Creating communities within the College of Engineering

Subisha Sundaram at outdoor roof structure of the Student Experience Center

Subisha Sundaram, an Honors College student pursuing her bachelor’s degree in radiation health physics, appreciates the student support systems in the College of Engineering and throughout Oregon State University.

“One thing that’s really helped me is the communities that I’m part of on campus,” said Sundaram, now halfway through her third year. “That sense of community played a really important role in my staying within the College of Engineering. That’s something I am passionate about and try to encourage other students to become a part of.”

Sundaram’s immersion in engineering was not something she anticipated. Although her father was an engineer, she had intended to enter Oregon State as a molecular biology major. However, after reading more about applied problem-solving in engineering fields, she switched to bioengineering before her first term. A year later, still curious, she turned to her resident community in West Hall and had a meaningful conversation with her diversity learning assistant about various engineering majors.

“I learned about radiation health physics. It really tied in cancer research, something I am passionate about. I ended up switching majors, and I’ve really enjoyed it,” Sundaram said. “I’ve been able to take classes like anatomy and radiobiology. Learning about these things has taught me indirectly about some medical technologies that I never thought of.”

Since her first year, Sundaram has worked in Professor Emeritus Jadwiga Giebultowicz’s integrative biology lab, where she has studied aging and behavior of fruit flies exposed to blue light, applying problem-solving and critical thinking skills she has honed through her engineering studies. Currently, she is conducting research in Giebultowicz’s lab for her honors thesis.

“I’m looking at a specific gene, called Arc1, which is seen to be upregulated in flies under blue light exposure, trying to figure out why this occurs — essentially, whether this gene upregulation acts as a protective mechanism or hurts them under blue light,” she said.

In the summer of 2021, Sundaram interned with Oleh Taratula, professor of pharmaceutics, and Olena Taratula, associate professor of pharmaceutics, at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, where the Taratula Lab collaborated with Daniel Marks, professor of pediatrics at OHSU School of Medicine on research more directly related to Sundaram’s radiation health interests.

“We had probes that were newly synthesized, which I worked with, along with a few other students,” Sundaram said. “We tried essentially seeing whether these probes could fluoresce in order to better image cancer. It was amazing to be able to do some of these tests behind the scenes that I’ve never done before.”

Contemplating an eventual MBA, Sundaram is now a business intern with Oregon State’s Advantage Accelerator, where she has conducted market research and learned about how startup companies become established and obtain funding. This should serve her well in the future; not only does she want to research and develop medical technologies, she wants to learn how to commercialize them.

Placing herself at the intersection of STEM and social justice, Sundaram interns for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, which supports about 4,000 COE students from populations that have been historically denied opportunities in engineering. Sundaram conducts outreach to inform undergraduates of COE team-building events and networking opportunities with organizations that value equity, diversity, and inclusion.

“As a woman in engineering and a person of color, it can sometimes be really daunting,” Sundaram said. “I’m passionate about supporting women and helping people of color in STEM and want to promote this within engineering. You automatically find students who have shared some of the same experiences as you, but also not some of the same experiences, whom you’re able to support through these four years and, hopefully, beyond.”

An established undergraduate leader, Sundaram also serves as a COE student ambassador and as president of the Engineering Student Council. The ESC oversees all engineering clubs on campus and, crucially, allocates their funding. It also organizes Engineering Week annually and sponsors multiple events, including the annual Cookies and Clubs Fair.

“This year, we had 1,500 students attend, which was amazing after this weird fever dream that we’re living in with COVID,” Sundaram said.

Sundaram says she might work in industry initially upon graduating in 2023, but she is determined to earn an advanced degree. This could entail pharmacy school, business school, or a different program altogether. Regardless, she says, she will continue to advocate for her peers.

“I make sure to tell students it can feel like you’re a small fish swimming in a big sea coming into the College of Engineering,” Sundaram said. “But being able to find these communities can make it much smaller — like you’re at home, which is how it feels now for me.”

May 24, 2022

From Ayacucho to Corvallis, seeing is believing

Lucia Gómez Hurtado working on some machinery.

Lucia Gómez Hurtado, now a fourth-year nuclear engineering student, remembers when her father was a graduate student. 

“I used to stop by his office and see what he was doing,” she said. “I would sit next to him and look at equations on his computer screen that made no sense to me. He showed me CAD designs and I would ask lots of questions.”

When Gómez was 13, she moved with her family from Ayacucho, Peru, to Corvallis so her dad could pursue a master’s degree in civil engineering at Oregon State University. Her family initially expected to be in Oregon for two years, but the plan changed once her father decided to continue working toward his doctorate. 

Suddenly, Gómez found herself graduating from high school and considering colleges in the U.S. She wanted to take advantage of her location and was interested in studying something hands-on. 

“Having a reactor here on campus and learning about the kinds of projects the College of Engineering works on were big factors in my decision to come to Oregon State,” she said.

During the summer of 2019, Gómez got involved with the Materials Science Research Group run by Samuel Briggs, assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering. One project allowed her to learn how to use a transmission electron microscope, a powerful instrument that can magnify samples down to the picometer scale. (A picometer is one-billionth of a millimeter, roughly one-hundredth the diameter of a hydrogen atom.) 

Lucia Gómez Hurtado
“It’s amazing,” she said. “You can see the microstructure of elements from samples you can barely see with your eyes.”

Briggs’ research examines the degradation of materials in nuclear reactor environments. Gómez focused on a niobium-copper alloy, specifically looking at how its component elements respond in high-temperature heating experiments. 

“One of the challenges we have to face when designing next-generation nuclear reactors is choosing and manufacturing materials that will be able to withstand extreme conditions within a reactor core,” she said. “So, we're trying to create or redesign compositions of alloys to make them resistant to those conditions.”

Last winter, Gómez was back in the lab at the Radiation Center, learning how to operate a load frame that tests how different materials react to compression and tension forces. Now, she is modeling a natural circulation loop for molten salt research efforts.

In addition to her work in the lab, Gómez has been actively involved with multiple engineering organizations on campus. She is president of the American Nuclear Society student chapter and served as its secretary the previous two years. The chapter plans events to promote advancement of the nuclear field and build a community within its membership. She’s also participated in the club’s conferences, giving presentations on her research with Briggs.  

As the fundraising chair for the Society of Women Engineers student chapter last year, Gómez helped organize raffles and events at local restaurants. SWE focuses on career development, including resume writing and networking workshops, as well as providing a place for women in engineering to get to know each other. 

“Taking on these leadership positions definitely boosts my confidence,” she said. “In the future, whenever I enter the work field, I know I’ll be capable of leading a team or a project.” 

Meeting other women engineers outside of class has been an empowering experience for Gómez. In fall 2018, she had the opportunity to go to the SWE national conference in Minneapolis, where she participated in a variety of workshops. 

“That was another confidence booster,” she said. “A lot of the workshops were about being confident and speaking up.”

Gómez is also a member of the Alpha Nu Sigma honor society, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers student section, and the COE Leadership Academy.

As if all of this hasn’t been enough to keep her busy, Gómez is a student office assistant for the associate dean for undergraduate programs within the College of Engineering, scheduling and coordinating meetings and supporting ongoing projects. 

Gómez’s family unexpectedly returned to Peru after she entered school. While she misses them, and says her heart is in Ayacucho, she’s thankful for their support and the opportunities they’ve provided for her to pursue her education.

"I’m proud of the path that I’ve taken,” she said. “As a kid I didn't even know what nuclear engineering was. But coming here and pursuing this career has been an incredible experience."

March 21, 2022

Closing in on exascale simulations

Faculty member working on a computer.

A year and a half after Oregon State University launched the Center for Exascale Monte Carlo Neutron Transport, or CEMeNT, its researchers have displayed impressive progress in their quest to develop ultra-high-speed computer simulations for predicting the behavior of neutrons.

“Our work is intended to increase the fundamental understanding of neutron transport, which is vital in determining the safety, security, and viability of systems that involve neutron-induced reactions, like fission and fusion,” said Todd Palmer, professor of nuclear science and engineering at Oregon State and CEMeNT’s director.

In 2020, Oregon State was selected by the National Nuclear Security Agency to lead one of nine Predictive Science Academic Alliance Program centers. CEMeNT includes partner institutions North Carolina State University and the University of Notre Dame. Eleven of its 18 members are from Oregon State, including faculty researchers, postdoctoral scholars, graduate students, and undergraduates. NNSA has tasked the center with developing lightning-fast simulations using exascale computing technology. 

