By Bill Graves, The Oregonian


Cristal Sandoval of Woodburn will be the first in her family to get a college degree when she graduates in June 2011 from Western Oregon University. Photo: Doug Beghtel, The Oregonian

Cristal Sandoval says she's on course to become the first person in her family to earn a college degree, in part because of the financial support, tutoring and guidance she's received during her years at Western Oregon University.

"They taught me how to prepare with study skills and how to organize my time," said the 21-year-old senior. Western's support programs for Latino students, she said, "are definitely key to my success."

They also help explain why the college completion rate at Western, unlike at most colleges and universities in Oregon and the nation, is higher for Latino students than for their white peers. Nearly 49 percent of the Latino students at Western graduate within six years, compared with 45 percent of white classmates, according to a study last month by the American Enterprise Institute.

The study, which averaged graduation rates from 2005, 2006 and 2007, found that at most colleges and universities, no matter how selective, Latino completion rates lagged those of their non-Latino white peers.

The lag in Oregon ranges from 4 percentage points at the University of Oregon to 15 points at Willamette University, the report found. Those percentages, however, do not account for students who graduate after transferring from one institution within the Oregon University System to another, officials said.

Nationwide, 51 percent of Latino college students earn four-year degrees within six years compared with 59 percent of white students.

Universities are focusing more on Latino students because they are the fastest growing population group in the nation. In Oregon, one in five public school students is Latino, and the number is growing.

As a result, Oregon colleges and universities are under pressure from state business and political leaders to ensure more students succeed and graduate.

Improving Latino graduation rates was a major theme at a statewide symposium at Portland State last fall and at a daylong summit last week at California State University at San Bernardino that was broadcast to other universities, including Washington State University's Vancouver campus.

"By 2020, Hispanics will make up 22 percent of the nation's college-age population," the report said.

The state Board of Higher Education is aware of the coming Latino wave and has launched a "Latino Access and Success" initiative to recruit and retain more Latino students, said Joe Holliday, assistant vice chancellor for student success initiatives.

The system is looking at ways it can help more Latino students complete high school and then support them "once they are in college all the way through to graduation," he said. "It is really the first coordinated effort we've had in Oregon on Latino success in higher education."

Western is a model for other universities. It has recruited Latino students such as Sandoval, a graduate from Woodburn High School, and has hired Spanish-speaking staff and faculty to communicate better with its growing enrollment of Latino students and their families.

Sandoval said she got strong support from a summer bridge program that helped introduce her to the university before her freshman year and by the university's Student Enrichment Program, a federally funded program aimed at helping students from low-income homes or who are first in their families to attend college.

Sandra Dominguez Carrillo, 19, a freshman from Hood River and the first in her family to go to college, said she's also relied on the enrichment program as well as the Western chapter of the Latino organization M.E.Ch.A.

"It is difficult when you are the first one" in the family to go to college, she said. "You have to work harder than other people."

The enrichment program, which is supplemented by the university, provides tutoring, mentoring, study skill classes, laptops and other support for 300 students "from registration all the way through graduation," said David McDonald, associate provost. "It is phenomenally successful. We have a 90 percent graduation rate for kids in that program."

Western has made dramatic headway with its Latino and other minority students, increasing their graduation rate by 16 percentage points between 2002 and 2007, putting it among the top 10 gains in the nation, according to a report by the Education Trust.

Latino students also fare better than their majority classmates at Portland State University, though the graduation rate for all groups is low, with 38 percent of Latino students and 35 percent of non-Latino white students graduating within six years.

Even with financial aid, tuition and other costs continue to be a major barrier to college for Latino students, said Martha Balshem, a PSU sociology professor and a special assistant to the president for diversity.

The university, which draws older, more mobile students who often must juggle jobs with school, has created a task force on how to help more Latino students succeed, she said.

"It is not only the right thing to do," she said, "but the business community and everyone else is concerned about it because the college-going rates among the Latino community will have a strong impact on the economy of our region."

On March 11, South Salem High School students enrolled in the Western Oregon University Project taught students at Richmond Elementary School about the importance of getting a high school diploma and pursuing higher education.

