Donations made to biology department

Portland State’s biology department is now on track for upgrading its non-majors laboratory thanks to two donations received in late October. The Morthlands and Oregon Dental Services (ODS) both contributed to the biology department.

David Morthland, a member of the Portland State Foundation Board, and his wife, Virginia Morthland, a retired microbiologist with Oregon Health and Sciences University, gave the biology department a $105,000 donation, the largest single contribution the biology department has received this year.

The ODS grant, amounting to $10,000, will be used to cover dental student scholarships, with the remaining $5,000 going toward classroom renovations and equipment upgrades.

Two pre-dental students within the biology department were awarded scholarships of $2,500 each on Oct. 26 as part of an annual grant from ODS Health Plans secured this year by biology department faculty.

Derek Michaud, a pre-dental student and the first in his family to attend college, and Kamilia Said, also a first-generation student, who immigrated from Ethiopia, received this year’s scholarships to attend the OHSU dental program.

They both displayed the highest levels of academic achievement and motivation for dentistry among the large pool of qualified student candidates.

Portland State sends more students annually to OHSU’s School of Dentistry than any other institution in the nation. This year, of the roughly 800 applicants, 14 of the 72 accepted were from Portland State.

“These are the first dental scholarships given by ODS and we would like to see more come in because we have a lot of deserving students,” said Lisa Weasel, an assistant professor of biology. “This is very exciting.”

Weasel said it was tough to determine who would get these scholarships, but in the end, they were able to give them to the two who showed the most promise.

Renovation of the general biology laboratory for non-majors has been the department’s highest funding priority lately, making the timely gift by the Morthland’s that much more valuable. More than 350 students are using the lab this quarter, which creates a high demand for up-to-date equipment and design. It will be redesigned to match the lab used by biology majors, which was renovated two years ago at a price of $100,000 dollars.

The redesigned lab will replace its traditional long lab benches with kidney-shaped tables, each with a computer work station on each end, which will facilitate classroom discussions. This setup mirrors the facilities used by working scientists and provides an environment that is more conducive to collaborative research.

When asked whether or not the ODS gift will keep coming in indefinitely, Stan Hillman, department chair for biology, said, “It will as long as we keep doing good things with the money.”

Each faculty member of the biology department is required to find funding for their research, which can be a daunting task when money and the economy are tight. Still, the biology department receives external funding of all departments on campus, according to Weasel.

There are many research projects within the department, one of which Weasel is conducting. She is researching bio-ethical issues around the world and will be traveling to Switzerland, India and South Africa soon to examine how research is being performed in various parts of the world.

Large grants, such as the Morthland’s, are rare but enable the department to award scholarships to promising students that would otherwise not be available. Any remainder of the Morthland gift that is not used for renovations will be turned into scholarships for microbiology students.

“Virginia was a microbiologist, and since we have a lot of excellent students in that field here at Portland State, we will probably give them the scholarship money,” Weasel said.