Exascale computing refers to systems capable of performing at least 1 quintillion operations per second. The country’s first exascale computer, called Frontier, is expected to come on line in 2022 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

CEMeNT’s goals include building simulations that run hundreds to 1,000 times faster than is currently possible for NNSA. “Our algorithms exploit the exascale architectures, and we’ll demonstrate that they continue to perform well as we scale up the number of processors,” Palmer said. Until the Oak Ridge system is running, CEMeNT will use existing supercomputers at the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories, and Oregon State’s NVIDIA DGX-2 systems.

To validate its ability to accurately predict real-world physics, CEMeNT will simulate a series of pulsed-sphere experiments conducted at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from the late 1960s until the mid-1980s.

In the experiments — about 70 in all — spheres of different materials and sizes were pulsed with a burst of high-energy neutrons. Detectors at specific distances and orientations from the targets measured neutron arrival times, from which neutron energy can be inferred. Simulating these experiments is nothing new; they were conducted to serve as benchmarks for simulation software — but nothing close to the speed or accuracy that CEMeNT is aiming for. 

closing exascale

The plot on the left shows the analytic timeand space-dependent neutron population in a supercritical slab reactor; on the right, simulated results generated by CEMeNT’s software.The striking agreement between the simulated and the reference solutions demonstrates the precision of the group’s work.

“To make things even more challenging, we’ll run the simulations in time-dependent mode — a particularly challenging problem in radiation transport for the last decade,” Palmer said. Historically, because of the nanosecond timescales involved in neutron transport, simulations are performed in a steady state mode where it’s assumed that everything happens instantaneously. A dynamic model, representing a system as it changes, introduces significantly more complexity. The ability to incorporate the element of time into neutron transport simulations would enable NNSA to determine solutions at a level of precision not previously possible. “If our modeling is on target,” he continued, “then we’ve shown that we’re matching reality. It’s a wonderful test of our abilities.”

The researchers face some daunting computing challenges. For one, exascale computer hardware is heterogeneous, meaning it incorporates different types of processors — CPUs and GPUs — an architecture that is not naturally conducive to probability-oriented algorithms like Monte Carlo simulations, which estimate possible outcomes of uncertain events. “The problem is one of scheduling and memory use. You don’t want any individual processor to be waiting for others to finish calculations,” Palmer said. “It can be a bookkeeping nightmare.”

One possible solution is blending Monte Carlo with deterministic algorithms, resulting in large, nonrandom systems of equations. The combination can produce fast, accurate results on heterogeneous machines while reducing the statistical error associated with Monte Carlo simulations.

The group is attacking software development on two fronts. On one side, they’re adding a time dimension to an established Monte Carlo software code called Shift, which was initially designed to solve static physics problems.

On a parallel track, they’re developing original software. “That’s our sandbox where we can try out all sorts of new ideas,” Palmer said.

NNSA recently upped the ante by asking CEMeNT to identify an even more ambitious problem to solve. The researchers chose to simulate a well-documented 1946 incident at Los Alamos in which Canadian physicist Louis Slotin accidentally allowed fissile materials to release a burst of intense neutron radiation. He died from the exposure nine days later. The seven other men in the lab suffered varying degrees of radiation sickness.

“It’s even possible that some of the lab equipment played a role in the multiplication of neutrons,” Palmer explained, “and we need to model the intricate geometry of the situation and determine neutron behavior over time.” Simulating this Gordian knot of neutron transport is certain to establish the center’s prowess beyond any doubt.

CEMeNT was originally funded by a five-year, $4.3 million NNSA grant, but the agency increased funding by nearly $300,000 after appraising the group’s striking progress during its inaugural year.

Competition to become an NNSA lead research institution was fierce, according to Palmer, and Oregon State was selected over other universities with world-class nuclear programs. “This center shines a bright light on Oregon State and the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering,” he said. “We are capable and ready for the challenge.”

March 21, 2022

Predicting the behavior of neutrons with exascale computation

Picture for a story.

This piece originally appeared in NNSA’s 2022 Academic Programs Annual.

Predicting the behavior of neutrons has been of fundamental importance for the nuclear security enterprise since the very beginning. Though we have come a long way from the days of using a series of wheels to simulate the movement in neutrons in a system, as Fermi did, Monte Carlo simulations that use random numbers to estimate the behavior of neutrons in a nuclear system still are a critical technology in the nuclear analytical toolkit. 

Despite the inordinate progress made in Monte Carlo methods for neutron transport problems since the days of the Manhattan Project, there still is a host of open research questions. Paramount among these is how these methods scale with the next generation of supercomputers based on hardware that often penalizes non-deterministic programs. That is, can Monte Carlo still be a useful technology if exascale performance only can be achieved for non-random algorithms?

Taking up this charge with a specific focus on neutron transport for dynamic problems where the time-dependence of neutron interactions is key is the Center for Exascale Monte Carlo Neutron Transport (CEMeNT). This Focused Investigatory Center (FIC) in the Predictive Science Academic Alliance Program (PSAAP) of the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/ NNSA) is a coast-to-coast collaboration between Oregon State University, the University of Notre Dame, and North Carolina State University. Upon viewing their list of research goals, it is clear that the team does not lack ambition, as this center aims to leverage computer science and machine learning technologies, advances in Monte Carlo transport for static problems, novel hybrid Monte Carlo-deterministic methods, and state-of-the-art verification, validation, and uncertainty quantification (VVUQ) to attack the problem. The team consists of computational scientists, applied mathematicians, and computer scientists due to the inherently multidisciplinary nature of the neutron transport problem. A key goal of the center is to train the next generation of thought leaders in the DOE/ NNSA mission space. 

The center has notched several key successes in its first year of operation. In terms of computational methods, the team has demonstrated that using quasi-random sequences in Monte Carlo simulations can demonstrate faster convergence than the previously ineluctable slow convergence of the variance in Monte Carlo simulations, pioneered new techniques that combine the successes of previous DOE/NNSA investments in deterministic neutron transport and Monte Carlo, and provided new rigor and insight into the problem of controlling the computer memory used in a simulation with neutron population control techniques. 

The successes are not limited to algorithmic improvements. The team has made progress in adapting wins from the nuclear energy side of DOE by building on the SHIFT code out of Oak Ridge National Laboratory for static neutron problems to demonstrate the challenges and opportunities unique to dynamic neutron transport. In parallel, so to speak, the center has demonstrated that novel metaprogramming techniques can be used to take Python-based codes and generate performant code on different architectures. All of this work is progressing hand-in-hand with the computer science thrust area of the center, which is taking dynamic scheduling and machine-learning-based approaches to resource allocation. Finally, the center is aware that their research needs to be rooted in VVUQ for there to be a wider impact on the DOE/NNSA complex. In this area the team is working to demonstrate their techniques on experiments of neutron irradiation of targets known as the pulsed sphere experiments. Moreover, they have developed a tight collaboration with Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) to implement novel, embedded uncertainty estimation techniques in the center’s codes as a way to battle-test the ideas before investing in implementing the ideas in SNL’s extant codes. 

The next year promises further progress for the center. If this past year is any indication, we can be confident that with CEMeNT progress in important Monte Carlo simulations relevant to the DOE/ NNSA mission is on solid footing.

Feb. 22, 2022

New NSE faculty member fuels collaboration

sasha chemey

Sasha Chemey, who joined the College of Engineering this fall as an assistant professor of nuclear engineering, often turns to sports to clarify how he envisions his new role. 

“As a chemist, I bring a different perspective. As a person with fundamental nuclear research experience, my research is not purely engineering. So, I talk to people in different areas within our school elsewhere,” Chemey said. “Hopefully, my role can help us play a little positionless basketball and bring a team together that transcends any specific discipline.”

Chemey’s Oregon State University roots date back to 2019, when he was a postdoctoral scholar in the lab of Walt Loveland, professor of chemistry. Describing Loveland as a “nuclear chemist’s nuclear chemist,” Chemey jumped at the chance to work with him. 

“Much of what we did was separations chemistry for our lab purposes and synthetic chemistry for making thin targets. We can then hit these targets with neutrons and ions to study nuclear reactions,” Chemey explained. “Even cooler, you make a bunch of different things in these reactions, and if you can separate out the mixture of products based on chemistry, you can measure the radiation that comes off each element and have a better idea of the reaction dynamics.”

Chemey still works closely with Loveland, whose office is just down the hall in the Radiation Center. Some of their current studies entail what Chemey calls a “pure physics perspective” on fission, the process through which atoms break apart and release energy.​​​

“That process underpins modern nuclear energy production,” Chemey said.

Sasha Chemey.

