UO looks back on an eventful 2023

2023 in Review: A University Evolves 
Story By tim christie
Video by Dustin Whitaker
december 27, 2023

Month by month, 2023 added up to a year of achievement, celebration and change

A university never stops moving forward. For the University of Oregon in 2023, that meant ground-breaking discoveries, new leadership, and a seismic change for Oregon athletics. 

We named a new president, welcomed a record-setting new flock of Ducks, and bid farewell to the class of ‘23. An Oregon student was named a Rhodes Scholar for the first time in more than 15 years. And Oregon researchers discovered that even worms get the munchies if you give them cannabinoids.

Two new residence halls overlooking Hayward Field opened in time for fall term. A Harvard scholar was named to lead the Ballmer Institute in Portland. And the Ducks quit the Pac-12 Conference to join the Big Ten, along with Washington, USC and UCLA.

Here’s a look back at the stories that defined the UO in 2023. 


UO chemists found a way to make carbon-based molecules with a unique structural feature: interlocking rings, a discovery published in the journal Natural Chemistry, with James May, a UO graduate student in chemistry professor Ramesh Jasti’s lab, receiving first-author credit.

A new institute in the UO’s College of Education released findings from its first research project. The HEDCO Institute for Evidence-Based Educational Practices is conducting a review of depression prevention programs in K-12 schools. The review was commissioned by The Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health, with the goal of helping educators and administrators tackle complex decisions on the best ways to support their students. 


Katie McLaughlin, a clinical psychologist at Harvard University, was named to lead the Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health. As executive director, McLaughlin will lead efforts to create a new national model of mental and behavioral health care for youth at the UO Portland institute.

In recognition of her services to the arts, first-year assistant professor Lana Lopesi received the New Zealand Order of Merit, one of the highest honors bestowed by the New Zealand government. Lopesi is a Samoan writer, editor and art critic who joined the UO’s Department of Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies in 2022.

Endangered sunflower sea stars could help keep burgeoning sea urchin populations in check and possibly help restore kelp forests in the sea, according to a study conducted by a team co-led by Aaron Galloway at the UO’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology


After a six-month international search, the UO Board of Trustees selected Karl Scholz to be the university’s 19th president. Scholz is an economist with an expertise in household savings, low-wage labor markets, financial barriers to higher education, and bankruptcy laws. He served as an economic adviser in two presidential administrations. He most recently served as provost at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Danielle Benoit, an expert in therapeutic biomaterials, was hired as the inaugural Lorry Lokey Chair of the Department of Bioengineering in the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.

To help UO researchers on the journey from eureka moment to successful business, the UO and the University of Oregon Foundation jointly established Launch Oregon LLC. The organization will help provide the four essential ingredients needed to connect researchers to resources: assisting with the establishment of a board of directors, the hiring of executive leadership, providing initial space and research infrastructure, and providing seed funding.


Archaeologists affiliated with the Museum of Natural and Cultural History ventured into a seaside cave on the Oregon Coast to recover timbers from the Beeswax shipwreck. By carbon dating the timbers found in the cave, they were able to connect the wreck to a Manila galleon that went missing in 1693. That would make the ship the earliest documented contact between Europeans and the indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest coast.

UO officials announced the establishment of the Institute for Resilient Organizations, Communities, and Environments to research how society can become more resilient in the face of growing threats from natural disasters, human-caused hazards, climate extremes, pandemics and other risks.

Luda Isakharov, a junior from Hillsboro, was named a Truman Scholar, a prestigious award bestowed upon just 62 college students in 2023. Isakharov is second from left with former Oregon governor Kate Brown, Kavi Shrestha (former ASUO Vice President) and The Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff.  The Harry S. Truman Foundation selects students who have demonstrated leadership in public service and provides them with up to $30,000 for graduate study in pursuit of a career serving the public.

A study led by UO neuroscientist Shawn Lockery found that worms exposed to a cannabinoid became even more interested in the kind of food they’d already prefer — an effect similar to craving potato chips and ice cream after partaking in marijuana, a phenomenon known scientifically as “hedonic feeding” but colloquially called “the munchies.” The study garnered widespread news coverage

H. Royce Saltzman, a co-founder of the Oregon Bach Festival and its longtime executive director, died April 3 at age 94. During his five-decade tenure at the UO, Saltzman served as a professor of choral music, associate dean of the School of Music, national president of the American Choral Directors Association, and a founding member and president of the International Federation of Choral Music. 


