Park Blocks: Fall 2017
Author: Stephanie Argy, Kathryn Kirkland
Posted: September 15, 2017

Starting Four Years Free

FRESHMAN Marisol Flores first heard about PSU’s Four Years Free program when she saw a friend’s post on social media. Flores, then a student at Clackamas High School, went to her school’s college counseling center the next day to look up the program. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t some rumor,” she says. The program was indeed real. Starting with undergraduates who enter PSU this year, Four Years Free will cover standard tuition and mandatory fees for Oregon residents who meet academic and financial aid requirements, including a minimum 3.4 high school GPA. Flores is the first in her family to attend college, and she plans to major in business.

Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out

CAMPUS RAP-IN, a student radio show that aired Sunday nights during the 1969-70 academic year, is now available to the public through the PSU Library Archives. The half-hour programs are a mix of commentary on collegiate, city and national news, ranging from satire to serious discussions of the Vietnam War, political protest and freedom of expression. Anti-war protests at PSU gathered momentum during that year, culminating in May with a campuswide strike that ended in violence on the Park Blocks. Perhaps coincidentally, the Rap-In, which increasingly declared an anti-war position, did not return to the airwaves after the strike. Check out the recordings at

Bizarre discovery leads to NASA grant

BIOLOGY professor Ken Stedman received a $540,000 grant from NASA to study the evolution of viruses, which may shed light on how viruses form, adapt and infect hosts. The study stems from a bizarre virus Stedman (pictured here) discovered in a hot spring at Lassen Volcanic National Park five years ago. The virus’s genetic code is derived from both DNA and its evolutionary predecessor, RNA. The vast majority of life on Earth switched its genetic code from RNA to DNA about four billion years ago, so the fact that this virus has both is highly unusual, according to Stedman. Studying the hybrid virus may show that viruses themselves paved the way for genetic evolution eons ago.

Experiments in space

IF ASTRONAUTS are ever able to fly to Mars, they may have a PSU student and a faculty member to thank for it. Engineering student Kyle Viestenz and engineering professor Mark Weislogel designed two experiments essential to long-distance manned space travel, and astronauts aboard the International Space Station performed them this summer. The experiments explore technologies to recover potable water from urine, vapor and other sources, and to scrub carbon dioxide from the air so that it’s safe to breathe. Space station astronaut Jack Fischer is seen here with CO2-scrubbing hardware. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Find a tree to know its history

A CENTURY-OLD white oak in Portland’s Lents neighborhood, which survived logging, farming, and housing developments, has sparked the imagination of four Portland State history students. They included the tree, which the city has designated as Heritage Tree 27, in a geocache—a modern-day treasure hunt. Using a GPS-enabled device such as a smart phone, and the Geocaching app, anyone can navigate to a small container or cache the students have placed on or near 14 designated Heritage Trees. Each container holds a brief history of the tree and a log for geocachers to sign and date. Printable directions to the trees are also available at

Film captures unsettled resettlement

A YEAR AGO, when film student Paul Newman began documenting the resettlement process of a newly placed Iraqi refugee family in Portland, he had no idea of the impact current events would have on the project. A new president, a Middle Eastern travel ban, and a fatal, hate-fueled stabbing on a local MAX train, have made this family’s integration traumatic. Newman, the inaugural winner of the $10,000 Andries Deinum Prize for Visionaries and Provocateurs in PSU’s College of the Arts, will hold an advance screening of his film, Unstated, on Oct. 12 at this year’s Portland State of Mind.

Red Means Help

BEHIND PORTLAND’S hipster facade lurks a secret: The city is a national hub of human trafficking. Advertising students have teamed up with the Portland Police Bureau to build awareness and help victims escape with a new ad campaign, Red Means Help. Lured to Oregon with promises of work, trafficking victims are held against their will. Most speak no English, making it impossible to ask for help. The PSU student-run ad agency, FIR Northwest, has created ads in six languages telling victims they can silently request assistance by flashing anything red at a police officer. The ads will be placed in areas where victims often travel, such as on public transit. Students hope to expand the campaign to other communities in Oregon and beyond.

Tiny home village complete

IN EARLY JUNE, 14 formerly homeless women moved into the Kenton Women’s Village in North Portland. As reported in the spring 2017 Portland State Magazine, the community features 14 micro dwellings designed and built by teams of PSU architecture students and professional architects. Since that story was published, students helped with the village layout and design of the shared kitchen and bathing structures, which were made from shipping containers. Residents are now working with caseworkers to transition out of the village into permanent housing within the year. The project stems from a landmark collaboration launched by the PSU School of Architecture’s Center for Public Interest Design with nonprofit, community and public agencies. Photo by Zach Putman.