Chemey’s fascination with nuclear research started when he was an undergraduate at Michigan State University, where he obtained bachelor’s degrees in both chemistry and political theory. He secured a two-year research assistantship, allowing him to work at the particle accelerator facility on campus. Learning from researchers there and participating in experiments studying the nuclear structure of radioactive isotopes during his first year solidified his passion, and he continued working for his mentor Sean Liddick after his initial appointment.

“I fell in love with questions around the nucleus. That was the introduction to the physics aspects, but I was a chemist. I was encouraged by Sean to reach out and try different things. So, I went to Florida State University and earned my Ph.D. in chemistry in the Albrecht-Schönzart actinide chemistry lab,” Chemey said.

At Florida State, Chemey’s research focused on the actinide elements of the periodic table and the chemical structures they formed, primarily in reactions with the fluoride ion. These elements are radioactive, and their isotopes have half-lives ranging from seconds to billions of years. 

“We were studying not the nuclear, but the electronic, structure and how it influenced chemical bonding,” Chemey explained. “That actually has some implications for nuclear engineering because fluoride molten salt reactors are a possible new generation of reactors that will use fuel more efficiently, produce less waste, and be accident tolerant.”

Here at Oregon State, Chemey’s research interests overlap among chemical separations, nuclear physics, and materials engineering. He collaborates with others at this interface — or, as he’d say, plays positionless basketball with them. This includes his current research group of three undergraduates and one graduate student studying nuclear engineering. Part of their work so far involves nuclear reactions with the actinides, while other interests focus on compounds between the radioactive actinides and main group elements.

“These elements have very distinct nuclear and chemical properties that are useful. For example, boron tends to absorb neutrons quite intensely — not useful as a fuel, but useful if you want accident-safe waste storage underground. Meanwhile, they are mechanically and chemically resilient, desirable properties for this goal. Carbides and nitrides are useful in reactors for the opposite reason; they don’t absorb neutrons well, and they’re able to reduce the radioactive fuel needed,” Chemey said.

On a broader level, Chemey is devoted to nuclear science because he knows it can help sustain our planet better than coal or natural gas. Eco-friendly nuclear power is versatile; it can potentially mitigate water pollution, irrigate farms, address waste by closing the nuclear fuel cycle, and more.

Outside of teaching and his research, Chemey is also a mentor in the Beaver Connect program. He supports his undergraduates as they navigate their college experiences, connecting them to resources based on their unique goals and having meaningful conversations with them. 

Chemey loves living in Corvallis and the sense of community that it offers. When he’s not hiking a trail, playing on a softball diamond, or working in the lab, he relishes spending time with his wife, Emma, and their two cats, Perry and Niffler, as well as cheering on the Chicago Cubs, the Michigan State Spartans, and, naturally, the Oregon State Beavers.

Published Date: 

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Dec. 14, 2021

Endowments: Funding Faculty Excellence

A picture of Kelsey Stoerzinger.

Our faculty are the heart of the College of Engineering’s pursuit of excellence. These are the people in whom our research and education missions live and breathe. Not only are the college’s faculty shaping the future by driving discovery and innovation — in the areas of artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced manufacturing, clean water, materials science, renewable energy, and many others — they are teaching and mentoring tomorrow’s leaders. Above all, faculty excellence fosters student success.

There is no more effective means to recruit and retain top academic talent than by establishing endowed faculty positions. Endowments are substantial gifts of income-earning capital, managed to provide support in perpetuity. Generous, visionary donors have created around 150 endowed deanships, chairs, professorships, faculty fellow, or faculty scholar positions at Oregon State University, 25 of which sit in the College of Engineering.

Endowed deanships and chairs are catalysts for transformation and achievement. They confer prominence and prestige upon the scholar-leaders who hold them, thus enabling the university to attract and support top senior talent — or to retain faculty who have risen to the top of their field here at Oregon State. Then there are endowed professorships, which honor accomplished faculty members who have earned a high measure of distinction. Finally, endowed faculty scholar positions reward and support rising stars, helping to attract promising talent.

By creating a faculty endowment, donors provide a steady flow of discretionary funds, year after year. For the holders of endowed positions, that means greater freedom to innovate. Endowment income gives them financial flexibility to pursue promising new ideas in a variety of ways — such as purchasing specialized research tools and participating in conferences with other top experts from around the globe. These funds also support graduate research assistants and help to create opportunities for undergraduate research experience.

In the pages that follow, you will learn more about an innovative program to create new endowed positions, why donors invest in faculty excellence, and 10 of our outstanding endowed faculty members.

PROVOST’S Faculty Match Program

Over the summer, Oregon State launched a matching program that offers donors a remarkable opportunity to support outstanding faculty — today and for generations to come. Through the Provost’s Faculty Match program, donors who create endowed faculty funds with gifts of $250,000 or more will leverage matching funds for the college or unit where the position is based.

Funded by the Office of the Provost at $2.5 million ($500,000 per year over five years), the program has the potential to inspire more than $12.5 million in private support for faculty. Previous iterations of the match program, in 2010 and 2012, established 39 new endowed faculty positions throughout the university and secured $33.6 million in new funding.

Here’s how the Provost’s Faculty Match program works (learn more):

  • All endowed faculty position funds of $250,000 or more that support instructors or assistant/associate/full professors are eligible. Commitments may support existing endowed positions or create new ones.
  • Multi-year pledges, outright support, current use, and endowment are eligible for the Provost’s Match.
  • The program launched July 1 and will run until available funds have been designated.


Contact us to learn how to leverage your gift through the Provost’s Faculty Match.

Kim Kono
Director of Development
OSU Foundation
kim.kono@osufoundation.org, 503.273.4427

Scott A. Ashford
Kearney Dean of Engineering
scott.ashford@oregonstate.edu, 541.737.5232


College of Engineering Endowed Positions

Why we support faculty endowments.

Mike and Judy Gaulke

Chair in Electrical
Engineering and Computer Science

Michael (’68 B.S., Electrical Engineering) and Judith (’65 B.S., Home Economics) Gaulke both enjoyed long, productive careers and have been happily married for 53 years.

Michael Gaulke, who earned his MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1972, went on to become a successful business executive in Silicon Valley. He retired in 2009 as chief executive officer of Exponent Inc. after 17 years with the company. Previously, he served in numerous leadership roles at Raynet Corp., Spectra-Physics, and McKinsey & Company. Judith Gaulke flew around the world with Pan Am as a flight attendant before going to work for Sunset magazine as its cookbook editor and later starting her own food styling business. She is now a full-time artist.

The couple have made significant philanthropic gifts, with health care and education as their priorities. In 2012 the Gaulkes made a $3.5 million commitment to create the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science’s first endowed faculty fund.

“We started out with Professor John Wager, which was a great start for the endowed chair,” Michael Gaulke said. “Then, upon John’s retirement, we got the opportunity to move that chair to endow the head of the School of EECS, and to use that to help attract Tom Weller to Oregon State. Both John and Tom have made immense contributions to the school, and we hope to watch that success continue.”

The Gaulkes offer their experience as inspiration to others who want to give back.

“I would just hope that others who are fortunate are able to go down a path like Judy and I have,” Gaulke said. “That they will feel some gratitude for how they got there and remember Oregon State in that process.”

Carol Kuse Ehlen, Nick Ehlen, and Henry Ehlen

James and Shirley Kuse Chair in Chemical Engineering

James R. Kuse (’55 B.S., Chemical Engineering) achieved great success in his career, as both a chemical engineer and businessman. He and his partners acquired Georgia Pacific’s chemical division in 1984 to create the Georgia Gulf Corporation. Kuse grew that company into a major manufacturer of commodity and specialty chemicals, serving as its chairman (1984-2001), CEO (1985-1991), and president (1984-1989).

He and his wife, Shirley, established the James R. Kuse Family Foundation in 1989, to share their wealth by supporting causes close to their hearts. In doing so, they created a philanthropic legacy that now spans three generations. Their daughter, Carol Ehlen, is the foundation’s managing trustee, heading a board of family members, including her two adult sons, Nicholas and Henry. 

“Certainly, OSU always was big in my dad’s heart, and both of my parents were proud to support the university,” Carol Ehlen said. “Independent of the foundation, they made a lead gift to the Valley Library campaign, and they endowed a chair in chemical engineering. That was just something they did on their own.”

The James and Shirley Kuse Chair in Chemical Engineering was established in 1997. Today it supports research and teaching in chemical engineering that is of critical importance to the profession and to Oregon. In addition, Shirley Kuse created a fellowship under her own name in support of women in science and engineering. Although James and Shirley Kuse are now both deceased, the foundation they created continues to support these causes in their honor.

