Pat Acklin knows her community. Before returning to her alma mater to teach, she served on the Ashland City Council for fourteen years, worked as a community organizer, and raised funds to buy books for the local libraries. She earned a BS in geography, an elementary teaching certificate, and an MS in general studies: social sciences from Southern. When graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Acklin was named Outstanding Woman in Geography by the AAUW. Since then, she has published on such topics as regional planning, settlement patterns, and community programs.
Acklin has put her expertise in land use planning and soil conservation to use in the Rogue Valley through both her research and her service on committees such as the City of Ashland Water Advisory Committee, North Mountain Park Environmental Stewardship Steering Committee, and the Citizens Planning Advisory Committee. A former chair and member of the Ashland Community Hospital Foundation Board, Acklin has received such honors as the Woman of Distinction Award from Soroptimist International of Ashland and Citizen of the Year from the Ashland Chamber of Commerce. Her connections with and understanding of regional organizations have helped her place hundreds of students in internships over the years.
PA: My family spent a lot of time outdoors. We lived on the coast of California, below Big Sur. When I was in grade school, my mother went to college to become a teacher. She shared the things she learned at school about landscapes and biology, and, well, everything!
In the classroom (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: You not only teach at SOU, but you’re also an alumna. Can you talk a bit about your background?
PA: I have a long history at SOU. I came here first in 1975 as an undergraduate, and I achieved a degree in geography in 1978. During that time, I witnessed the change in name from Southern Oregon College to Southern Oregon State College, and now, of course, we’re Southern Oregon University. My first employment was at Jackson County Planning and Development, where I was hired to perform site evaluations for septic approval. My geography background had set me up for that in that I’d had an internship with the Soil Conservation Service, and I had some knowledge of soils and geomorphology.
On a break with Jackson County coworker Dick Florey; Ashland Daily Tidings article (January 30, 1981) after Pat was elected for Ashland City Council (courtesy of Pat Acklin)
There was a recession in the early eighties, and I found myself laid off. I’ve worked as a community organizer, a fundraiser for new books at our local libraries. I became an elected official with the City of Ashland, where I served for fourteen years as a city councilwoman, including as council president. I’ve had a number of jobs in the planning sector, and I later earned an elementary teaching certificate and a master’s degree in social sciences at SOU. This combination made me the right person to step in and help place student interns and teach Land Use Planning and other geography courses. I’ve also spent some time helping to develop community-based learning programs at SOU. I serve on a number of community boards, everything from Ashland Community Hospital to the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.
Conducting research in the map rooom (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: What kind of research have you conducted in land use planning?
PA: My master’s research analyzed many aspects of the land use planning controversy over the development of non-farm dwellings in areas zoned Exclusive Farm Use. A significant component of the analysis involved determining impact on soils with higher value agricultural potential as well as other factors related to the development process.
I’ve also investigated the geographical aspects of the settlement and land use history of the Rogue Valley and written several articles on these topics.
MM: What about right now—is there a particular topic you’re especially excited about researching?
PA: I have two projects in the works at the moment, one on which I’m working solo and another with students from a Planning Issues class. My solo project is an attempt to reconstruct a record of temperature and rainfall from the time before official record-keeping began by extracting information from the diaries of Peter Britt, an early Jacksonville pioneer who was a photographer and agriculturist. The other project is to create a booklet on Ashland’s common housing types. It will contain photos and general floor plans of the working and middle-class family homes through various eras of development, offering pointers on appropriate remodeling. The students completed the fieldwork last spring, and I am working with a small group on the publication. The work accomplished so far occurred through a partnership with a colleague, Tom Hubka, from the University of Wisconsin, and the City of Ashland’s Historic Commission.
SOU students conducting fieldwork and internships (first and last photos by Paul Talley; middle photo by Rory N. Finney)
PA: I enjoy placing student interns because I get to interview the students and have them think about how they view themselves in the workplace. “Do you think you could be in front of the computer eight hours a day?” “What do you see yourself doing?” Those kinds of questions. And then if I have a project that an employer has brought to my attention that is appropriate, we might match the student up. Because I have a history of participating in the community, I can often approach a professional in an organization and ask them if they have a project that they’ve been waiting to have time to accomplish, and often I’m able to “match-make” that arrangement so the workplace gets some work done and the student gets some valuable experience. That’s very rewarding, and it’s good for all of us. It gives the workplace some assistance, and nobody has enough staff as far as I’ve been able to tell—private sector or government—and it gives the student something meaningful to put on their résumé. They get to experience workplace culture and gauge how they might fit into that environment. I’ve found that while some students were delighted and kept straight on in that career, I’ve had several others who said, “Boy, I’m glad I’ve done that. I know now that this isn’t really suited to my temperament and my personality,” and then maybe we’re able to arrange some other kind of experience that is helpful for that person.
SOU nontraditional students (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: How is SOU an inclusive campus community?
PA: Southern Oregon University has a wide range of students. We have traditional freshmen who are in that 18–22 group, but we also have students of all other ages, and we have people who have chosen many different lifestyles. Together, that makes a very rich environment for learning in the classroom, and it’s stimulating and challenging for the faculty to be interacting with so many people with different degrees of knowledge about a subject. I think we do a very good job of making people feel at home. We have programs that provide a home for students regardless of their background.
SOU Commencement ceremony highlights (first two photos by Ken Royce; last photo by Jolesch Photography)
MM: What kind of success have you witnessed your students achieving over the years?
