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Posts Tagged ‘diversity’

Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama: Inspiring Speaker, Inspiring Woman

Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama

Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama

On a wet, chilly evening in early March (Women’s History month), a small and attentive group gathers in Todd Hall to hear Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama give an intriguing and powerful talk.  Margarita is the third woman to speak in WSU’s Week of Women Speakers, presented by the Coalition for Women Students.  After listening to her speak, it is evident that this woman is quite remarkable—and her passion to promote justice and equality is inspired by the time she spent as a student at WSU.  Even back then, she knew her future career needed to incorporate her campus activities.   “You can have jobs where you live out your passions,” she insists.  Her words encourage students who have chosen a field of study based on their interests, rather than practicality.

Margarita was born in Yakima and grew up in a large family of farm workers.  Though her parents placed an emphasis on education, being a farm worker kid also meant there was less of a chance that Margarita and her siblings would graduate from high school. She views the situation differently, however, and argues that farm worker children use their Mexican heritage to their advantage—it helps them to succeed.

To describe Margarita as being involved is an understatement—during her college years she was a Chicano student leader, participated in the national Chicano Movement, and was one of two MeChA founders and the only student in a committee proposing a Chicano Studies Program.  She was also the former chair of the Racial Justice Training Committee, which promoted racial injustice awareness and provided racial justice training in dorms, fraternities, and sororities.  Since the time when Margarita was a student at WSU, racial diversity has come a long way. When she came to Pullman, there were only six Mexican students. She saw this as a problem, and by working to fix it she was able to banish stereotypes and build trust among Chicano students. Margarita’s involvement in various activities on campus was not without criticism from the WSU administration; in fact she says that they couldn’t wait for her to graduate!  Later, when Margarita began working at WSU, the ratio of colored faculty members increased from 12% to 25% and a corresponding increase in students of color soon followed.

Margarita has spent 37 years as a civil and human rights professional, has held a position with the Washington State Department of Transportation (as diversity programs administrator), and has worked as a staff member for governors, an attorney general, a college president and agency directors.  Throughout all of her professional experience, Margarita has been tenacious in holding people accountable for their job responsibilities. Yet, despite all she’s been through, this ambitious woman describes life as a joyful struggle, something worth struggling for.  She has also maintained a positive attitude, viewing every person she meets as a way to learn more.

Despite her recent retirement, it’s obvious that Margarita still has so much energy and passion for life. “I’m not done.  There’s more to Margarita that is yet to happen,” she concludes.  This is an easy statement to believe when it comes from such an accomplished woman.


With Eyes Wide Open” (profile of Margarita Mendoza de Sugiyama in Washington State Magazine, Summer 2003)

Happy Anniversary, Mount St. Helens

Thirty years ago today, Mount St. Helens blew in one of the great natural spectacles of our time. The anniversary has launched several hundred retrospectives, many of which are highlighting work by Washington State University scientists.

In a piece for Voice of America news, Tom Banse visits with botanist John Bishop, who has spent decades studying the transition from sterile blast zone to habitat-rich ecosystem.

“What we’ve realized as we’ve spent a lot of time here and we’ve quantified the plants and the animals is that we actually have extraordinary levels of diversity here, of biological diversity,” he says.

Early morning sun on Mount St. Helens/Robert Hubner photo

In a Vancouver Columbian piece about preserving the mountain, Bishop encourages people to visit.

“There ought to be more people hiking out there, not less,” the newpaper quotes him as saying. “I think people ought to see the place. It’s wonderful. The recovery process is amazing, the vegetation is quite remarkable. It’s a very interesting place to visit.”

In a separate Columbian piece, reporter Erik Robinson explains how the blast created landscape patterns around the Toutle River similar to other, unexplained forms elsewhere.

Says John Wolff, WSU volcanologist and geochemist: “Almost as soon as that landslide had settled down, people said, ‘Whoa, this looks exactly like the corridor by Mount Shasta.’”

The coverage has a powerful alumni angle as well. The Daily News of Longview recounts how Trixie Anders, a WSU geology masters student, was riding up the mountain with Barry Johnston, her husband of the time, when at 8:32 a.m., “the event of a lifetime burst into our lives.” Turning around, the two outraced the plume of ash back down the mountain, barely.

For more on John Bishop’s work, see the Washington State Magazine piece, “Mount St. Helens: The perfect laboratory.”

A New Look at Spotted Owls and Timber Dollars

Logging truck

The export economy of logging was already leaving the Olympic Peninsula when the spotted owl arrived. Adam Fagen photo courtesy of Flickr.

The dust has settled from the Pacific Northwest timber wars of the 1990s, but the perception still lingers that the endangered species listing of the spotted owl was a job killer.
Look again, says Annabel Kirschner, a professor in Washington State University’s Department of Community and Rural Sociology.
Writing in the latest Social Science Journal, Kirschner says the owl listing and subsequent logging reductions did not significantly increase unemployment and poverty on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula.
Her analysis shows the peninsula was already hard hit by changes in the timber industry when harvest limits in spotted owl habitat began in the 1990s. More than timber limits, the industry restructuring continued to affect poverty in the ‘90s. Meanwhile, Native American and Latino populations were significant and often overlooked factors in the peninsula’s poverty and unemployment.
“During the spotted owl debate, almost no attention was paid to the presence of minorities on the peninsula,” Kirschner writes. “…This is a weakness of much poverty research in rural areas, and this finding emphasizes the importance of considering the presence of these populations in rural areas when considering well-being.”
The paper certainly paints a different picture of the controversy. Back in the early ‘90s, media coverage focused on loggers and businesses who posted signs saying they were “supported by timber dollars.” But in Kirschner’s analysis, the region is increasingly supported by service industries, increasing education levels, a near doubling of commuting opportunities, and retirement incomes. Meanwhile, those in the most dire straits are Native Americans or Latinos, whose population grew by more than 140 percent in the ‘90s.

Kirschner, A.R. Understanding poverty and unemployment on the Olympic Peninsula after the Spotted Owl. The Social Science Journal (2010), doi: 10.1016/j.soscij.2009.11.002.

A passion for research: the McNair program prepares WSU undergrads for an academic future

2008-09 McNair Achievement Program cohort

2008-09 McNair Achievement Program cohort

Preparing for graduate school’s rigors and research can present a daunting task. The selection and application process alone is tough, and many students don’t even consider graduate school an option. In the United States, certain groups such as Latinos and African Americans have been underrepresented among faculty in colleges and universities.

Into the gap steps the McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program. Through seminars, workshops, and a paid research program guided by faculty mentors, WSU undergraduates work together as a cohort toward graduate school and doctoral programs.

I attended a few of the presentations at the research symposium for McNair scholars this week, to see what they’re working on. In an airy room at the top of the Smith Center for Undergraduate Education, I watched undergrads Mapuana Antonio, Alyssa Tanhueco, and Jacqueline Nuha present their research to fellow students and faculty.

What struck me, as much as the content, was the passion and deep personal connection to the research. Their common goal—graduate school and PhD programs—seemed more than a means to achieving employment. The students involved in the program care about what they study.