“As our generation has gotten involved, Henry’s and mine, we’re building on what my grandparents did,” Nicholas Ehlen said. “All of our trustees are typically involved in the organizations we support, through board service or volunteering. Beyond that, we’ve tried to carry on what my grandparents established as their priorities.”

Jay and Leslie Culbertson

Culbertson Faculty Scholar

Jay Culbertson has been a Beaver from birth, the son of two Oregon State graduates. He was proud to follow in their footsteps, earning his degree in business administration and management in 1972. But engineering is also in his blood, Culbertson says. His father was a mechanical engineer, and one of his uncles was a structural engineer.

And engineering was always at the core of his business. After earning his degree and completing an apprenticeship, Culbertson joined and eventually took the helm of Temp Control Mechanical, a Portland-based HVAC contractor.

“We hired predominantly young interns from Oregon State, mostly in construction engineering management and mechanical engineering,” he said. “So, engineering has really been a passion of mine.”

Culbertson helped to grow TCM into one of the largest mechanical contractors in the Pacific Northwest, before it became a wholly owned subsidiary of Southland Industries in 2014. Culbertson retired as an executive vice president of Southland in 2019. A longtime donor and advocate for the College of Engineering, Culbertson says supporting faculty excellence is critical to its continued success.

“I look at Oregon State, and the talent we hired over the years, and each year the students have ratcheted up,” he said. “It has always been a good school. Now it’s a great school. To continue that momentum, the College of Engineering needs to be able to recruit top talent to the faculty.”

Darry and Betty Callahan

Callahan Faculty Scholar in Chemical Engineering

Darald “Darry” Callahan (’64 B.S., Chemical Engineering) has been a supporter of Oregon State University, and the College of Engineering in particular, for decades. A member of the university’s board of trustees and former board chair of the OSU Foundation, he has also served on advisory boards for the College of Engineering and the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering. His service has been matched by his generosity over the years, with numerous, substantial gifts that have benefited the college in many ways.

“I started out 30 years ago thinking that the best way I could help was with construction projects,” Callahan said. “After a while I thought, ‘I got through school on scholarships, and I really appreciated that.’ So maybe it’s better to help students. So, I set up a scholarship fund. Then I thought, ‘Well, gosh, the faculty is awfully important, too.’ Without them, none of this works, and they do such a great job. So, we set up the faculty scholar position.”

Callahan and his wife, Betty, set up the Callahan Faculty Scholar in Chemical Engineering in 2011, to help support young faculty who show exceptional promise.

“It’s been a lot of fun because I’ve gotten to know the people who have held the faculty scholar position, and they’re all just wonderful people. Most recently, Kelsey Stoerzinger says that it helped her establish her own research program. So, it’s just been really great to see that it’s helping and it makes a difference.”


Dan Cox

CH2M Hill Professor in Civil Engineering

Dan Cox’s research centers on understanding how coastal communities can improve their resilience against extreme hazards like hurricanes and tsunamis and adapt to long-term threats like sea-level change. For example, he measures the destruction that storm surges can cause and strives to develop better building standards so that future construction can be built to survive the power of storm-generated waves.

His work could have major implications for the Pacific Northwest, which faces the near certainty of an extreme earthquake and tsunami from the Cascadia subduction zone.

“Only fairly recently — the late 1980s — did people begin to acknowledge the danger presented by the Cascadia subduction zone, and coastal communities have taken a long time to come to grips with that reality,” Cox said, adding that many parts of the U.S. — and the world — also face perils from hurricanes and extreme storm surges.

Another important research area is green infrastructure, which involves combining natural areas, like wetlands and floodplains, with existing gray infrastructure, like submerged sills or revetments commonly constructed of rock or concrete. Such green-gray hybrids will provide coastal communities with a buffer against the effects of sea-level rise and allow them to adapt to these changes while maintaining healthy ecosystems and economies. 

Cox added that having an endowed position offers opportunities that would otherwise not be available, such as leading a team to organize a national conference in Washington, D.C., in 2023 to discuss the threat of coastal disasters and how to face them, and to develop a “research roadmap” to prioritize needs and establish collaborative networks.


Judy Liu

Glenn Willis Holcomb Professor in Structural Engineering

Judy Liu’s primary research interest is finding new ways to design earthquake-resistant, steel-frame buildings that can return rapidly to service after seismic events.

Most buildings are designed for a life-safety performance objective, which means that the occupants can safely exit a building after an earthquake. But a building and its components might sustain significant damage, resulting in economic losses associated with repair costs and business downtime. Designing to a higher performance objective allows people to return to damaged buildings more quickly and help communities bounce back after earthquakes.

“I’d like to think that, in some small way, I can contribute to community safety and resilience,” Liu said.

Another one of her research interests is quantifying wave impact loads on buildings, whether from a storm surge or a tsunami. The effort is a collaboration with structural and coastal engineering colleagues.

The resilience of U.S. coastal communities relies on infrastructure performance. As the populations of these communities continue to grow, improved models for predicting wave impact loads are needed to inform rational, reliable, and economical structural design. Liu’s intended research outcomes in this arena include improvements to current design guides and standards, and public safety benefits.

She noted that having an endowed position opens the door to expanded research and teaching. The additional resources can be used to support small, exploratory studies to test out new ideas or, perhaps, to examine new technologies intended to increase student learning and engagement.


Kelsey Stoerzinger

Callahan Faculty Scholar in Chemical Engineering

Kelsey Stoerzinger has a passion for renewable energy. Her research focuses on using specialized materials, called catalysts, to facilitate chemical reactions. Those reactions can be used to store energy, transform molecules into valuable feedstocks, and recycle precious natural resources.

“We design catalysts to make these reactions run more efficiently and selectively when driven by renewable electricity,” Stoerzinger said. “One specific example is turning renewable electricity and seawater into hydrogen, a green fuel and chemical precursor. We see this as particularly important for Oregon with its more than 350 miles of shoreline.”

The materials that Stoerzinger works with include thin-layer films of metal oxides. Creating these materials and characterizing their functionality requires the use of advanced instruments and techniques not available at Oregon State. With the support from the Callahan Faculty Scholar endowment, Stoerzinger and students from her lab have traveled to grow catalyst films at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and characterize them at the Advanced Light Source at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“An endowed position has allowed me to explore new areas of research in their earliest stages and to support students traveling to national laboratories to conduct experiments with one-of-a-kind instrumentation,” Stoerzinger said. “It’s also helped me leverage other research funding opportunities through its flexible student support.”


Lewis Semprini

College of Engineering Dean’s Professor

Lewis Semprini is an internationally recognized expert with more than three decades of experience. His research focuses on various strategies for bioremediation — using microorganisms to break down dangerous environmental contaminants into smaller, more benign molecules. Of chief concern is a class of synthetic chemicals known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Increasingly problematic are emerging co-contaminants, such as 1,4-dioxane, a likely human carcinogen.

Semprini’s work also includes the development of passive remediation systems involving the encapsulation of micro-organisms in hydrogel beads. 

“We’ve created a process called long-term aerobic cometabolism, which is an enclosed, passive, self-sustaining system for groundwater remediation,” Semprini said. “The beauty of this is that everything happens inside the beads.”

Having an endowed position has advanced Semprini’s work by helping to cover the costs of specialized research equipment. To perform his research, Semprini routinely needs to precisely measure many different types of contaminants at very low concentrations. This requires the use of delicate and costly instruments.

“For my research to be successful, I need to maintain and modify instruments in my laboratory, which has over $2 million worth of analytical equipment,” Semprini said. “The funding from this endowed position helps keep this equipment in top running condition.”


Julie A. Adams

College of Engineering Dean’s Professor

Julie A. Adams conducts a wide range of research that addresses human interaction with autonomous systems; piloted civilian and military aircraft; and commercial, consumer, and industrial systems. Her research — grounded in robotics applications for domains such as first response, archaeology, oceanography, the national airspace, and the U.S. military — emphasizes human factors, distributed artificial intelligence, swarms, robotics, and human-machine teaming.

“Robots in general have the potential to greatly benefit and enhance society, and that impact becomes even greater in the dangerous or uncertain domains in which I focus,” Adams said. “Deploying multiple robots that can intelligently collaborate with and adapt to humans while collecting information or completing tasks — such as dropping fire retardant on wildland fires — has the potential to minimize damage, save lives, and protect property.”

Her work could also lead to applications that have a significant impact on daily life, such as applications that help humans safely supervise multiple delivery drones across an urban area.

Adams also analyzes the schooling behavior of fish and bee colonies, which are very resilient to changes in their environments. Her study of these systems, and the corresponding development of artificially intelligent algorithms, will allow robot collectives to be more resilient to the unpredictable conditions that occur during natural disasters, thus increasing their utility to first responders.  

