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It’s not unusual to see history or engineering majors in a college program catalog, and English or biology students are pretty easy to come by, but when was the last time you met someone with a degree in comics or hiking? These are just a couple of the unique majors and minors offered at local colleges and universities.

The Comics and Cartoon Studies program at the University of Oregon made national headlines in December 2013 after an anonymous $200,000 donation was bestowed on the program. According to Program Director Benjamin Saunders, the 15-month-old program now has more than 30 students enrolled in the minor program that spans six courses. “The idea of a [comics] minor is appealing because it makes any major that anybody takes more interesting,” he says. “You can be an economics major.”

When Macey France’s second-grade son brought home his math homework, France couldn’t believe that he was already working with fractions. “The sad thing is, my eight-year-old doesn’t know what a fraction is yet,” she says, “and he’s reading it out loud, saying, ‘one and then a line and then a four,’ and I realized, oh my goodness, they’re asking for a quarter of something.”

France, chief operating officer of Parent Led Reform Oregon, is drawing attention to a set of new achievement standards that are coming to Oregon schools, including Lane County, as well as across the nation. Teachers around the state are modifying their classroom strategies to meet these new standards — sudden adjustments that parents are surprised to see. “People have compared it to the Affordable Care Act,” she says. “It hit, and it’s too much, too fast.” 

Technology in the classroom can help students collaborate in real time, learn at their own pace and use innovative tools and techniques. Technology can transform the ability of students with learning disabilities such as autism to communicate.

But whether students in local school districts have access to state-of-the-art technology depends on whether district voters are willing to invest in digitizing the classroom. Eugene’s 4J and Springfield school districts present a contrasting picture of what happens when residents vote for or against filling the funding gap created by shrinking state and federal education budgets.

It’s standard for Oregon high schools to offer physical education and English classes, but in 2005 the two subjects fused into one course at South Eugene High School. That’s when teachers Jeff Hess and Peter Hoffmeister conjured an idea and called it the Integrated Outdoor Program (IOP), allowing students to read Edward Abbey one day and go on a bike ride the next as part of a two-period-long class. And, despite having to deal with the recent change from semesters to trimesters, it manages to flourish largely due to its uniqueness and the avenues of education and exercise. 

Emma, an emaciated pit bull mix, staggers on the side of the road in Junction City. It is clear to the animal welfare officers who pick her up that she is extremely malnourished and seems to be suffering from some sort of skin disease.

Three months later, Emma is happily playing in the yard of her new owner. There have been discussions on whether it would be better to euthanize Emma — a dog with an intractable medical problem is hard to rehome. But now she has plenty of food, and a number of treatments and the hard work of her foster parents has improved her skin condition. 

EW asked an assortment of community and socially involved folks to please tell us what they would dream of for Eugene. As we head into the New Year, what do people think we as a community should change, improve, build or renovate in our built and social environment?

We asked for two dreams per person, but of course you can’t control dreams, so some people had many more ideas than two. And while we tried to categorize them, you can’t really put dreams in logical boxes either. So just enjoy this mélange of wishes for our city. Stay tuned for part two next week.

As Mother Teresa once said, “Give until it hurts.” Lane County has an abundance of nonprofits deserving of your donations — both tax deductible donations of cash before the end of the year and also donations of your time, your blankets, socks, warm clothing, food and other items in short supply. You might get some ideas from our cover image. EW donated all those items to people in need via First Christian Church. We would love to list every single group, and we hope you write letters and comment online to let other readers know of deserving nonprofits that didn’t make it in this year.

The actual Mother Teresa quote from her 1979 Nobel Prize lecture is “But I don’t want you to give me from your abundance, I want that you give me until it hurts.” Many of us don’t have a lot to give, but from what little or large amount we have, give your money, give your time, give so others don’t have to hurt.

Each month, St. Vincent de Paul Society of Lane County receives about a half million pounds of clothing. To put that in perspective, Boeing’s 747-8, one of the largest aircraft ever made in the U.S., weighs one million pounds. That is a lot of old clothing to sift through, but to some, that’s half a million opportunities to find a hidden treasure or a raw material.

It’s International Book Week! Read one of these books in our Winter Reading issue and post the fifth sentence on page 52 …

Whoops. Spoiler alert: There is no International Book Week, though there is a United Nations World Book and Copyright Day, which was April 23, as well as a Banned Book Week back in September. But really, do you need a Facebook status update to remind you to share the joys of reading? Whether you are a solo peruser, a book club member or you only read when you are stuck on an airplane for three hours, we present to you our annual roundup of some of the books we enjoyed reading this year.

History is packed with grey cardinals and coups d’état, yet we often dismiss as fantasy the modern conspiracies of men. “Conspiracies do happen,” says Kris Millegan, owner of local publishing house TrineDay Books, which helps lend credence to suppressed topics.

Like finding a lost treasure trove of old Pulp magazines in your grandfather’s attic, 2013’s bounty of graphic novels injected a sense of wonder into the medium, presenting straight-ahead, two-fisted adventure that doesn’t shy away from message or nuance.

Picks from the Literary Duck and the Eugene Public Library.

For five years, Eugene’s Downtown Public Safety Zone exclusion ordinance allowed police to bar members of the community from the city center, without due process. About half the people excluded during that time were homeless.

