developer for more than 25 years, is in his 11th year of teaching in higher education.
“We came for the adventure,” Bakos said. “I came because I build startups, I build programs, and that’s what OSU-Cascades is.”
Bakos had four initiatives over the past 10 months: to continue growing the school’s computer science program, recruit strong students for it, deliver innovative curriculum in the classroom and set the groundwork for a software degree, something that is highly needed at more universities, he said.
Students who want to develop software and code often only have the option of seeking a computer science degree, which is the science of computation.
“It’s like wanting to go to school to be a writer or journalist, and the degree is in grammar,” Bakos said.
In computer science programs, classes in subjects such as coding are often offered only as electives, and for upperclassmen.
Bakos’ goal is to get a software program off the ground at OSU-Cascades.
“I have maybe two things left on my professional bucket list, and this is one of them,” Bakos said.
Bakos is not short on projects: He’s also helping launch the university’s Innovation Center for Entrepreneurship, which will offer education programming for college students and other adults in the community, and be a hub to help generate business growth in the region. He’s also trying to help connect students with local businesses whenever he can for apprenticeships in programming.
Bakos said he enjoys the small class sizes at OSU-Cascades, because that allows him to get to know his students. But the benefit of a smaller campus, with about 1,100 students, goes beyond that.
“It’s not just about the small class size,” Bakos said. “It’s the power of relationships.”
Compared to past schools where he taught, including Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Colorado School of Mines, OSU-Cascades offers Bakos much more freedom with how he delivers his curriculum in the classroom, he said.
“In higher education, we talk a lot about the importance of experiential learning, yet very few succeed at this,” Bakos said. “Usually, you have disciplines in such different buildings.”
At OSU-Cascades, where programs sometimes consist of just a couple of full-time professors and a handful of part-timers, faculty cross disciplines to share ideas, compare teaching styles and create course projects together.
Bakos worked with a biology professor for their biology and computer science students to create a mobile and web app that catalogs the native plant species on the campus. Before construction, the university uprooted native plants on the campus, then replanted them when buildings were complete. The app will help students track the long-term changes of plants being uprooted, then replanted.
Amy Watson, an assistant professor in OSU-Cascades’ marketing program, also said she loves the opportunity for an interdisciplinary approach at the university.
At OSU-Cascades, her office is next to the office of an engineer, and across the hallway from a biologist, a mathematician and a psychology professor.
Because her largest classes at OSU-Cascades had, at most, 50 students, Watson said she got to know her students as individuals. That comes in handy when nonprofits or small startups in Bend come to her seeking students for internships or jobs — which happened a lot in her first year. She can do a much better job placing students in a position that’s right for them, Watson said.
Another difference Watson has seen at OSU-Cascades, compared to her previous job with Missouri State University, is the lack of a marketing department. At MSU there were 30 faculty members in the marketing department.
“This is so much more lean as an organization,” Watson said.
While she can no longer walk down the hallway to talk to other experts in her field, the benefits of a leaner organization far outweigh the costs, Watson said.
For one thing, it’s more efficient, she said.
“Obviously, it will be more sustainable, not just in physical footprint and modes of transportation, but also sustainable financially,” Watson said.
Watson said because her senior students are more often 26- to 27-year-olds instead of 20- to 21-year-olds, “the undergrad classes are more like a master-level class.”
“I love being able to leverage that, for it not to be this one-way path of dissemination,” Watson said. “They challenge me.”
Since the majority of Watson’s older students are already working, they want to know how to apply what she’s teaching to real life, she said.
“They don’t want information that isn’t going to be helpful; they don’t want projects that aren’t valuable,” Watson said. “It avoids busywork — it really makes me think twice about the projects I’ve assigned.”
As OSU-Cascades builds a foundation for what the university will look like for years ahead, Watson wants to contribute, she said.
“We can be the sort of campus that people from all over the country and world will want to come to,” Watson said. “I really think that we are positioning ourselves to be able to accomplish that goal in just the next few years.”
Like Bakos, Watson is interested in working with other faculty to make interdisciplinary projects for students. She’d like to work with Bakos in the fall, and with Jenna Goldsmith, a writing instructor also in her first year at OSU-Cascades.
“It’s almost like if you can dream it, you can do it here,” Goldsmith said of the relative freedom that faculty have at OSU-Cascades.
Goldsmith said during the hiring process, it was explained that she would wear many hats. Right now, there’s no English degree at OSU-Cascades.
When Goldsmith first got to Bend and the writing and English professors at nearby Central Oregon Community College realized she’d be “a department of one,” they invited her to their faculty meetings so students at COCC who were headed to OSU-Cascades could have a good transition. Although the university first began offering all four years in the 2015-16 school year (before that, it only offered junior and senior level classes), there are still many students who take their first two years through COCC. Goldsmith was amazed at the community faculty at COCC.
“I was shocked,” she said. “They could easily have seen me as an interloper. ... Instead, they see me as the next step for their students.”
She’s also been able to connect with local high school English teachers.
“There’s no way I could have coordinated something like that in Lexington, Kentucky, with 300,000 people,” said Goldsmith, who previously taught at the University of Kentucky.
OSU-Cascades’ plan is to roll out more majors in the coming years, and English is slated for sometime in the next four years. Goldsmith said of the places she’s taught — in Kentucky, at Illinois State University and here — students at OSU-Cascades are among the strongest. She said there is a cultural difference here: students seem more excited to learn and less afraid to ask questions.
When Goldsmith moved to Bend, she sometimes felt reluctant to share where she worked, afraid community members weren’t happy with OSU-Cascades.
“It doesn’t seem like people here understand OSU-Cascades is going to lift up Bend,” she said. “Communicating that feels really important to me.”
But the university is offering a good education, Goldsmith said.
“One of the most important things that people of Bend need to understand, or I’d like them to understand about OSU-Cascades, is we have a top-notch faculty here,” she said. “Students are getting an incredible education in Bend — I would go here.”
But over the past year, those attitudes appear to have changed, since people have seen the university in action, she said.
Now, when Goldsmith says where she works, people’s reaction has turned to “Oh, that’s so cool!” she said.
Tim Burnett, a first-year instructor in OSU-Cascades’ kinesiology program, said his students have phenomenal interest in the material and an energetic outlook about what they’re learning.
At OSU-Cascades, Burnett has “created what I think is the best way to educate students in this field,” he said. His technique uses research and is designed around active, student-centered learning instead of old-fashioned lecturing, he said.
“It blew me away when I first got here, how everyone is interested in new (teaching) techniques,” Burnett said. “We have the OSU name, but we have this smaller campus, smaller class sizes, we have this very, very strong culture of new techniques, of being student-centric.”
Burnett, who said he knows all of his students by name and how they perform in class, explained that his kinesiology students go from “health nuts” who want to help others with their wellness to individuals who don’t exercise. Those earning a degree in kinesiology can find a wide array of jobs, Burnett said. Students might become physical therapists, physician’s assistants or doctors. Others might eventually work in nutrition, epidemiology or cardiac rehabilitation.
Burnett is looking forward to two things for OSU-Cascades: the school’s second academic building and a dedicated lab space for kinesiology.
The four faculty members are excited to be a part of a new campus that’s shaping its identity.
In the computer science program, Bakos, too, is anticipating the years to come when he can look back fondly on this time. For now, like others, he’s often too busy to stop and have those reflections.
“I’’m really looking forward to the moment where five to 10 years from now, we can at least take a moment to say, ‘Gosh, look at what we’ve done,’” Bakos said.
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org