The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Sue Borden Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

July 28, 2015


Susan Jane Borden (née Dodson) was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1939, and spent her entire childhood in the state. Growing up, Borden enjoyed music and reading and did well in school, particularly in math and science.

Borden enrolled at Iowa State College in the fall of 1956. She started out in home economics, but quickly changed her major - the first of seven such changes - and ultimately graduated in 1960 with a bachelor's of science degree in mathematics and minors in chemistry and English. Throughout college, she indulged her life-long interest in music, playing in both the band and the orchestra, and participating in a music honorary.

After finishing her undergraduate work, Borden decided to attend graduate school to study mathematics. She applied to a number of schools and received a teaching assistantship at Oregon State College, an offer that prompted her to move to Corvallis and begin her studies in fall 1960. As was the case at Iowa State, Borden devoted much of her free time to music, joining both the OSU band and orchestra as a clarinetist.

Borden spent the summer of 1961 working as a computer programmer at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore, California. When she was still in graduate school, she also began working in the OSC Oceanography department, programming computers to process oceanographic data and editing research grant proposals and reports. In 1962 she received her masters of arts in mathematics, writing a thesis on the foundations of trigonometry. After graduation, she continued to work in the Oceanography department. She also remained very active in both university and community affairs, serving on the program committee of the Corvallis Arts Center, continuing her membership in both the OSU Symphony Orchestra and the Women's Symphony Society, and contributing as well to the Faculty Women's Club at OSU.

In 1967 Borden gave birth to her first child and left her position with Oceanography to focus on being a mother. Once her daughters were a bit older, Borden began working as a storyteller with the Corvallis Public Library. In 1976 she also helped to organize the Corvallis Community Band, a group that remains very active to this day.

Borden returned to teaching in the late 1970s, first focusing on children. In 1979 she began working as a math instructor at Linn-Benton Community College, teaching algebra, trigonometry and calculus. Four years later, she resumed her employment at OSU, first as an algebra instructor in Continuing Education and, in 1984, once again with the Department of Mathematics. From 1987 to 1988, she was the co-director of a pre-college advanced math project that developed and published independent study materials for college algebra and pre-calculus students. She also joined the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 1987.

In 1988 Miriam Orzech, a central administrator at OSU, founded the SMILE (Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences) Program. Orzech subsequently hired Borden to serve as the program's coordinator. SMILE sought to promote interest in the STEM fields among Oregon's minority and under-served youth, and to encourage these students to attend college, by involving them in science- and math-based extracurricular activities. Originally the program focused on middle school students in four communities across Oregon. Over the next several years, the program grew to include both elementary students and high schoolers in more than ten communities across the state.

In 1999 Borden retired as the director of SMILE. That same year, the program received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. Since departing from OSU, Borden has remained active with the OSU Retirement Association, serving on the group's volunteer committee for several years and as a board member for another five. Meanwhile, the SMILE program at OSU has continued to grow and has even served as a model for similar programs launched in other states, including one based at the University of Rhode Island.