She noted that her endowed position provides the ability to explore new research directions that can be used to secure research funding, student education, and support research platform development.


Jennifer Parham-Mocello

Kearney Faculty Scholar

The primary focus of Jennifer Parham-Mocello’s research is finding new ways to broaden the participation of K-12 students, first-year college students, and teachers in computational thinking by using less intimidating and more inclusive approaches to introduce computer science. These new methods delay programming instruction and instead draw on real-world examples to explain computational concepts, such as how the instructions and rules for playing a game are an algorithm.

“Current teaching methods typically introduce students and teachers
to computer science through programming, which can be frustrating and lead to an instant distaste for the field,” said Parham-Mocello. “Yet teachers who introduce computer science without programming still tend to use computer science examples rather than more accessible analogies to explain computing.”

Students and teachers who do not immediately connect with programming or computer science examples are put at a disadvantage. But opportunities are rare for teachers to develop their pedagogical content knowledge within the context of computation. Parham-Mocello hopes to change this by developing explicit guidance for how to teach the material.

She believes her work will lead to more diversity among students entering computational disciplines; more K-12 teachers who adopt computational thinking into their classrooms; and more comfort among teachers who adopt and teach computer science curriculums.


Chris Hagen

Nesbitt Faculty Scholar in Energy Engineering

Chris Hagen’s primary research interests include advanced internal combustion engines, unconventional fuels, control systems, and sensor development.

Unconventional fuels — for example, biomass, tailored liquid hydrocarbons, hydrogen, and renewable natural gas — are an important part of any future portfolio of clean energy options from domestic sources. Hagen assesses the performance of these novel fuels and modifies internal combustion engines to accommodate their use. He also designs control systems and sensors for the engines.

“Our main goal is enabling energy conversion from one form to another in a safe, clean, and sustainable manner,” Hagen said.

Another research interest of Hagen’s is residential energy applications. He and his lab are currently exploring the viability of renewable natural gas and hydrogen fuel for use in home generators. He is also developing a hybrid powertrain for unmanned aircraft that combines the benefits of an electric motor and gas engine that will deliver easier takeoffs and longer flight times.  

“The endowment set up by the Nesbitt family provides opportunities for our speculative research, as well as gap funding,” Hagen said. “Of equal importance, the endowment has supported graduate student tuition for the past five years, which has been critical for my students, in one way or another, having great post-graduation opportunities.”


Nordica MacCarty

Richard and Gretchen Evans Scholar in Humanitarian Engineering

Nordica MacCarty’s research centers on the co-design and impact assessment of technologies to meet basic needs in communities around the world aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Efforts in her lab typically focus on meeting household energy needs using renewable and locally available biomass fuels.

Poor communities are disproportionately affected by air pollution. Inefficient and incomplete burning of biomass fuels for cooking and home heating generates smoke, which can cause serious health problems. Exposure to biomass smoke from cooking is the second leading cause of death for women globally. In the U.S., many tribal and other resource-deprived communities suffer from poor health resulting from air pollution created by heating homes with certain wood fuels.

To alleviate these unnecessary environmental and health impacts, MacCarty is leading the effort to design and perfect cleaner-burning cookstoves for the developing world, and heating stoves that burn cordwood more efficiently for markets in the U.S.

“My endowed position allows me to bring in students to work on otherwise unfunded projects in humanitarian engineering, as well as to collaborate with partners and support their work in places like Nepal, Uganda, and Malawi,” said MacCarty, who is the 2020 Oregon State International Service Award winner. “There is so much work to do and often not a lot of funding available to do it, so this endowment is incredibly helpful to engage students in these efforts.”


Wade Marcum

Henry W. and Janice J. Schuette Professor in Nuclear Science and Engineering

Wade Marcum leads an experimental research group that designs, builds, and tests commercial-scale experiments in support of the safe and robust advancement of nuclear technology. His research interests include nuclear reactor thermal hydraulics, computational fluid dynamics, reactor safety, flow-induced vibration, fluid structure interactions, and advanced reactor design.

“My research focus tends to be rather applied,” Marcum explained. “It is specific to nuclear reactor thermal hydraulics, supporting the safety of existing and advanced reactor concepts.”

This research is backed by a variety of industry and government sponsorship, with the aim of transitioning nuclear technologies from early concepts to a stage where they’re ready for development and deployment — from light-water-reactor pumps and fuel assembly testing to sodium-reactor component and instrument testing. Marcum says the Schuette endowment has opened avenues to expand the impact of his research group within the nuclear industry. 

“Thanks to the generous donation by Henry and Janice Schuette, my endowed professorship has afforded opportunities — through engagement with the nuclear science and engineering community in service roles, sponsored by the Schuettes and in their name — to exploring new topical research opportunities that advance the mission of my research group.”


Brian G. Woods

Henry W. and Janice J. Schuette Chair in Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics

Brian Woods has extensive experience in the energy industry. He has worked as an engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy, within the Office of Environmental Restoration, and as a nuclear safety analyst at Dominion Energy’s Innsbrook Technical Center, near Richmond, Virginia.

His current research interests include experimental and computational fluid dynamics, nuclear reactor thermal-hydraulics, and reactor safety, with a primary focus on advanced reactor design, including water-cooled, helium-cooled, and liquid salt-cooled.

“This work is important to provide a carbon-free source of electricity that also minimizes the risk of any type of accident,” Woods said. “The potential applications include production of electricity, desalination of seawater, and production of hydrogen — a potential carbon-free replacement for gasoline or natural gas.” 

Woods says the support of the Schuette endowment allows him time and resources to explore novel ideas at early stages of development, and then push for funding that can make these ideas a reality.

“For example, the endowment funding has allowed my team to look at using the experimental equipment that we use to examine advanced reactor designs to explore high-temperature energy storage devices,” he said.

Sept. 14, 2021

Take A Walk Through History

Story a walk through history.


In 2008, 180 acres of Oregon State University’s Corvallis campus was designated a National Historic District. At the time, it included 83 structures, 59 of which are historically significant. One wedge-shaped area in the district’s northeast corner encompasses buildings predominantly related to engineering, physics, and chemistry. Landscape architect Albert Davis Taylor, who updated the campus master plan in 1926 and 1945, dubbed this area the Engineering Triangle.

Five of its buildings have particularly noteworthy histories. Of these, four were designed by Portland architect John V. Bennes, who left a deeper and more enduring impact on Oregon State’s architectural heritage than anyone else. From 1907 through 1941, he designed no fewer than 49 new buildings, major additions, or major renovations on campus. Of the 30 that remain, 24 are in the historic district.

In 1926, Taylor proclaimed: “With the exception of the original college buildings, all of the permanent buildings in the campus development possess a unity of design which is exceptional.” It was unmistakably a nod to Bennes’ harmonious vision and to the Classic Revival style he favored, which dominates Oregon State’s architecture. Bennes may have created the most comprehensive architectural legacy of any college campus in the United States.

Beyond their graceful presence, these five buildings represent the stories of the countless people who have passed through them. The tales that get told and retold through the decades often embody the colorful and vibrant individuals whose names grace their facades, and whose influence — by way of their leadership, imagination, and character — still lingers at Oregon State.


Kearney Hall predates Bennes’ campus work. It began as Mechanical Hall, constructed in 1900 at a cost of $25,539.20 (about $700,000 today). The building replaced its namesake predecessor, destroyed by fire two years earlier. An article in the October 1898 Barometer stated: “So fierce was the work of the fire that in four short hours what had so long been known as Mechanical Hall was naught but a heap of smouldering ruins and uncomely walls of charred and crumbled brick.”

Women’s physical culture class outside Mechanical Hall (present day Kearney Hall), circa 1896.

The first Mechanical Hall had housed about half the classes of the entire institution, so faculty and administrators scrambled to find any shelter in which to conduct lessons for the college’s 90 engineering students, such as the men’s gymnasium and the armory.

Disaster wasn’t going to strike twice. The State Agricultural College catalog announcements for 1899-1900 declared: “One of the most substantial, as well as elegant, structures on the campus is Mechanical Hall, recently finished. With its solid stone walls and galvanized iron roof, it is constructed as nearly fireproof as modern architecture can make it.”

Though the second iteration was intended primarily as a classroom building for what would become (in 1908) the School of Engineering, other subjects, such as botany, horticulture, mathematics, woodworking, and millinery, were taught there as well.

Apperson Hall (present day Kearney Hall), shortly after the addition of a third floor. The entrance pillars were a gift of the class of 1917. Photo taken 1920.