The WOU Project is part of Salem Keizer School District's college preparation program.

Various high schools participate in the program, in which a group of students are personally guided through the college application process.

Part of the curriculum involves mentoring other students, and South students talked with Richmond students about their educational success, strategies and aspirations.

For information about the program, call (503) 399-3000.

Amee Erbele was crowned Miss Marion-Polk County tonight during the annual pageant at Salem’s Elsinore Theatre. She will represent the area in the Miss Oregon Scholarship Pageant scheduled for July 4-11 in Seaside.

Erbele, 21, is a senior at Western Oregon University majoring in psychology with a dance minor. She was one of three contestants in the pageant, and one of two formerly from Coos County. Eberle was Miss Coos County in 2009.

The other contestants were Meghan Kelly, a 24-year-old senior at Western Oregon University. She was Miss Coos County in 2006. She will be graduating this summer with a bachelor’s degree in public health and a minor in communications.

Nicole Crane is an 18-year-old Sprague High School senior, cheerleading captain and City Dance Theater Performing Company member. She plans to attend WOU in the fall.

“This is far lower than usual,” said Kirsten White, the executive director of the Miss Marion-Polk Scholarship Program. “It’s very disappointing the number of dropouts we’ve had since our January orientation.

“Last year we had 11 girls total in the pageant,” she added. “For some reason this has been a tough year to get contestants. But we have quality contestants; we’ve gone for quality over quantity.”

Kayla Garrison of Salem was named Outstanding Teen. Outstanding Teen is a little-sister mentoring program that has partnered with the Miss America Organization, which has its own national pageant. Garrison is a 15-year-old Sprague sophomore. The other contestant was Mariah Vettrus, a 13-year-old seventh grader from Cascade Junior High.

Ziba Mokalla, 6, of Salem, was named Outstanding Princess, a contest for girls 6-12.

A 5-month, parent-delivered massage intervention has been proven in scientific studies over the past 9 years to lessen the severity of autism and improve sensory and self-regulation problems in preschool aged children with autism, according to a statement from Louisa Silva, MD, lead researcher, Teacher Research Institute at Western Oregon University, Salem, Ore.

Known as the Qigong (chee-gong) Sensory Training Home Program, and based on principles of Chinese medicine, research documenting its effectiveness has been published in Eastern and Western scientific journals, recently including the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

In this intervention, parents are trained to give their child a daily, 15-minute massage that is tuned to their child's particular physical reactions to touch on different parts of their body. Within a few months, the children relax, open up, and participate more in home and school life, and as sensory sensitivities disappear, behavior and tantrums improve, according to the statement. As key symptoms of autism disappear--eg, avoiding eye contact and not being curious about social encounters--social and language learning increases.

This program is equally effective in low-functioning as in high-functioning children, said Silva. By 5 months of treatment, data shows: parent stress decreased by 32%, autistic behavior decreased by 26%, sensory and self-regulation problems decreased by 28%, and overall autism decreased by 18%. Parents continuing the massage for another year or two, reported continued improvements in their children's growth and development.

Research shows an impairment of sensory regulation underlies the developmental delays and abnormal behaviors seen in autism, Silva said, adding that the sooner that sensory problems can be addressed the sooner that development and behavior get back on track.

Thousands of years of experience with Qigong massage in China show that the younger the child is, the more effective it is, according to Silva. "That is why we strongly recommend it as a first-line early intervention as soon as a diagnosis of autism is suspected," Silva said.

"Through the last decade of working with parents, we have found that the success of this program depends on one main thing: the parents get the massage into the daily routine and keep it there for 5 months. With that, both parent and child relax and enjoy the time together."

Silva created the nonprofit Qigong Sensory Training Institute to coordinate treatment, training, and research for young children with autism.

Her goal is to make low-cost training available to parents of children with autism. Supporting her goal, she has released a new book, Helping Your Child with Autism, A Home Program from Chinese Medicine, ISBN-13: 978-0-9821280-0-8. The book includes an instructional DVD and is a step-by-step instructional for parents to treat their children at home.