PA: I’ve been teaching capstone courses for several years, and I stay connected with these students after they graduate. Our students, by and large, have been very successful in achieving employment. Leaving with an internship with a professional-level experience—or even more than one—on their résumé is very helpful. Many of our former students, perhaps as many as a third, have gone on to careers in land use planning. Most of the cities and the county here employ land use planners who have come from SOU. We also have trained a lot of people who have become successful teachers, who leave a bachelor’s degree program and stick around and take part in the master of arts in teaching (MAT program) in the School of Education. We’ve done a good job of tracking our former grads, and we have a good sense of their success in the outside world.
Medford Opportunity High School students help tend plots in the Ecology Center of the Siskiyous (ECOS) Community Garden (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: What about opportunities for community engagement?
We have programs on campus that allow students to get involved in meaningful activities. Our SOU chapter of OSPIRG—the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group—our Ecology Center of the Siskiyous, our Environmental Studies Club, and many other student organizations take on real projects where they’re interacting with nongovernmental and governmental organizations off campus to achieve community goals. A good example would be the OSPIRG plastic roundup that was held in conjunction with the local sanitary and recycling authorities. Students earn internship credits and actually do community organization.
One of the opportunities we have at a university that has small classes is to have seminar-sized classes where we can read at great depth and stretch ourselves intellectually while we provide engaging growth opportunities for our students. They challenge us as teachers, and we have real, intellectual discussions. It is so fun to work on those ideas together.
Environmental education master’s candidate Sarah Finstad educates students from Talent Elementary School during a field trip to SOU’s Deer Creek Field and Research Station in Selma (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: What does a liberal arts education mean to you?
PA: We have a democracy in our country. It’s so important to have a well-educated electorate with a well-rounded education. Not necessarily just being good at math or science but understanding history and understanding that activities are connected to one another, and a liberal arts education really provides that for people. By exposing yourself to these ideas, you grow in unexpected ways and ultimately become a more well-rounded participant in our democracy and in our civilization.
SOU students abroad in India, France, and Denmark (left to right, courtesy of Nicole Jackman, Geneviéve Kleinbaum, and Alexandra Amarotico)
MM: How do our students practice responsible global citizenship?
PA: SOU is a regional university with a worldview. In this era, we are very much participants in our world, and our current economic situation points out to us just how interconnected our global economies are. So it’s important that we and our students have a sense of that. Here at SOU, we have always had a robust international program and over the last several years, we’ve been growing our international internship programs, both as a university and as a university system. We’re a regional institution with a global mission.
MM: What about responding to community needs?
PA: We are uniquely positioned to be providing some leadership and expertise in our region—from both the faculty and the students. In the programs where I’ve worked, we have had classes of students and individual students who have performed community-based learning activities. The interns often work in a government agency, providing a service that isn’t funded internally, and they do research projects that ultimately have a community purpose. Being a small university in a relatively sparsely populated region with small communities has given us some opportunities to have more student-community interaction.
MM: What evidence have you seen of sustainable practices on campus?
PA: An example from our curriculum is that for many years, I’ve taught a course called Land Use Planning, and we’ve expanded that course into both a minor and a concentration in the environmental studies degree. Land use planning integrates, as a part of its foundation, a more sustainable use of lands that have been deemed resource lands through our statewide planning program. The idea is to use those lands responsibly and appropriately by protecting the resources. This is controversial and has led to a lot of our population growth in Oregon being forced into cities as opposed to creating rural and suburban sprawl. The statewide program and land use planning have historically promoted sustainability through local government, ordinances, and state government activities. So this is something we’ve been doing for quite some time. We’re excited that we’re now in an environment where our efforts at sustainability are growing in popularity—society is embracing them out of necessity as we face yet another energy crisis and need to develop more frugal ways of living. “Waste not, want not,” Mother said, and that fits right in with sustainability.
(left to right) The Plaza near Lithia Park, students chilling downtown, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Elizabethan Theatre (photo credits from left to right: Paul Talley, Rory N. Finney, and T. Charles Erickson)
MM: How does SOU enrich our arts community and bioregion—and vice versa?
PA: One of the wonderful things about the University’s location in southern Oregon is that we have a unique outdoor laboratory. We have different geomorphological provinces coming together right here where Ashland is located. We also have different climatological classifications coming together here at this end of the Valley. Because of our location, we are uniquely positioned to provide services and have our students gain experience working in the bioregion. For instance, our students have conducted surveys of flammable vegetation for the City of Ashland and worked door-to-door to inform community members about the unique vegetation community in which they’re residing. We sit here with the national forest as our backdrop, offering rare opportunities for special research in this incredible ecosystem.
In addition, we also are leaders in culture. Ashland, throughout its history, has provided culture in the region, going all the way back to the Chautauqua programs in the late nineteenth century. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival comes to mind, and our Theatre Arts Program is positioned to take advantage of that relationship. But there’s more. Our music students have been members of the Rogue Valley Symphony, which has grown from a local, amateur musicians group to a quasi-professional symphony orchestra. Those are just a couple of things the University does in the region that really enrich student life. And our students can see world-class theatre in a small town in southern Oregon—well, it’s not every regional university that has those kinds of things to offer.
MM: What do you love most about living in the Rogue Valley and teaching at SOU?
We have fine facilities on parklike grounds in a stunning and environmentally diverse setting, good colleagues, and motivated students. Who could ask for more?