A third floor was added in 1920, and the building was renamed Apperson Hall. It became Kearney Hall in 2009 after a $12 million makeover, over $4 million of which came from Lee Kearney (’63 B.S., Civil Engineering) and his wife, Connie. “It’s an old building,” Lee Kearney said in 2004. “The floors creaked a lot. It was not a building you thought much about.” The Kearneys wanted to change that. Today, its sparkling interior is the pride of the School of Civil and Construction Engineering, and it’s only the second building on campus to carry a gold LEED certification. 

Lee Kearney is the retired president of Kiewit Construction, a subsidiary of Peter Kiewit Sons Inc., one of the largest construction and mining companies in the country. During his 32 years with Kiewit — his entire career — he saw more than 200 Oregon State graduates placed at the company, personally hiring more than 50 of them. He was inducted into Oregon State’s Engineering Hall of Fame in 2001.

Mining students model proto gas masks in front of the Mines Building (present day Batcheller Hall), circa 1925.


Merryfield Hall, the first campus building designed by Bennes, went up in 1909. It, too, has lived several lives: as the Mechanical Arts Building, the Industrial Arts Building, and the Production Technology Building. A major renovation was completed in 2020, and Merryfield will now be used for offices for faculty and graduate students from the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering, a general-purpose classroom, office space for the college, and large “innovation spaces” for students to work collaboratively.

But the most memorable thing about the modest, low-slung structure is its namesake, Fred Merryfield, one of Oregon State’s most celebrated alumni and faculty. Born in England in 1900, Merryfield talked his way into the Royal Flying Corps at age 17 and flew fighters during World War I. He was shot down over enemy territory and severely injured, but he made it back to England.

After the war, he struck out for the U.S. with plans to work his way across the country and sail for Australia. He made it as far as Corvallis and Oregon Agricultural College, where he earned a civil engineering degree in 1923, followed by a master’s degree in sanitation engineering on the East Coast. In 1927, he returned to Corvallis and joined the engineering faculty, serving until his retirement in 1966.

During World War II, Merryfield volunteered as a civilian and laid out the sanitation system at Camp Adair, north of Corvallis. It housed approximately 40,000 people — enough to have constituted the second largest city in Oregon. After the fall of Singapore, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and served in New Guinea.

Merryfield, a favorite among students, was a practicing environmentalist long before most people had ever heard the word. In the 1950s, he played a pivotal role in cleaning up the heavily polluted Willamette River. His most enduring legacy is CH2M, the environmental engineering firm that he founded with three former students in 1946 and which grew into a global powerhouse in its field, ultimately to be acquired in 2017 by Jacobs Engineering Group.

Remote video URL
The historic Merryfield Hall is renovated to be an innovation hub for students.


These days, people traveling through Batcheller Hall often mistake it for just a corridor connecting Covell and Dearborn halls. In fact, it stood conspicuously alone as the Mines Building when it was completed in 1913, becoming the first of what would become three interconnected structures at the heart of the engineering campus. A year later, the School of Mines faculty doubled, from three to six. Batcheller has remained true to Bennes’ original plan, changing little since it opened.

The building was renamed in 1965 for James H. Batcheller, aka “Gentleman Jim,” a mining professor and former head of the School of Mines, who was beloved of students and colleagues alike. A noted tinkerer, he converted his car into an early RV for cross-country explorations with his family of six.

During World War I, the School of Mines provided courses for the Student Army Training Corps in the handling and use of explosives. And in 1916, about $600 worth of platinum — more than $14,000 today — was stolen from the school. The culprit was never apprehended, but authorities suspected an “inside job.” The building officially became part of the engineering department when the School of Mines closed in the early 1930s.


Graf Hall, completed in 1920 as the Engineering Laboratory, is another workhorse of the college. It has housed a materials lab, a hydraulics lab, and a steam and gas engine lab, all served by a 5-ton electric crane. It once contained a colossal, two-story machine nicknamed “the Nutcracker,” which researchers used to test the strength of construction materials.

In 1967, the building was renamed to honor Samuel H. Graf, a 45-year Oregon State faculty member who earned five engineering degrees from the university and held numerous posts over his long career.

In 2015, the college’s burgeoning robotics program consolidated its dispersed labs and faculty in Graf. In preparation for their move-in, the building underwent a $1.3 million renovation. The aging high bay was transformed into a stunning research space, and new offices and conference rooms were installed on the third floor to serve the quickly expanding faculty ranks. A second renovation, which has been in the planning phase for a couple of years, is expected to begin in fiscal year 2021.


Covell Hall, completed in 1928 at a cost of $177,000 ($2,631,000 today), was originally called the Physics Building. It was later renamed for Grant Adelbert Covell, the first dean of the School of Engineering. He also held the first position devoted exclusively to engineering and formed the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Its first two graduates received their degrees in 1893.

Grant Adelbert Covell and his wife, Mollie, examine the “loving cup” presented by the Class
of 1900, circa 1926.

Covell may be the only building on campus where civil defense bomb shelter signs from the Cold War still survive inside. Dozens of similar signs once marked access points to the 37 emergency shelters on campus. High above, volunteers would regularly climb to Covell’s roof and report all aircraft they spotted.

During the Cold War, volunteer sky watchers stationed atop the Physics Building (present day Covell Hall) take note of the number, type, altitude, position, and direction of travel of every aircraft they observe. Photo taken 1952.

KOAC Radio, a public station, started broadcasting from Covell in 1928. By 1931, it featured 12 hours of daily programming. The station’s call letters still appear prominently on a glass transom on the second floor. In 2009, Oregon Public Broadcasting moved the studio to Portland. It still broadcasts at 550 AM.

Grant A. Covell, nicknamed “The Judge,” was described in the 1926 issue of the OAC Alumnus as “calm-eyed, tall, and magnificent … His smile was a modest denial of all assumption or pretense. It was almost an apology for his dignity … His uncompromising candor; his kindly but unwavering simplicity and directness; and his open-minded breadth of vision have combined to make him a figure of massive and noble proportions on this campus.”

In the same issue, Covell wrote something that applies no less today than it did a century ago — though it could benefit from more inclusive language: “The training of young men to become engineers is more complex and more difficult as civilization advances and extends her boundary farther and farther into the unknown. The profession itself, once so simple, has now become so intricate that no man can master all its details. The best that can be done is to cover a very limited field, and that imperfectly.”

March 29, 2021


Picture for the story titled Catalyst.

CATALYST Scholars Program

The Catalyst Scholars Program was launched in 2020 by the College of Engineering at Oregon State University in partnership with the OSU Foundation and donors who are passionate about student success. The program aims to bridge the gap between traditional funding sources — loans, grants, scholarships, personal income — and the cost of attendance for students who are the first generation of their family to attend college, who demonstrate high achievement, and who have unmet financial need.

Bill Nicholson tells why he was inspired to donate to the Catalyst Scholars Program.

The college has seen rapid growth in recent years, both in the number of students and in their diversity. From 2009 to 2019, our enrollment more than doubled. Among current students, 20% are women, 19% are first-generation students, and 17% are from traditionally underrepresented groups.

Yet, nearly one in four engineering students has high financial need, as determined by Pell Grant eligibility. Nearly half of our Pell-eligible students are members of underrepresented groups, and most are also first-generation college students. While traditional scholarships and financial aid can help, they’re often not enough to see these students through to completion of their degree.

“I’m proud that the College of Engineering has made significant strides in building a more diverse and inclusive community,” said Scott A. Ashford, Kearney Dean of Engineering. “But we can do better, and we’ve made it a priority. The Catalyst Scholars Program sends a powerful message that an Oregon State Engineering degree is attainable for all.”

With an inaugural cohort of 10 students, the program will eventually serve up to 50 students per year. The scholarship helps propel qualified students across the finish line, with $8,000 in annual tuition and fee assistance. And, since students are more likely to graduate when they participate in activities that make their coursework come alive, it provides an additional $2,000 each year for each student to explore experiential learning activities such as undergraduate research, student clubs, internships, and leadership development.

Four ways to give

Want to make a difference in the education of a future engineer? The Catalyst Scholars Program offers a range of opportunities for donors to contribute.

Create a named fund with a current-use commitment of $50,000, payable over as many as five years. This will support a Catalyst Scholar from enrollment through graduation — including tuition and experiential learning support.

Establish a named endowment to support a Catalyst Scholar every year in perpetuity. A commitment of $250,000 and above, paid over as many as five years, will ensure the program thrives for decades to come.

Make a one-time or recurring gift, in any amount you choose, to the Catalyst Scholars Program fund to provide resources that support the program in a variety of ways.

Work with the OSU Foundation to support the program through a planned gift.