"The particular form of Qigong massage that we recommend is called Qigong Sensory Training, or QST for short. It is one of hundreds of possible massage routines used by Chinese medicine to treat illness, and it is specific for autism and sensory problems", said Silva.

The North Marion graduate, who goes by Flyvek, will perform in Portland on March 28

Photo By: Submitted photoPerfect Change

Ty Brack (center) has joined fellow rappers Victor Herwehe and Nick Harris to from the group Perfect Change. They will be performing March 28 at Satyricon in Portland.

WOODBURN -- North Marion High School graduate Ty Brack is trying to break stereotypes of rap through the release of his first album this month.

The 2002 graduate was an honor roll student and played baseball for his father and current NMHS baseball coach, Randy.

So when he branched out to rap, it was surprising.

"My high school friends didn't see it coming," he said, adding he enjoys reading about history and current events. "My dad can't tell what I'm saying. My mom and brother are country fans. But they've been supportive."

Brack's rap name, Flyvek, is actually from his middle school days.

"(My friends and I) used to be really big into wrestling, like WWE, back then I was really small and light," he said. "They rhymed Ty with the 'fly.' I don't really understand where the 'vek' came from but they just put it on there. It kind of stuck and I kept it."

Now 25, Brack will release his first album, "The i.S.," at a concert party in Portland on Sunday.

"'The i.S.' is a double entendre -- it stands for identity search, but it also means to live in the present only and don't dwell on the past," he said.

Brack's album is set up like a book, with three parts sandwiched between the first song, "Prologue," which introduces Flyvek as a rapper, and "Epilogue" which wraps it up.

"Part one is all really personal stuff, like depression. I had a girlfriend in college who got into a car accident and died," he said. "Part two is a lot about race and class and ... as a white person in hip-hop, I have to be able to respect it and not try to come off like somebody I'm not. Part three is basically story songs that get people thinking about other people's situations."

He also added bonus tracks to the album.

"It was stuff that we did that I liked but didn't necessarily fit in with the concept of the rest of the album," Brack said.

He said he hopes people understand that rap isn't always about guns and belittling women, as it is often stereotyped to be.

"There's a lot of hip-hop out there that's a lot more positive -- yes, there's vulgarity in it, but it's not just for vulgarity's sake," he said. "A lot of people that are going to be at our show are positive artists.

"They do things in the community, they do things for each other and try to uplift rather than make you feel worthless."

Brack got involved in recording when he met Victor Herwehe, whose rapper name is HavQ, at Satyricon, the club where their joint album release party will be held March 28.

"I started working with him in his apartment and he produces music, so that's where I started getting all the instrumentals from," said Brack.

They teamed up with Nick Harris, another Portland rapper, to form the group Perfect Change.

"We're all kind of working on our solo stuff," he said. "It just so happened that our solo stuff is ready before our group."

Brack started writing poetry in high school and, while attending Western Oregon University, he began attending Poetry Slams, competitions where writers perform their work.

"It's a lot about words but it's also about the emotion and the way that it's presented," he said. "So I sort of took it and put it in with the music."

But he didn't put his poetry to music until he met Herwehe and Harris.

"We've gotten really close as friends. It's not just a business thing," he said.

"We've done some work with other groups in Portland and their recording process is way more serious than ours. Ours is really laid back and lots of joking around."

While the Portland rap scene is mostly accepting, Brack said he's not sure if he would want to pursue rap as a full-time career because he enjoys his current job as a special education assistant in the Vancouver School District.

"There are good and bad things about both," he said. "In education ... the kids look up to you. But in both, there's a sense of community and ways you can relate to different people."

But writing and creating rap songs has been enjoyable.

"I dealt with depression, losing my girlfriend in college," he said, adding he's been to therapy and is overall a happier person now. "This has been helpful letting it all out. It's definitely great therapy."

The album release party, hosted by Perfect Change, will be at Satyricon, 125 N.W. Sixth Ave. in Portland, at 7 p.m. March 28. It is open for all ages but it may only be appropriate for ages 13 and up. Tickets are $8.

The event will also feature 151 Click, The Early Bird Project, Eternal Family, Cloudy October, Tommy Daniels and Slye Lawrence. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 503-369-0859.

