CORVALLIS - Oregon State University will receive $5 million in federal appropriations in the fall of 1999 that will enable the university to expand its innovative distance learning program called OSU Statewide, and to house the most sophisticated supercomputing network for oceanography in the world.

The $3 million appropriation for OSU's Distance Education Alliance was funded as part of a $520 billion, year-end bill signed by President Clinton after it passed both the Senate and the House. An additional $2 million to fund the Environmental Computing Center in the university's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences was part of the Veterans Administration, Housing and Urban Development, and Independent Agencies Appropriations Bill (HR4194) signed on the same day.

Oregon legislators playing a key role in the appropriations included U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, and U.S. Representative Darlene Hooley. Wyden and Hooley are Democrats; Smith, a Republican.

"The appropriations will give a significant boost to two very different, yet critically important programs," said OSU President Paul Risser. "Our supercomputing capabilities in oceanography have enabled our faculty and students to play a leadership role in gathering and analyzing enormous amounts of data relating to our oceans, with implications for everything from fisheries to global climate change.

"The boost to OSU Statewide will be invaluable," he added. "When we began the program two years ago, our goal was to better share the unique resources of Oregon State University with the rest of the state by extending our campus throughout Oregon. Additional resources are vital to increasing the access of Oregonians to higher education."

The creation of a "Distance Education Alliance" at OSU will enable the university to upgrade the infrastructure necessary to expand the OSU Statewide program, expand training opportunities for faculty involved in distance learning, and increase the number of courses it can deliver throughout the state.

OSU already offers a combined 150 courses at a total of 17 sites around Oregon. And on-line courses that can be taken from literally anywhere are gaining in popularity, said Sandra Woods, interim dean of Distance and Continuing Education at Oregon State.

"One of the keys to providing better higher education access for Oregonians is to increase the number of partnerships," Woods said.

"We already offer courses through partnerships with other institutions within the Oregon University System, and with Oregon community colleges, Native American tribes, and Oregon business and industry," Woods added. "The additional funding will help us create and sustain more of these kinds of partnerships."

Funding of $2 million will enable OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences to complete its Environmental Computing Center, which eventually will house seven supercomputers that allow university scientists to simultaneously analyze large quantities of data related to oceanographic and atmospheric research as well as evaluate complex computer models of oceanic and atmospheric processes.

The funding will allow construction of two additional floors, which will help faculty and students to better utilize the supercomputer network, which can link more than 350 work stations, digital video laboratories, and other programs through its sophisticated optical-fiber network, said associate dean Tim Cowles.

"We have, hands down, the biggest and best oceanographic research computing capability of anyone in the world," Cowles said. "It allows us to provide international leadership in complex data gathering and computer modeling to analyze local processes like El Nino that can have a profound impact on the natural resources of Oregon."

The expansion project extends existing partnerships between Oregon State University and NASA, the Office of Naval Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation.

OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences is ranked among the top in the country as measured by research productivity, national and international reputation of faculty, and success in obtaining external funding. The National Academy of Sciences recently ranked the OSU program fifth in the country among research and doctorate programs in oceanography.

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Sandra Woods, 541-737-6837