To learn more or to make a gift, please contact:

Scott Elmshaeuser
Director of Development
College of Engineering

Scott A. Ashford
Kearney Dean of Engineering
College of Engineering

Ivan Chan

Ivan Chan chose to study computer science because of the personal, intellectual, and creative satisfaction it brings him. When writing computer code, he has to consider problems from multiple angles and determine the best way to attack them. He values the logical flow of thoughts, analysis, fine-tuning, testing, and ironing out the bugs. And then there’s the sense of achievement that comes with finding an elegant solution.

“It’s fulfilling and fun to deconstruct a problem, assess the scope and limitations of your solution, and ultimately test it. For me, it’s like solving a puzzle,” said Chan, who graduated from Gresham High School in Portland. The process can be time consuming and frustrating, but the reward of overcoming obstacles and finding a solution makes it all worthwhile.

Computer science also offers Chan limitless opportunities — another bonus of his chosen major.

“The field is always changing, and there are so many programming languages and so many applications to learn,” he said. “I can’t help but feel optimistic about working in the field. It’s so vast, and the work of computer scientists has a big impact on so many parts of people’s lives.”

Javier Garcia Ramirez

Javier Garcia Ramirez learned about teamwork on the soccer field.

“You get used to other people being there,” he said. “And there’s a mentor or coach bringing everyone together to reach a mutual goal.”

Garcia, a first-year computer science major minoring in business, is now applying those skills to his studies. The Catalyst Scholars Program allows Garcia to explore avenues he might not have considered otherwise.

“It’s really encouraged me to get involved in research and to know that I can do it as an undergraduate,” he said.

With that encouragement and funding, Garcia lined up a position working with Jennifer Parham-Mocello, assistant professor of computer science, beginning this winter. He’s confident that opportunities like this will help him gain experience working in a variety of settings, preparing him for a career as a software engineer and maybe, eventually, as a business owner.

“With computer science, I felt like I would be getting the technical skills I wanted for my career,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be exposed to how a business functions besides being an employee. With my minor, I’ll have more insight into what that looks like.”

Bryan Gregorio-Torres

When Bryan Gregorio-Torres got his first car during his senior year at Century High School in Hillsboro — a 2010 Honda Civic with about 90,000 miles — he discovered much more than newfound freedom. Fueled by his own curiosity, he headed down a path that led him to Oregon State. Driving the car was fun, but he soon wanted to know how it worked and how to fix it. His passion for automobiles and other powerful machines had kicked in, and that was a big reason he chose to study mechanical engineering.

Another reason was his father, who had emigrated from Mexico and passed down his considerable mechanical skills.

“He was also a huge car guy as a teenager,” according to Gregorio-Torres, “and he was always around to make sure I kept up with my studies.”

A few years ago, Gregorio-Torres visited his father’s hometown. It had limited running water that had to be boiled before drinking, bad roads, and old cars. The experience was humbling.

“It made me reflect on the privilege I have here, which I’ll never take for granted,” he said. “It makes me so grateful for my opportunity to go to OSU.”

Caden Hawkins

If the weather is nice, Caden Hawkins can be found on the tennis court. He says the sport, and his coach in particular, changed his life.

“Tennis forced me to overcome a lot of my younger life trauma and learn to rise above adversity,” Hawkins said. “But the biggest contribution to my success has been those around me lending me a hand when I needed it most.”

The Catalyst Scholars Program has done just that for the first-year electrical and computer engineering major. With tuition taken care of, he could afford a car to travel between Corvallis and his home in McMinnville. Through the program, he’s also become aware of other opportunities, like the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program, where he can use his engineering skills to connect with local communities.

“It’s not only helping me fund my schooling, it’s helping me fund my own exploration beyond my classes,” he said.

Hawkins wants to use his degree to make positive changes to the tech industry and envisions himself teaching after some time in the professional field.

“I had such amazing science teachers,” he said. “I want to be able to turn around and give back to the next generation, like them.”

Chloe Madden

Chloe Madden grew up in Florence and has always had a fascination with the Pacific Ocean.

“All I’ve ever wanted to do was learn more about it and explore its depths,” she said. “I hope to go out and do hands-on research with new robotic technology.”

Madden’s first experience with engineering was in a middle school class, where she got to build PVC robots.

“We took them to a competition where we did all these challenges,” she said, adding that she’s been in love with engineering ever since. Now, she wants to be a leader in the field, setting an example for other young women.

“As a woman, I have always faced prejudice for the things I want to do,” she said. “In addition, I have always been held back from doing what I love because of monetary issues.”

The Catalyst Scholars Program ensures the first-year mechanical engineering major will be able to continue working toward her goals.

“It’s truly a blessing, and I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity,” she said. “I hope that I can show just how strong I am and that I, in fact, can be an engineer.”

Hunter McKenzie

Hunter McKenzie grew up around heavy equipment. The first-year mechanical engineering student even rebuilt the engine of his four-wheeler.

“I was thinking about being a diesel technician, and then I realized I was more interested in being able to design the motor,” he said. “I want to improve emissions systems and make them more efficient.”

The Catalyst Scholars Program has relieved a huge financial burden for McKenzie and his family. He’s excited about the many doors it will open, including the opportunity to join the College of Engineering’s Leadership Academy.

This past fall, McKenzie heard from a variety of leaders through a required introductory class.

“They brought in industry representatives as well as professors at the university, and we could ask questions and just learn what life is like as an engineer,” he said.

McKenzie was particularly interested to hear from representatives of Daimler, the maker of several models of aerodynamic and fuel-efficient trucks. Overall, he found the advice helpful.

“Many of the speakers said to make sure you enjoy what you do,” McKenzie said. “That’s what I’m hoping to get with engineering.”

Zinn Morton

Zinn Morton loves physics and coding.

“Laying the code out structurally in my mind is something that’s really fascinating for me,” he said.

A first-year computer science major, Morton is the first person in his family to go to college. The Catalyst Scholars Program is helping him reach his goal of becoming a software engineer.

“Having that available for research projects and educational needs is going to be very helpful,” he said. “It’s meant a lot; without scholarships, I wouldn’t be able to attend school.”

Morton says he enjoys making friends and that his time as a member of Oregon State University Esports’ Overwatch team has stood out so far. It’s given him a chance to connect with students with similar interests, while also getting to check out video game design.

In the long run, he wants to use his problem-solving abilities to make technology more accessible.

“A lot of the time I see software that isn’t optimized, and it’s frustrating to use,” Morton said. “Coding makes a lot of things in life very practical. I found that to be interesting because I can help people out that way.”

Nestor Narvaez

Nestor Narvaez, a graduate of Albany High School, had the makings of an engineer long before he got to Oregon State. He’s strong in math and loves science and working with his hands. Right now, he’s rebuilding a 1984 Chevy Camaro. And he’s also very curious.

“How does chemistry work, how does electricity work, how do engines work?” he said. “I’m fascinated by systems where many components come together to make something bigger happen. And I always want to know more.”

He finds helping others equally fulfilling. Throughout high school, he volunteered as a math tutor, at food banks and homeless shelters, and to clean up trails. A career in engineering seemed like the perfect way to combine his technical and humanitarian pursuits.

“Through engineering, I can learn about the things I’m really interested in while developing skills that could one day help make life better for others,” he said.

Narvaez is considering a major in electrical and computer engineering, but that may change, because there are so many realms of knowledge he’s interested in exploring. But whatever direction he chooses, he plans to follow it toward a greater understanding about how the world works.

Michael Tran

Michael Tran was an exceptional student at Parkrose High School in Portland. He earned high grades. He carried out community service projects and participated in extracurricular activities through all four years. He played
on the top doubles pairing for the varsity tennis team, and he enthusiastically supported all of the other the sports teams. Yet when he got an email saying he’d been selected as a Catalyst Scholar, he didn’t believe it.

“I thought, ‘There’s no way this is real.’ I didn’t even know this program existed,” he said. “I kept wondering, ‘How did this happen?’”

To those who select the small group of scholars, the answer was pretty clear.

Tran is leaning toward majoring in industrial engineering. One reason is that it opens up so many career options and can lead to work that will allow him to achieve important personal goals.

“The idea that I could play a part in reducing waste production, cleaning up industrial processes, and making the planet a better place really appeals to me,” he said. “I can picture myself working in a field where I can make a difference like that.”

Dachan Yu

Dachan Yu wants to use his electrical and computer engineering degree to make computers more affordable. From his experience working at Fred Meyer, he got the sense that computer-shopping is a hassle for most people.

“I like the idea of creating useful products,” he said. “I’ve always liked tinkering with computers and electronics.”

