The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Warren Washington Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

May 29, 2015


“A Pioneer of Climate Modeling”  May 29, 2015  Location: Washington residence, Denver, Colorado.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Washington discusses his parents' backgrounds, his upbringing in Portland, his memories of Portland's African American community in the 1940s and 1950s, and his early involvement in civil rights issues.

From there he describes his decision to attend Oregon State College, his initial impressions of OSC, and the racial climate that he observed on campus at that time. In reflecting on OSC, Washington outlines his academic progression, sharing his thoughts on the Physics program and the early computing resources then available. He also speaks of his social life while an undergraduate, including his contacts with African American student athletes at OSC as well as those travelling to Corvallis to compete.

In rounding out his memories of Oregon State, Washington describes the various jobs that he held while a student, including maintenance work at Good Samaritan Hospital, operating a radar apparatus at the tops of Marys Peak, and repossessing cars with his brother during the summer. He likewise reflects on his earliest interests in meteorology, his OSC graduate studies, and a collection of mentors that aided him during his years in Corvallis.

Washington next touches on his doctoral studies at Penn State before moving on to his first association with NCAR, speaking of the center's growth - including its physical architecture - and the early work that he conducted there. In particular, he describes his research on Indian Asian monsoons and early conversations that took place on the subject of climate change. He also recalls his first contacts with the Carter administration, his experiences advising four subsequent presidential administrations, and the complications that he encountered while trying to maneuver in Washington, D.C. As asides, Washington also describes his co-authorship of the textbook An Introduction to Three Dimensional Modeling and assesses the impact that it made, and likewise touches upon his co-founding of the Black Environmental Science Trust.

As the session nears its conclusion, Washington shares his memories of the awarding of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the reaction that this announcement elicited at NCAR. He also describes his own experience of receiving the 2010 National Medal of Science from President Obama. The interview closes with Washington's thoughts on and concerns about the future of a warming world.

Please note that this interview includes remembrances of a culture of racism and the use of racist, derogatory language toward African Americans, including the N word.