A study co-authored by a UO economist found that the rising share of older adults in the workforce could have troubling effects on the economy. People are living longer and birth rates are declining, and that could hamper growth of the U.S. gross domestic product. 

Donors contributed $1.8 million to Ducks Give 2023, with nearly 1,500 gifts, including 94 challenge gifts, the second-highest ever. Donors helped unlock the $100,000 UO Dreamers Scholarship Anonymous Challenge, one of the largest in Ducks Give history, and the $10,000 Presidential Challenge Gift for the Student Emergency Fund.

Meanwhile, a yearlong fundraising campaign tied to the 50th anniversary of Title IX by Women in Flight, which raises awareness and funds for Oregon’s women’s athletic programs, raised more than $15 million for Oregon women’s athletics

Jeremiah Longbrake showing off a portion of a fossil mammoth tooth
Jeremiah Longbrake with his toothy find

A 9-year-old Oregon boy pulled what he thought was a weird-looking rock out of the creek behind his grandmother’s house in Winston. But after his mother corresponded with Patrick O’Grady, an archaeologist in the UO’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History, the odd object was determined to be a big tooth fragment from a prehistoric wooly mammoth, a creature that went extinct some 10,000 years ago. 

Design details of the second major science building on the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact were revealed in artist renderings and virtual video fly-throughs. The 185,000-square-foot, multistory bioengineering and applied science research facility will double the Knight Campus’ capacity for research and development of new biomedical technologies with additional room for its expanding academic programs. 


The Oregon Institute of Marine Biology christened a new research vessel, dubbed Megalopa, a 48-foot aluminum trawler that features large fuel tanks and a powerful engine capable of taking researchers and students 20 to 30 miles offshore in a single day, placing it within reach of some of the least-understood parts of the Oregon continental shelf. 

New research from biology professor Adam Miller illuminates the importance of neuron-to-neuron communication via direct electrical signaling, instead of the usual chemical messengers sent between cells. The team also identified proteins that might link disruptions in these electrical pathways to conditions like autism and epilepsy. 

The university bid farewell to 4,823 graduates, who ranged in age from 18 to 67, at the 147th commencement ceremony. Keynote speaker and alumna Amy Bowers Cordalis, an attorney, activist and member of the Yurok Tribe, urged the graduates to look past titles, salaries and acclaim and instead pursue “Solutions. Sustainability. Progress. Community.”

Oregon baseball won the Pac-12 tournament and came one win from making the College World Series after a stirring post-season run that included hosting a Super Regional round versus Oral Roberts University. In the penultimate game, the Ducks trailed by eight runs and became the first team ever to overcome such a deficit, notching a walk-off, 9-8 win. Oral Roberts won the final game of the series, 11-6, as Oregon finished the season 41-22.


UO neuroscientists recorded neural activity from the visual system of an octopus for the first time. They created a map of the octopus’ visual field by directly observing neural activity in the animal’s brain in response to light and dark spots in different locations. This map of the neural activity looks a lot like what’s seen in the human brain.

Karl Scholz began his tenure as the UO’s 19th president on a bright July morning. “Joining the University of Oregon is a dream come true,” he said. “I am committed to building on our momentum, serving our state and society, and expanding our impact together.”

Oregon archaeologists found evidence suggesting humans occupied the Rimrock Draw rock shelter in Eastern Oregon more than 18,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest sites of human occupation in North America. 


As part of a seismic realignment of college athletics, the UO announced it was leaving the Pac-12 Conference to join the Big Ten Conference, along with Washington, USC and UCLA, starting in 2024. After Big Ten officials extended the invitation to Oregon and Washington, the UO Board of Trustees voted unanimously to adopt the recommendation by UO President Karl Scholz to make the move.

