The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Janet Nishihara Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

September 2, 2015


Janet Seiko Nishihara, a third generation Japanese-American, was born in 1956 in Ontario, Oregon. She was raised on her family's farm near Vale, Oregon and graduated from Vale High School in 1974. That fall, Nishihara enrolled at Oregon State University; she was among the first generation of her family to attend college. Majoring in English Education, Nishihara also participated in the university's honors program. She graduated in 1978, achieving high honors in English Education and completing a certificate that allowed her to teach language arts at the high school level.

After graduating, Nishihara accepted a position at the newly formed Echo School District in rural northeast Oregon. Owing to the small size of the community, all teachers in the district held several positions, and during her two years there, Nishihara worked as an English and art teacher, while also serving as assistant volleyball coach, cheerleading advisor, and yearbook head.

Nishihara began graduate work at the University of Oregon in the summer of 1979. Her initial focus was advanced study in English literature, but within a year she changed her concentration to working directly with college students and, in 1980, she enrolled in the College Student Services Administration (CSSA) master's program at OSU. She completed this degree in 1983.

In 1981, once returned to her alma mater, Nishihara came into contact with the school's Educational Opportunities Program (EOP), an office with which she has remained associated for more than three decades. Initially an academic counselor, Nishihara worked within the program as an instructor beginning in 1984, and in 1986 she became the office's academic and instructional coordinator. In 2002 she completed a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from the University of Oregon, a degree that she sought out specifically because she hoped to eventually lead the EOP program at Oregon State. In 2009 she achieved this goal, and she remains the program's director to this day.

During her years at OSU, Nishihara has been an important figure in a number of diversity and student support efforts. Chief among these activities has been her work at EOP, the mission of which is to provide a foundation for the personal and academic development of traditionally underrepresented students attending the university. Nishihara has likewise been involved with the Upward Bound program; the creation of the Asian and Pacific Cultural Center, and the Difference, Power and Discrimination curriculum; and the founding of the OSU Ethnic Studies department in 1995. She is the recipient of the 2006 OSU Academic Advising Award as well as the 2012 OSU Women of Achievement Award.

After completing a one-year term as interim associate provost for academic success and engagement, Nishihara returned to EOP as its director in 2015. A faculty advisor for several student organizations, Nishihara also teaches courses in the CSSA program, the Ethnic Studies and Womens Studies departments, and the September Scholars and U-Engage new student programs.