The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Natalie Dollar Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

August 5, 2015


Natalie J. Dollar was born in 1963 in Natchez, Mississippi, a descendant of Italian immigrants who had come to the U.S. as indentured servants. In 1981, Dollar became the first member of her family to attend college when she enrolled at Mississippi State University. A Communications major, Dollar completed her undergraduate work in 1985 and was accepted into the master's degree program at Arizona State University one year later. She completed her master's studies in communication theory in 1988 and moved on to the doctoral program at the University of Washington in 1989. Shortly after arriving, Dollar became acquainted with the music scene in Seattle, and through that began to make connections with different communities in the city. This led to her work with "houseless" youth in Seattle and spurred a broader interest in conducting research on cultures that choose to reside outside of the mainstream.

Dollar completed her Ph.D. in cultural communication in 1993 and moved directly into a faculty position in the Department of Speech Communications at Oregon State University, where she taught and continued to extend the threads of research that she had initiated while at Washington. During her years in Corvallis, Dollar was named a College of Liberal Arts Master Teacher and was awarded the College of Liberal Arts Dean Wilkins Faculty Development Award.

When the OSU-Cascades branch campus was created in 2001, Dollar became intrigued by the idea of helping to start a new educational enterprise, and in 2002 she moved to Bend and joined the Cascades faculty. The following year, she spearheaded a new Community Dialogue Project, facilitating a series of conversations focusing on the war in Iraq. Later iterations of the popular series dealt with the concept of democracy as experienced in the local community, issues of social class, and the question of campus identity.

Another long-term project that Dollar has led is a study of the "communication landscape" formed by fans of the Grateful Dead music group. Dollar was prompted toward this line of research out of a fascination with the ability of the fans, called Deadheads, to stay connected despite wide geographical gaps and infrequent face-to-face gatherings. She started her study by tracing the types of communication that the group used, and then examined how their communication system evolved over time as technology shifted. Her inquiry revealed a number of communication rituals that were used by the fans, and she has since extended the notion of communication rituals to make comparisons of social group interaction in other cultures.

In 2011, Dollar moved into administration when she became the associate dean of arts and sciences and new programs at OSU-Cascades. She also was central to the creation of a new degree program - social science with an option in community development and leadership - at the branch campus. In 2012, she won the Teaching Excellence Award from OSU-Cascades.