Instead of using bulky metal plates and screws, bone fractures might someday be healed via targeted, controlled delivery of a specialized bone-growth protein. UO researchers in the Knight Campus have developed a system to get that protein to the site of injury and release it gradually over time. Their approach uses small proteins called affibodies, which can be specially engineered to grab onto specific other proteins and release them at different rates. 

landmark legal case in Montana in which a judge found that young people have a constitutional right to a clean environment has its roots in the UO School of Law. Research by law professor Mary Christina Wood established the legal framework, known as atmosphere trust litigation, upon which the case and others like it are built. 


The Class of 2027 arrived on campus, carrying with it a number of superlatives: It is the second largest, with 5,057 students. It is the most diverse, with 38 percent who identify as domestic minority students. It also includes the largest number of Oregonians in school history. Every county in Oregon, all 50 states and 90 other countries are represented in this latest class. 

As the 2023-24 academic year got underway, the UO was embracing change and moving forward with new leadership, new academic endeavors and new buildings, including two new residence halls overlooking Hayward Field.

Anterior cruciate ligament tears disproportionately affect female athletes. Emily Karolidis, a doctoral student studying footwear biomechanics in the Bowerman Sports Science Centeris attempting to address this injury plaguing female soccer athletes. Her research looks to performance footwear as a potential avenue to reduce injury risk.


New research led by UO geologist Rebecca Dorsey unpacks the geology behind ancient Greek mythology that told of fearsome monsters working in tandem across the channel separating mainland Italy from the island of Sicily. The research shows how seismically active faults on either side of the Strait of Messina interact to create a passage filled with geologic hazards.

University leadership launched UO Onward: Strategic Engagement, seeking a broad range of ideas and perspectives around three cornerstone priorities and a set of goals to inform development of the university’s strategic plan. University stakeholders — students, staff, faculty members, alumni, donors and members of the larger community — were invited to participate in a series of sessions to help brainstorm ideas and set the course for the UO into the future. 

The UO joined with nine other universities around the world to establish the Global Sport University Network, a collective that aims to become a trusted source of higher education knowledge, research and policy advice in the world of sport. 


The UO announced it would partner with NTX, an international company that uses waterless dyeing and printing to produce textiles. The agreement will establish the NTX Portland Bridge Innovation Lab. UO students and faculty members will have access to the state-of-the-art facilities, prototype resources and mentorship.

UO senior Nayantara Arora was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship for graduate study at the University of Oxford, making her the first Duck to earn the prized award in more than 15 years. At Oxford, Arora will pursue two master’s degrees, one in modeling for global health and the other in international health and tropical medicine.

Three years after one of the most destructive fire seasons in state history, the UO hosted wildfire recovery experts from around the state to share the lessons learned to date. Attendees at the two-day Oregon Summit on Wildfire Recovery reported on the progress of their recovery and heard reports about best practices that have been developed and implemented in the three-plus years following the fires.

The UO’s Ballmer Institute for Children’s Behavioral Health and the Department of Athletics will join forces to develop programs that equip children with skills to promote well-being and address the mental health needs of student-athletes from a young age. It also will support the mental health needs of UO students enrolled in the Ballmer Institute’s child behavioral health training program.

Alumnus Andy Berwick Jr., a longtime advocate of the Oregon Bach Festival and passionate supporter of the arts, died at age 89. He and his wife, Phyllis, were transformative supporters of arts at the UO.


Bo Nix capped a stellar two-year run as Ducks quarterback with a slew of post-season honors: Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and first team all-conference quarterback, Heisman Trophy finalist, and winner of the Campbell Trophy, college football’s top award for combined success in athletics, academics and leadership. 

Meanwhile, Jackson Powers-Johnson, the Ducks’ veteran center, became just the fifth player in program history to earn unanimous all-American status. Powers-Johnson also was awarded the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding center. In other football news, the UO and Oregon State University agreed to sustain their rivalry game for two more seasons.

Oregon volleyball capped an outstanding season with a run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. The Ducks finished 29-6 and reached the regional finals in consecutive years, a first for the program. 

The estate of Gerry and Marilyn Cameron made a $10 million gift to the Lundquist College of Business and the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact in support of innovation and entrepreneurship as well as faculty excellence.