The ordinance ended last week, but its broader imperative — clean up the retail environment at all costs — lives on. Two private security companies in Eugene, which act as extra muscle for more than 100 businesses spanning some 50 city blocks, take dubious shortcuts to achieve their goals, and have little oversight. I patrolled for Advanced Security, Inc. (ASI) in late 2012 and for the Downtown Guides in early 2013, before becoming a writer for EW.

The Hanford Site, also known as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, or most often, simply Hanford, is home to the nation’s largest nuclear waste dump. The 586-square-mile site on a plateau near the Columbia River is also the location of the Pacific Northwest’s only commercial nuclear reactor. Hanford was started in 1943 as a result of the Manhattan Project and America’s attempts to develop the atomic bomb. As Hanford’s own website puts it, “Hanford’s ultimate triumph came with the nuclear explosion above Japan in August 1945, effectively ending World War II.”

This year’s annual Project Censored list of the most underreported news stories includes the widening wealth gap, the trial of Chelsea (formerly known as Bradley) Manning for leaking classified documents and President Obama’s war on whistleblowers — all stories that actually received considerable news coverage.

So how exactly were they “censored” and what does that say of this venerable media watchdog project?

Project Censored isn’t only about stories that were deliberately buried or ignored. It’s about stories the media has covered poorly through a sort of false objectivity that skews the truth. Journalists do cry out against injustice, on occasion, but they don’t always do it well.

Just imagine: The year is 1777 and, after a long day commanding troops in the Revolutionary War, future first President George Washington just wants a brewsky. A striking figure with silver mane, ruffled collar and white culottes, Washington gallivants around the colonies swinging a bulbous vessel frothing with his compatriot Samuel Adams’ brew (most likely a porter). Maybe the vessel even has some old-timey hand lettering like “I’m number one!” When the beer runs dry, Washington is not above begging:

“Soldiers in the American Revolution drew a quart of beer each in their daily rations. When the supply ran short George Washington begged the Board of War in 1777 to rush the growler for more. Washington himself drank beer,” Hal Boyle writes in the 1949 Tuscaloosa News story “Of History And Beer.”

Thanks for voting, Eugene! Turnout for the 2013-14 readers poll was high, and so was the quality of your answers. (But thanks for all the “your mom” votes — our moms are The Best!) We had a chuckle at the “Art Robinson for Best Comedian” campaign. We were glad that more people voted for real Best Places to Eat with Kids instead of treating tykes like tiny pariahs and telling parents to stay home. And we loved hearing your thoughts on the past year’s best people and controversies. Read on to find more of Eugene to love.

Now it’s time to party. Meet us at Level Up Arcade, 1290 Oak St., from 7 to 9 pm Thursday, Nov. 7. We’ll have free food from local restaurants, a DJ, live music and a video game photo booth for guests.

On the Billboard Hot 100 charts — ranking song popularity across genres — the top three slots are currently filled by Lorde (“Royals”), Katy Perry (“Roar”) and Miley Cyrus (“Wrecking Ball”). On the radio, that trio plus Lady Gaga and Lana Del Ray all place in the top 10 played artists. Over the past year, other female-centric acts have made many more a top 10 list: Alabama Shakes, Beyoncé, Fiona Apple, Cher, Norah Jones, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Beach House, CHVRCHES. These trends, however, are not reflected in the Eugene music scene.

Nothing says death and destruction like climate change. Actually, for most of us the effects of climate change seem like something that will happen in the distant future, a tragedy for our grandchildren but not us. If we are going to think about planetary annihilation and devastation, we focus on Sharknado-like scenarios of wild hurricanes and tsunamis. And here in Oregon we tend to not to think about catastrophic natural disasters at all — it seems like earthquakes, tsunamis and deadly floods happen to other people, in other places.

Día de los Muertos is not “Mexican Halloween.” No matter how many times Latino and Chicano communities explain why co-opting the holiday’s religious-based imagery is offensive, the commercialization and uninformed appropriation of the holiday proliferates, from plastic masks at the mall to Disney’s attempt to trademark the holiday last May.

The walls are rising all over Eugene, from Courtside and Skybox apartments (built in 2011) to the 13th and Olive Capstone complex under construction to the towering future Core Campus development at East Broadway and Ferry. Another big student housing project is being proposed for the Laurel Hill Valley neighborhood. Now real estate and development experts are wondering: Is Eugene’s student housing market a bubble destined to pop?

Eugene’s student housing development market mirrored the nation’s during the recession: Even as other investments tanked, high-end, private student housing penciled out. It didn’t hurt that before the recession, Eugene’s student housing market was squeezed nearly to capacity. Big firms based in places like Georgia and Texas thrived and grew, collecting rents previously sent to local landlords. Nationwide, student housing developments were called “recession-proof” — but if local supply surpasses demand and leads to a bursting bubble, more than just student housing will be in trouble.

Interviews by Silas Valentino. Photos by Trask Bedortha.

As the school year starts up, the Oregon Legislature is discussing an idea that could swell the average Oregon community college classroom size and make higher education accessible for more students.

When it comes to density of fun per square foot, your best bet for entertainment is walking, biking or riding the EmX to Eugene’s downtown (free with your student ID). Explore the fun bubble that stretches from Pearl to Charnelton and 7th to 11th, where you’ll find some of the city’s best places to eat, drink, consume culture and shake it into the night.