Becky Johnson Drives Expansion of FourYear University

first_imgBecky Johnson Drives Expansion of Four-Year University Email Tumblr E-Headlines 0 on April 17, 2014 By Interview by Gregg Morris for CBN Pinterestcenter_img   As Vice President for Oregon State University-Cascades, Becky Johnson Ph.D. epitomizes the role of leader. Since turning her interim position into a permanent role in 2009, Dr. Johnson has led faculty, staff and students through their time at the Bend-based university. Most recently, she has driven what was known as a “transfer college” towards expansion into a four-year university here in Bend. The transition into a full university has been anything but smooth as Bend residents take sides on nearly every decision made. Johnson’s path to Central Oregon higher education began with a B.A. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then a M.S. and Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Michigan State University. She brought her desire to teach and research to OSU – Corvallis’s College of Forestry. After two decades in the valley, Dr. Johnson was asked to take over the top position at OSU-Cascades in late 2008. For the last couple of years, Bend has been abuzz with anticipation as OSU – Cascades goes through the process of growing into a four-year university. What began as a response to Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber’s ambitious 40-40-20 educational goal, turned into a massive fundraising effort and semi-controversial site selection. CBN – The expansion has become a hotbed issue here in Central Oregon recently. How has your relationships with business and community leaders changed in the last couple of years?Dr. Johnson – I think the vast majority of business and community leaders are still solidly behind the OSU-Cascades expansion because they know how it will positively impact the community. There are lots of opinions about where the university “should” be located, and there is no consensus, as you might imagine. We had a very knowledgeable and experienced volunteer real estate committee that advised me on the campus location, and I think most business and community leaders respect those individuals and the advice they provided. The relationships I’ve made in the community have been a huge source of support as we’ve fought off closure by the legislature, and now are expanding into a 4-year campus.CBN – What do you feel is the biggest concern people have about the OSU-Cascades expansion?Dr. Johnson – I think the biggest concern is how it will impact their daily lives, and that primarily comes down to traffic, parking, and neighborhood livability – all really important and understandable concerns. They’re our concerns as well. We want the university to be an asset to the community and a good neighbor.  CBN – How do you plan to address the concerns?Dr. Johnson – Traffic and parking are clearly intertwined. If we provide lots of free parking on campus, everyone will drive their car and make traffic worse. It’s clearly in everyone’s best interest for as few people as possible to make single occupant vehicle trips to campus. Toward that end, we want to have very aggressive goals for on-campus housing, and want to incentivize multi-modal transportation options such as walking, biking, transit, and carpooling. If people want to arrive by the cycle pub, that would be great, too (although we don’t want them drinking on their way to school!). Issues around neighborhood livability include having too many students in any one rental house, parties in neighborhoods, and alcohol-related problems. Again, the more students we can get to live on campus, the better. But there are also things that the city and neighborhood associations can do to curb some of those issues, such as code enforcement and HOA’s. We will be working together with the city and neighborhood associations to help address those issues. It will be really important for us to monitor how we’re doing on our goals to reduce these impacts, so we can adjust our policies or our infrastructure. Since we will be in a new location, we can’t completely predict what will happen. But I also want people to realize that we’ve been in Bend for 13 years now, on the west side, and none of these issues have been a big problem. COCC has far more students now than we are predicting to have by 2025, and I haven’t heard people complaining about their west side location. I think there are ways to make this work, or we wouldn’t have chosen this location.CBN – How will the building of the new campus help our economy?Dr. Johnson – There are so many economic benefits of having a 4-year university. As a direct economic engine, we provide well-paying jobs for our workforce, and that ripples through the economy. We tend to grow when the private sector is in recession, so that provides a counter-cyclical balance. We bring in grants and contracts from outside the region which get recirculated in the economy. We drive innovation and research that can lead to spin out companies. We provide the skilled and educated workforce that not only supplies local businesses, but starts their own businesses as entrepreneurs. Finally, students spend about $11,000/year outside of the university, so at 5,000 students, that’s another $55 million coming into our economy – not insignificant!CBN – Are there additional reasons a university is a better fit in the proposed location than a business or corporation?The traffic engineers estimated the amount of traffic produced by a traditional developer in the Commercial Limited zone would be higher than our campus. Also, I sincerely doubt that any commercial developer would be involving the public the way we are.CBN – Where do you think education in Central Oregon will be in ten years?Dr. Johnson – I think we will have a thriving community college and a thriving university that will keep our best and brightest students in Central Oregon and attract others to come here. Many of them will stay in the area after graduation and contribute to a more diversified and stable economy. Research and innovation coming out of the university will spur new start-ups, and there will be strong partnerships between business and the university. More information on the Oregon State University – Cascades campus expansion plans and progress can be obtained by visiting Share. Twitter Facebook Google+ LinkedInlast_img read more