Auna Godinez’s eyes dance around the coffee shop in the Valley Library until they fall on a wooden cart that holds chips and other snacks. It’s something other students might never notice, but to Godinez, it’s a thing of beauty.
“Look at the curls in that wood,” she says admiringly.
Godinez admits she does this a lot — picking out and studying different kinds of wood and wood products around campus. Her favorite kind is spalted wood — wood with coloration caused by fungi — which she’s studied in Sara Robinson’s wood science and engineering lab in the College of Forestry.
Godinez first began noticing wood, trees and the landscape around her during a long backpacking trip in California’s High Sierras with her Springfield High School Adventure Club.
“It was amazing to see how beautiful the environment is when humans aren’t in it,” she says. “Seeing all of that beauty really made me feel like I needed to work outdoors.”
Forestry seemed like a natural choice, but Godinez wasn’t sold on the idea of pursuing higher education. She thought she might volunteer for outdoor organizations or find a related job after high school.
“I come from a low-income family,” she explains. “Nobody in my family has gone to college before, and no one ever talked about it. All of these things count against you.”
Making connections in her first year
Thanks to encouragement from a mentor, Godinez worked hard her senior year of high school to get her grades up and was accepted to Oregon State. Godinez’s family was ecstatic when she got her acceptance letter. She says they are one of her keys to success.
Once here, Godinez joined the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), a program designed to increase the number of traditionally underrepresented students who successfully complete science and engineering degree programs.
Through LSAMP, Godinez learned about the variety of student support resources offered on campus, including the library, the Academic Success Center and tutoring options. LSAMP also gave her a cohort of fellow students who became friends she could relate to easily.
Godinez also found a home quickly in the College of Forestry through the Strengthening Education and Employment for Diverse Students program. Better known as SEEDS, it supports underrepresented students in the college from their first year through graduation with real-world work experiences and mentoring from faculty and forestry professionals.
“They funded my freshman year research and connected me with a professor they thought would be a good fit,” Godinez says.
Godinez is still involved in SEEDS. She attends club meetings where successful professionals from diverse backgrounds come to speak to students about struggles they’ve faced and how they overcame them.
That first year, she worked in Ecophysiology professor Barbara Lachenbruch’s lab studying the transportation of water through growth rings in trees.
To conduct this research, live trees were placed in stands for about a week, soaking up pigment. They were then cut in half so that Lachenbruch and Godinez could see how and where the pigmented fluids ran through the tree.
Finding her focus
In her sophomore year, Godinez began working with assistant professor Sara Robinson on a project investigating use of spalted wood as flooring. Godinez also spent time exploring her academic options within the College of Forestry and finally chose to major in renewable materials with an option in art and design, a new program Robinson created.
Students completing the art and design option learn how to work with renewable materials on an aesthetic level, whether as interior designers, fine artists or entrepreneurs.
With her interest sparked, Godinez headed to Peru last summer to learn more about the interactions between wood and fungi. Peruvian Amazon: Tropical Woods and the Fungi That Love Them is a two-week course led by College of Forestry International Programs in collaboration with the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina (UNALM) in Lima, the national agrarian university of Peru. Through lab work at UNALM followed by fieldwork in the Amazon rainforest, students develop a fundamental understanding of wood and fungal anatomy, wood identification and the requirements for fungal growth.
Following the course, Godinez stayed in Peru to complete a 10-week internship with the Inkaterra Asociación, a nonprofit focused on sustainable development and conservation of Peru’s biodiversity and cultural resources.
“I was looking for fungi in the forests there,” Godinez says. “I walked trails with a guide with a machete and cut open wood to look for pretty colors and lines. I took samples and recorded the GPS coordinates where I found them.”
Godinez says she came back from Peru with a lot of new data on spalting fungi.
“I found several new colors of pigments and zone lines that have never been documented before,” Godinez says. “Collecting this data and doing this research gave me a greater perspective on forests and forest products in a different country.”
Once returning home to start the 2015-16 school year, Godinez joined the Ambassadors for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources program. As a student ambassador, she speaks to prospective students on campus tours, attends alumni events and reaches out to the community, highlighting the accomplishments and opportunities of the College of Forestry.
“I tell people that the College of Forestry is like your home within the larger university. It’s like getting two experiences in one,” Godinez says. “The hands-on opportunities we have are also really important.” The McDonald-Dunn Forest, an 11,250-acre working research forest just 15 minutes from campus, “is a huge deal for us,” she says.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much spalted wood in the research forest for Godinez to explore. So she’s made some on her own.
“All you have to do is get some wood, put it in a tub with a little water so it’s moist and leave it under your bed for a couple of months,” she explains.
From Oregon State to the world
Godinez says she feels lucky to be at Oregon State and for the multiple opportunities she’s had.
“SEEDS helped me find a professor to do research with. Sara Robinson created the amazing art and design option for me to participate in. My trip to Peru was fully funded, and all I had to do was fill out some papers,” she says.
In the future, Godinez wants to give back by becoming a Peace Corps volunteer.
Oregon State has a good relationship with the Peace Corps organization and offers a Peace Corps Master’s International Program in forestry and applied economics. Godinez says she attends every informational session she can about the Peace Corps, even though she already knows she plans to apply.
“Whether or not I’ll do the masters program I haven’t decided,” she says. “I’m considering grad school, but I know I love to travel, I love simpler things and helping people, and making an impact is really important to me as well.”
Godinez is minoring in Spanish and plans on serving in a Spanish-speaking country where she can put it to work. She also hopes that wherever she goes next, there will be beautiful wood to study.