Oregon State University Names Three Distinguished Professors


CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State University has named Michael Freitag, Kathryn Higley and Brent Steel as its 2022 University Distinguished Professor recipients, the highest academic honor the university can bestow on a faculty member.

Freitag is an expert in fungal biology and genome structure; Higley is internationally recognized for her research on the health effects of radiation; and Steel is a specialist in environmental policy, science policy and state politics.

“Oregon State University has awarded the title of University Professor Emeritus since 1988 to faculty members who have achieved national and international recognition for their contributions to research and creative work, teaching and mentoring, ‘commitment to public and service,’ said Edward Feser, provost and director of OSU. Executive Vice President. “Professors Freitag, Higley and Steel are outstanding examples of OSU’s highest academic honor and it is a pleasure to recognize their excellence.”

Freitag, Higley and Steel will give talks on Friday May 20.

Freitag is a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the College of Sciences and has published over 100 papers which have received over 14,000 citations. He has supervised dozens of doctoral and post-doctoral students and advised 60 undergraduate students, nearly a quarter of whom are co-authors of articles. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

His long-standing research focuses on the field of epigenetics – how DNA and protein modifications regulate DNA encapsidation, copying and expression. His research has led to important discoveries in biology and human health.

He has received more than $6 million in grants nationally since joining OSU, including grants from the National Science Foundation, American Cancer Society, and National Institutes of Health.

Higley is Edward N. Rickert, Jr. Professor in the College of Engineering’s School of Nuclear Science and Engineering and acting director of the Center for Quantitative Life Sciences at Oregon State.

It supported a research program in health physics, radioecology, and radiological dose and risk assessment, and built one of the few university radioecological research laboratories in the country. She has received about $14 million in competitive grants since coming to Oregon State. She was instrumental in the development of face-to-face and online radiation physics programs and co-developed the master’s program in medical physics offered at Oregon Health & Science University.

Since arriving at Oregon State in 2006, she has served as home tutor for two honors students, 51 master’s students, and 14 doctoral students.

During the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, she drew on her expertise in the health effects of radiation while giving hundreds of radio, television and print interviews.

She also served as Associate Director of TRACE COVID-19, an Oregon State project to determine the prevalence of the virus in community and OSU populations.

Steel, a professor in the School of Public Policy at the College of Liberal Arts, has taught over 23 different undergraduate courses and 13 different graduate courses in areas such as international relations, comparative politics, public administration and public policy.

He has authored or co-authored 13 books, 82 peer-reviewed articles, and 36 book chapters. He has been Principal Investigator on nine external grants and Co-Principal Investigator on 26 others totaling over $25 million, with funders including the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Steel came to Oregon State in 1998, started the master’s in public policy in 2003, and continues to serve as its director today. He has also contributed to the development of numerous study programs, including a doctorate and bachelor’s degree in public policy, a graduate minor in rural studies and a graduate certificate in energy policy.


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