The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Starr McMullen Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

September 4, 2015


Bonnie Starr McMullen (née Page) was born in New York City in 1951, where she lived until the fourth grade when her family moved to upstate New York. Interested in astronomy and the violin from an early age, McMullen graduated from Yorktown High School in the spring of 1969.

That fall, McMullen began attending the State University of New York - Stony Brook. She took her first economics class during her second semester at Stony Brook and enjoyed it so much that she chose to become an economics major. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in economics in June 1973.

From there, McMullen moved on to graduate studies in economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Initially focused on industrial organization, McMullen shifted her research orientation toward transportation economics, partly as a result of having received funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for Research in Transportation. She completed a master of arts degree in economics in December 1976 and her Berkeley Ph.D. in December 1979.

McMullen's first academic position was as an assistant professor at Central Michigan University. In 1980, after one year there, she moved to Corvallis to become an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at Oregon State University. At OSU, McMullen's primary teaching focus was macroeconomics. She was also involved with creating a graduate program in economics and contributed to the OSU Transportation Research Institute. She likewise joined the OSU Symphony, contributing her skills as a violinist for several years, and was involved as well with the OSU Women's Faculty Network.

McMullen was promoted to full professor in 1992. That same year, she also became the vice president of the Agricultural and Rural Transportation Group of the Transportation Research Forum, and served as the group's president two years later. During this time period, she additionally served in the leadership of the Transportation and Public Utilities Group, a subsidiary of the American Economic Association. From the early 1990s to the early 2000s, McMullen was the editor of the journal Research in Transportation Economics. She has also sat on the board of editors for three other journals.

In 2001, McMullen was appointed interim chair of the Department of Economics, a position that was made permanent one year later. McMullen's term as chair coincided with major dissension within the department that led to the dissolution of the Economics graduate program and concluded with the incorporation of Economics into a newly created School of Public Policy. McMullen ended her stint as chair in 2005, and in 2006 she switched her tenure home to the Agricultural and Resource Economics Department.

In 2009, McMullen was honored as Researcher of the Year by the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium. McMullen has also served on the Oregon Governor's Council of Economic Advisors since 2003, and spent three years as OSU's representative on the Oregon Interinstitutional Faculty Senate. She formally retired from OSU in 2014, though continues to research various aspects of transportation economics, including the impacts of highway user fees and airline code share agreements. She also studies business cycles and macroeconomic policy, especially as they impact on Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.

McMullen's musical interests shifted in the late 1980s when she stopped playing regularly with the OSU Symphony and instead chose to concentrate on learning fiddle techniques. She has since established herself as an accomplished fiddle performer, winning the 2014 National Senior Fiddle Championship at the National Oldtime Fiddle Contest, and also claiming titles as Oregon State Adult Champion, Western Open Adult Champion, and Northwest Regional Champion.