Born in the U.S., Yu lived in China with his grandparents until he was 5, before moving to Portland and finally, Happy Valley. Growing up, Yu thought he might be a doctor, until he realized engineering was a way for him to combine his interests in technology with his desire to help people. Now, the Catalyst Scholars Program is helping Yu build the skills he’ll need as an engineer.

“Among other things, I was able to buy the computer I needed for school,” he said. “I really appreciate what this scholarship has done for me.”

In his free time, Yu likes to see what he can make with Arduino, an open-source hardware platform for electronics projects.

“It’s basically a board you plug components into and then program it to do whatever you want,” he said. “I like that you can actually hold it in your hand and see what you’ve created.”



Tim and Ally Sissel

Tim Sissel (’97 B.S., Construction Engineering Management) grew up in Albany, Oregon, in a family of Beavers — all six members graduated from Oregon State University. He went on to become a founding owner and senior project manager of Fortis Construction Inc. While he won’t deny that hard work and good fortune contributed to his success, he is quick to acknowledge the role the university played in making him who he is today.

Beyond a desire to give back to the College of Engineering, Sissel says he was moved to support the Catalyst Scholars Program in particular because it gives a critical boost to students who demonstrate both high achievement and high financial need.

“To realize that we’re enabling them to experience what I experienced from ’93-’97, it’s a great feeling,” Sissel said. “They’re doing all the hard work. It’s going to be transformational, not only for them but their family and lineage as well.”

Sissel says he and his wife, Ally, were also motivated to help make engineering education more accessible to historically underrepresented groups.

“Ally and I, as well as the entire Fortis company, support diversity and inclusion in the construction industry and engineering in general. The first class of Catalyst Scholars is a very diverse group. That’s going to do great things for the College of Engineering, our industry, and the world.”

Bill and Kathleen Nicholson

Bill Nicholson (’80 B.S., Nuclear Engineering) recently retired as senior vice president of customer service in transmission and distribution for Portland General Electric, the culmination of a successful career spanning four decades. He and his wife, Kathleen (’80 B.S., Resource Recreation Management), see the Catalyst Scholars Program as a way to help other promising students make their own mark on the world.

“I hope to see a whole lot of students who otherwise maybe wouldn’t have been able to go to college achieve their dreams,” Nicholson said. “But more than that, I want to see them make a positive impact on our community. I especially like the fact that this program is focused on high-achieving students who have the most financial need.”

When he was a sophomore at Oregon State University, Nicholson received a scholarship that covered about a third of his cost of attendance.

“It was amazing. I really felt that, if someone invests in me, that is a motivator to excel,” he said. “It definitely made me want to get to the finish line and graduate.”

Nicholson points to the experiential education component of the program as one of its key distinguishing features.

“The Catalyst Scholars Program encourages students to get engaged
in their community,” he said. “We know that improves graduation rates, when students are involved in more than just the classroom.”

Dick and Gretchen Evans

Dick Evans (’69 B.S., Industrial Engineering) spent five decades in the aluminum industry in a career that started with internships while he was still a student at Oregon State University. Shortly after he received his MBA from Stanford, Kaiser Aluminum sent Dick — and his wife Gretchen (’69 B.S., Elementary Education) — to Africa, where he ran a large smelting plant in Ghana. That experience left a big impression about how the majority of the world’s population lives and works, and the difference that education can make.

“Economically, there’s an inequality in opportunity, and it’s widening,” Evans said. “Although Oregon is not West Africa, it certainly has some challenges in terms of access to education.”

Evans sees the Catalyst Scholars Program as a way to help overcome those challenges.

“It provides a bridging mechanism that can help first-generation students, underrepresented minorities, and others who may be highly capable and motivated — but lack opportunities available to more fortunate students, because of their economic differences,” he said.

It was the Evanses who came up with the idea to make the Catalyst Scholars Program itself more accessible to donors, by creating incremental funding units of $50,000 each, so that a broader range of donors can actively participate.

“This way we can engage a broader group of donors than we could by asking only for much larger endowments,” Dick Evans said.

Jim and Terrie Piro

Jim Piro (’74 B.S., Civil Engineering) spent 43 years in the public utility sector, retiring from Portland General Electric as its president in 2017. Throughout his long career, and continuing in retirement, he has remained a passionate supporter of public education. He has served as chair for the STEM Investment Council for the state of Oregon and on the boards of several organizations, including the
OSU Foundation.

Piro and his wife, Terrie, had already endowed a scholarship in the College of Engineering when the college approached them about supporting the Catalyst Scholars Program. For the Piros, it just made sense.

“Rather than asking students to put together piecemeal funds from various sources, this one scholarship will meet the needs of students for their entire time at Oregon State,” Piro said. “That certainty will make it easier for them to succeed.”

Piro sees the program as an investment in Oregon’s future.

“We don’t graduate enough engineers from Oregon to fill the jobs we have here,” he said. “We’re trying to get more Oregon kids interested in STEM fields. The Catalyst Scholars Program is a great start.”

March 26, 2021

A Scintillating Discovery

A researcher working in a lab

Small, efficient radiation detector could find its way into mammogram machines 

In 2015, a team of Oregon State University researchers devised a new solid-state, scintillator-type radiation detector that offers several key advantages over existing designs: It’s more compact, less expensive to produce, and, critically, does not require lots of high-voltage current to operate.  

The invention grew out of research by Kendon Shirley (’13 B.S., Radiation Health Physics) and Salam Alhawsawi (’18 Ph.D., Radiation Health Physics), working with Steven R. Reese, associate professor of nuclear science and engineering, and director of the Radiation Center.  

The mechanism is small enough that it could be incorporated into a handheld device, such as a smartphone. A variety of applications exist for cheap, portable, low-power radiation detectors in fields such as environmental safety and health care. For example, a pocket-sized detector could alert individual users when radiation levels become abnormally high. And many such detectors networked together could be used to generate a map identifying the size and location of a radiation public health emergency.  

“Thousands of phones could send signals to a central location that analyzes the data,” Alhawsawi said, discussing the invention’s potential in a 2016 interview. “After Fukushima in Japan, people started using radiation detectors that plug into phones through the headphone jack. It’s one way to monitor background radiation levels to see if there’s something to be concerned about.” 

Alhawsawi, Shirley, and Reese formed a company, GenX Detectors LLC, to further develop and market the mechanism. A patent (U.S. Patent No. 10,705,228) was awarded in July 2020, and the technology is currently available for licensing. Reese says the detector was an entrepreneurial project from the start. 

“We basically bootstrapped it, just the three of us,” Reese said. “There was no external funding, although we did receive a small but vital award from the university’s Office for Commercialization and Corporate Development. We’re eminently grateful for that support. It allowed us to perform experiments on some prototypes of the sensor.”  

Scintillator-type radiation detection instruments typically rely on two key components: a scintillation crystal and a photomultiplier tube.  

The scintillation crystal is a special type of material that converts high-energy radiation, such as X-rays or gamma rays, into visible or near-visible light. When the crystal is struck by radiation, it absorbs energy, causing electrons to move from a stable state to an excited state. When those electrons return to their stable state, they release their energy in the form of light emission, or fluorescence.  

However, the photons generated by the scintillation crystal are very low in energy and require amplification to provide a useful signal. That’s where the photomultiplier tube comes in. Inside the photomultiplier is a photocathode designed to absorb the low-energy photons and, in turn, generate electrons. The electron multiplication structure within the photomultiplier tube consists of multiple stages of dynodes (basically, an electrode inside a vacuum tube) that amplify the number of photoelectrons.  

Shirley and Alhawsawi, now an assistant professor at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, found that thin-film materials could take the place of the bulky, power-hungry photomultiplier. The photovoltaic and photo-thermoelectric properties of these materials allow them to generate photoelectrons upon absorbing photons emitted from the scintillation crystal.  

The team coupled a film of graphene — a single atom’s thickness of graphite — with the crystal. The result was a light-harvesting device that is more robust, smaller, and less expensive, without need for a photomultiplier. The innovation took advantage of mechanical, electrical, and optical properties of graphene that had been studied extensively, albeit separately, in the physics world. 

“We combined all three in our work, and we also took the use of graphene from a nanoscale to a scale of millimeters and centimeters, which is more than 10 orders of magnitude larger,” Alhawsawi said. 

GenX has proposals in the works to bring the technology to market with assistance from the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. Reese says the company is focusing on one specific application in the health care field, mammography, as the most likely target for commercialization.  

“This could have a dramatic impact on the way mammography images and tomographs are taken,” Reese said. “By substantially improving the X-ray sensitivity of the sensor, we can dramatically reduce the radiation dose the patient receives. The idea is to take this technology and develop ways to place it in existing imaging and tomography units.” 

March 23, 2021
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