Appeared in print: Monday, Mar 15, 2010

With a twist to an old saying about Mohammed and the mountain, Bangladesh came to me right here in Eugene, in the form of Syeda Rizwana Hasan.

My meeting with Rizwana Hasan is a remarkable testament to the global interconnectedness that characterizes our contemporary lives. Hasan, who is associated with the Eugene-based Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, was in town recently as an invited keynote speaker for the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.

Rizwana Hasan has a lengthy track record as an activist environmental attorney in Bangladesh. In 2009, he was one of the recipients of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

Hasan focuses on the ship-breaking industry's impacts on humans and the environment. Ships are sent to the junkyard after two or three decades of useful service. It's similar to how we condemn used cars.

There is a lot to salvage and reuse from these retired ships -- from engines and compasses to furniture to cranes. And of course, there's steel and wood. Ship-breaking, as one can therefore imagine, is labor-intensive.

It also means that laborers often toil in dangerous, dirty conditions. The occupational and environmental problems related to ship-breaking arise because of the wide range of materials used to build a ship.

South Korea and Taiwan used to be the global leaders in ship-breaking. But then they developed and became rich, which sent the industry seeking other low-cost locations.

The practice's labor-intensive nature, along with potential for unfavorable impacts on workers and the natural environment, logically leads it to be situated at the docks of poor countries.

Alang, situated on India's western coast and relatively close to Mumbai, is home to one of the largest ship-­breaking operations where a bulk freighter is completely dismantled in about a month. Karachi is Pakistan's headquarters in this industry, and in Bangladesh it all happens at Chittagong.

It's a boom time for ship-breaking because the Great Recession has idled many ships, and a record number of the older ones are headed to these maritime graveyards. According to news reports, in 2009 scrappers "bought 1,014 ships with a combined carrying capacity of 31.5 million deadweight tons" -- double the 2008 numbers.

Rizwana Hasan is not opposed to the ship-breaking industry per se. But she wants the ships' owners and their countries of origin to take proper care of toxic materials before the vessels reach Bangladesh. Further, Rizwana Hasan worries--and she has enough evidence for this -- that while Bangladesh and other countries might have laws that address labor conditions and environmental impacts, rarely are such laws actually applied.

So starting in 2003, Rizwana Hasan has brought these issues to the attention of Bangladesh's Supreme Court, gaining victories for nature and the laborers. Last year, the court closed down 36 ship-breaking yards that were not in compliance with the environmental laws. A remarkable success, indeed, for Rizwana Hasan and her team.

During the few minutes I chatted with Rizwana Hasan, I asked her not about the ship-­breaking industry, but about the latest legal update from Bangladesh -- the death sentence for the assassins of the father of that nation, Mujibur Rahman.

Bangladesh came into existence in 1971; it had been East Pakistan since 1947, when the British Raj ended.

I told Rizwana Hasan about the comic books I had read as a kid that told the story of Mujib -- as he is popularly referred to -- and his fight for Bangladesh's freedom. In a horrific retelling of Julius Caesar's death, in 1975, Mujibur Rahman, along with most of his family, was assassinated by his associates. Two of his daughters survived only because they were away in Germany; one of them is the current prime minister of Bangladesh: Sheikh Hasina.

Rizwana Hasan noted that it took 35 years for the justice system even to try the assassins, and therefore it should not surprise anybody that environmental justice is not easy to pursue in Bangladesh. It is simply incredible that Rizwana Hasan continues to maintain a positive and constructive outlook despite such a bleak and realistic assessment of Bangladesh's politics and the courts.

And it is even more incredible that I met with Rizwana Hasan right here in Eugene.

Sriram Khé of Eugene is an associate professor and director of the honors program at Western Oregon University in Monmouth.

He speaks to attendees of conference about importance of community involvement

MONMOUTH -- If you're a member of the Latino community and in a tough spot, don't tell famed actor Edward James Olmos that it's someone else's doing.

He doesn't buy it.

"The future is in our own hands, and we can't make excuses like 'I didn't have a mother,' or 'I was abandoned,' " the Tony-award-winner said. "I've seen too many children living on the streets who have managed to survive.

