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Nov. 2, 2017 La Grande, Ore. −After decades apart, Eastern Oregon University reunited with a long-ago exchange student this summer. Peter Geissinger fell head-over-heels for the Grande Ronde Valley when he was 24 years old on an exchange program from Germany.
Following three short weeks in La Grande, Geissinger left to complete his doctorate in physics and start a career in academics, but he always hoped to return to the community that had shown such generosity toward its foreign visitors.
This summer, he snapped up the opportunity for a long-awaited homecoming.
“It’s just as friendly and welcoming as I remember it,” Geissinger said. “I see this as an opportunity to give back to the region.”
Now serving as dean of EOU’s newly created College of Science, Technology, Mathematics and Health Science, Geissinger brings experience as a tenured faculty member and department chair. He plans to establish EOU as a leader and partner in rural communities through interdisciplinary projects.
“Learning is disjointed — students gain understanding as they work through different approaches to an issue — so we have to create a framework across disciplines to represent real-world problems,” he said. “When students collaborate and take ownership of a project, it becomes most rewarding.”
The framework he hopes to build will incorporate a range of disciplines to promote prosperity and resilience in the region. For example, he proposed that chemistry students working with a farmer on soil composition could team up with business or computer science students to create a business plan for the farm or develop apps to support farm operations.
“EOU is the cultural and economic engine of the region,” Geissinger said. “It’s important that we present and promote student and faculty research — bringing it to the community’s attention so we can link their work to regional needs and projects.”
He said as programs work more closely with one another, students will have greater opportunity to engage in high-impact, experiential learning activities. Fusing curriculums through meaningful internships, research projects or service-learning programs encourages students to solve real-world problems with diverse teams.
These community-centered projects will also increase EOU’s visibility in local schools. Existing programs, such as Girls in Science, Chemistry Club and ASTEO Scholarships, support enrollment and provide a reference point for further outreach.
“Integration of outreach programs with the needs of schools is so important,” he said. “As we become more visible as a resource in the community, we can develop more solid pathways from high schools to EOU.”
Geissinger’s commitment to the region is genuine. Since moving to Summerville in July, he said the Grande Ronde Valley feels like home and he shares in a sense of institutional momentum at EOU.
“The strategic plan provides flexibility balanced with a solid path forward,” he said. “Now we have to work it.”
For more information about the strategic framework, visit eou.edu/strategy. To learn more and get involved with community internships, contact the Career Center at eou.edu/career. EOU will host a STEM-focused campus visit day Nov. 11; visit eou.edu/admissions/preview-days to register.
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