The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Mike McCallister Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna and Chris Petersen.

June 26, 2014


Michael A. McCallister represents the fourth generation of his family to graduate from Oregon State University. Born in Oregon in 1943, McCallister spent the majority of his childhood in Hawaii, where his father worked for Stanford of California (now Chevron Oil Company). Visits to his grandparents in Corvallis made him aware of his OSU lineage at an early age and, after four years of high school in Lafayette, California, McCallister entered the honors chemistry program at Oregon State. It was at OSU that he met his future wife, Nancy, who had likewise been raised in Hawaii.

In his second year at OSU, McCallister changed his focus from chemistry to geology and in his third year, 1966, he went back to Hawaii with Nancy to be married. In communicating with his draft board about his marriage and postgraduate educational plans, McCallister found that he was still eligible for military service. As such, he dropped his OSU thesis project in favor of cramming for Officer Candidate School. He finished candidate school in 1967 and subsequently graduated from OSU. So began a long career in the United States Navy.

McCallister's first orders were to report to the USS New Jersey as an assistant navigator - he had finished top in his class in navigation - but, as he prepared for this assignment, he was offered the opportunity to pursue an oceanography degree at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Plans changed again when, upon arrival in Monterey, he learned of a requirement that he attain the rank of lieutenant prior to enrolling as an oceanography student. As such, McCallister switched the focus of his study to meteorology.

After his one-year meteorology program was completed, McCallister went to Guam for his first tour of duty, which lasted for two and a half years. After a few months working as a meteorologist, one of the base oceanographers was transferred, requirements were waived, and McCallister trained at the Oceanography Department in Guam. After the tour, he took another year of study at Monterey in geophysics.

McCallister's next tour was on a marine helicopter carrier, the Okinawa, which was the flagship of an evacuation fleet stationed off the coast of Vietnam. As a crewmember on the Okinawa, McCallister assisted with the evacuations of Phnom Penh and Saigon. Following that tour, he was stationed in Hawaii at the weather center in Pearl Harbor, where he served as the director of computer systems. Three years later, McCallister left on tour with the Dutton, a hydrosurvey ship, where, as commanding officer, he worked to create "road maps" for submarines. From there he worked for the Naval Ocean Research and Development Agency in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, spending four years developing acoustic software to detect Soviet submarines.

Following a subsequent tour in the Philippines, McCallister accepted an offer from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration to work as a commander and, after one year, as a captain. McCallister spent eight years with NOAA, working on two ships and as associate director of research labs in Seattle, spending part of this time exploring vents in the Juan de Fuca rift.

In 1996 McCallister retired from NOAA and took a staff position with the Snohomish County Emergency Management Agency. He held that job for ten years before moving on to private sector work with an ocean engineering firm, Sound and Sea Technology. He remains with this firm today, focusing primarily on tidal energy projects.