"If you have the desire to learn, you have to express it. Believe me, you will get a helping hand."

Olmos made the comments during a press conference at Western Oregon University on Friday.

He was there as keynote speaker for the 20th annual César E. Chávez Leadership Conference at Western Oregon University.

The conference is the largest gathering of Latino high school students in the Pacific Northwest.

Its goal is to encourage Latino youths to become leaders and be informed citizens on issues within their community.

Students attended workshops on leadership, community engagement, and college preparation.

They also met with representatives from colleges, universities and business.

In the past four years, WOU has increased the number of Latino students on campus by more than 65 percent.

Those figures are expected to grow across the country in the coming years, as Latinos are predicted to become the largest segment of the population by 2050 officials with the U.S. Census Bureau said.

Olmos spoke to the students about the importance of graduating from high school and college, becoming leaders and community involvement.

During the press conference, he faulted the Mexican government for what he said was its consistent inability to educate and employee its citizens.

"Mexico is a mess," he said. "The people come here because they have to survive."

Olmos also criticized the United State's abbreviated efforts to reach out to people who don't speak English but who want to learn, calling it "disastrous."

Still, there's hope, the Los Angeles-born Olmos said.

"The César Chávez Leadership Conference is the reason we have hope," he told students. "You're here to acquire knowledge, but in the end, your responsibility is to share it." or at (503) 399-6815

More than 400 Latino students from across the state attended the event organized by MEChA

Rosa Ortiz hopes Wednesday's trip down from Salem for the Raza Unida Youth Conference at the University will not be the last time she sets foot on a college campus

this year.

The conference's organizers, from the University's Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, hope so, too. MEChA organized the event, held in the EMU, to convince the South Salem High School senior and more than 400 other Latino students who also attended from across the state that they can come to college.

"We want to show them they belong here," MEChA outreach coordinator Jairo Castaneda said.

It's a difficult job. Statistics suggest that nearly half of Latino high school students do not graduate and that the majority of them do not go on to higher education. And even among those who do, at least at Oregon public colleges, almost two thirds do not graduate. The conference itself might not be enough to change that, said North Salem High School migrant specialist Cipriano Manon-Munoz.

"One visit is not going to make them see the light," Manon-Munoz said, adding, "University was not in their mind. Survival is in their mind."

Nevertheless, conferences like Raza Unida across the state hope to help and reverse the trend. And they are growing.

More students than ever before attended Wednesday's conference, the sixth MEChA has hosted. Six years ago, Castaneda said, there were no more than 12 students. The hundreds who attended this year came from as far as the outskirts of Portland.

It was more than could fit in the EMU Ballroom, where breakfast, lunch and the dance that ended the day took place. During breakfast, students filled up all 30 of the tables set out in the room, some sitting in others' laps, others merely lining the walls. By lunch, worried EMU staff moved some classes to rooms across the hallway.

MEChA is aiming to move the event to McArthur Court next year. "We need bigger space," conference organizer Diego Hernandez said.

Liza Rodriguez, who does community outreach at South Salem High School, said, "It's really powerful when you get students in a room with 500 other kids who look like them."

One of Manon-Munoz's students, Flora Maciel, who hopes to study nursing or business, said Raza Unida helped. While she was at the conference, she got counseling on financial aid and admissions at schools. "I got to check if I was doing the right thing," she said. "I'm not applying for colleges yet, but next year it will be different."

Ortiz, one of Rodriguez's students, said there are still challenges ahead for her in applying to Western Oregon University. Neither her father, a construction worker, nor her mother, who works in a cannery, attended college.

"It's more difficult for us because our parents don't have the history," she said. "So we're learning at the same pace as they are."

But, she said, "That pushes me to go further than they did. For them."

WOU students plan for SEEK projects

Western Oregon University students participating in the Seniors and Elders Seeking Kindness program will take on about a dozen projects to help seniors on Saturday, April 24.

The students will spend the afternoon helping local seniors with projects that need attention. Seniors can apply for projects between now and April 16.

For information, contact Mike Finlay at (503) 838-8716 or