Higher Ed Stories

I specialize in writing profiles of university students and faculty who are conducting remarkable research or using their degrees to create inspiring careers.  


From Homeless to PhD: A young neuroscientist’s story - Oregon Quarterly

Many college students have wrestled with fear of rejection or failure. For Acosta-King, it ran deeper.

Prior to enrolling at the UO, he struggled to believe he could move past his early challenges. The voice in his head told him he wasn’t good enough, but one thing sustained him: an innate obsession with knowledge and discovery. That drive to understand the world was a beacon during dark times, and it has led Acosta-King to status as one of the UO’s promising young scholars. Read more.


Toward A More Perfect Chemistry - CAScade

Garves was the sort of teen who would rescue unnecessarily discarded aluminum cans and plastic bottles from her friends’ homes for recycling. She was raised with a mind steeped in green, a color that seemed to clash with her chemistry interests.

“I had issues with toxicity in chemistry,” she said. “But in high school labs no one taught us about that. I’d be wondering why we couldn’t use the chemicals we read about. I’d think: If they’re so dangerous why don’t we use something else?” Read more.

Stanford Student Driven to Revive Culture and Prevent Youth Suicide - Indian Country Today

After hearing the shocking news, Johnston said she awoke one morning and knew she had to do something. Initially, she wanted to have a small prayer group, but eventually as community support built, it mushroomed into a four-day, town-wide festival meant to help heal the youth and spread a message of hope, she said. It included a community skill share, a free dance party and members of different spiritual communities laying down prayers for the health of the young, she added.

Called the First Annual Taos Celebration of the Young, Johnston said her main goal “was to send a unified message to our young people, loud and clear, that we loved them and we understood that they were having a hard time.” Read More.


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Nature's Masters of Disguise - CAScade

The cloud forests in Ecuador are internationally famous for their stunningly diverse species of orchids, which thrive in the moist and balmy terrain. One of these flowers, the Dracula orchid (above), is the object of Policha’s doctoral research.

The Dracula orchid apparently has adapted to its home by mimicking small native mushrooms. Not only do the lips of the flower visually resemble the fungi but the flowers also emit a scent that is chemically similar to the mushrooms’. Policha’s hypothesis is that the Dracula orchid, and possibly other orchids, have evolved in this way to attract mushroom flies and thus increase their chances of pollination. Read more.

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California Educator Bridges the Generation Gap with Hip Hop

Growing up in a small, central California town, Melissa Leal, Esselen Ohlone, was captivated by the music of rappers and hip hop artists and harbored dreams of becoming a professional dancer. During difficult times in her life, it was that ambition and hip hop artists’ messages of resistance that inspired her and helped her find a way forward.

Her room became a hip hop shrine, its walls plastered in magazine posters of Nas, the Roots, Common, Busta Rhymes as well as her favorite rapper Tupac Shakur, whose powerful eyes seemed unfiltered and familiar, as if he was gazing back at her like she was an intimate friend. Read more.

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Eye Catching Art - CAScade

Clay Kent sat down and rested his chin in a little brace that was at the end of a three-foot-long pole. At the other end was a computer monitor displaying a grid of sparkling green dots. Though he looked like he might have been undergoing some kind of Clockwork Orange-style brainwashing, Kent, an undergraduate in digital arts, was actually creating music.

The restraint was meant to keep his head in position for the sensitive eye-tracker technology, which used a pair of infrared cameras to monitor Kent’s eye movements. The grid he was viewing was actually a tone matrix, each dot representing a different variation of preprogrammed melodies. Read more.

The Plastic Fantastic Brain - CAScade

Early in the DVD, narrator and UO neuroscientist Helen Neville explains that the human brain has the consistency of room-temperature butter. Cut to an index finger nonchalantly pushing down on a moist bar of butter, and a salient and admittedly cringe-worthy point has been made.

The brain is the most important thing in the universe, and people don't know it's exceedingly fragile," said Neville. "It's amazing what people don't know about the brain." Read more.

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