The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Jim Welty Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

April 21, 2015


James Richard Welty was born in 1933 in Garden City, Kansas. Over the next eight years, James' family moved three times - including stints in Portland and Eugene - before his father was called into active military service in 1941. Following that, the family continued to relocate nearly every year, such that Welty attended eleven different schools between first and twelfth grade, including periods at a large urban school in Boston and a one-room schoolhouse in rural Iowa. He graduated from Medford High School in 1950.

That same year, when he was only sixteen years old, Welty began his higher education at Oregon State College, studying mechanical engineering. A Sigma Phi Epsilon pledge, Welty was also a member of Air Force ROTC. During the summer of 1953 he married and the following spring he completed his OSC bachelor's degree.

After graduating, Welty went to work for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company in East Hartford, Connecticut. He entered the Air Force five months later, in October 1954, attending flight school in Florida and Mississippi. He completed this training in January 1956 and was assigned to a Strategic Air Command bomb wing at March Air Force Base in California.

The following year, Welty was discharged from the Air Force and decided to return to school for his master's degree. Upon asking a former OSC professor for a reference, the professor suggested that Welty return to OSC and offered him a fellowship. As such, in September 1957, Welty came back to Oregon State to pursue a master's degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in chemical engineering. At the beginning of the 1958 school year, the head of Mechanical Engineering asked Welty if he would like to work as an instructor, and Welty accepted. He finished his degree in June 1959, writing a thesis on a specific type of jet fuel.

That fall, Welty began work on his Ph.D., this time with a chemical engineering major and minors in mechanical engineering and mathematics. After completing a dissertation on high-temperature thermodynamics, Welty received his doctorate in June 1962 and was promptly hired as an associate professor in Mechanical Engineering.

Throughout his career, Welty's primary research interests were fluid mechanics and heat transfer, and he spent several years engaged in a project on heat transfer phenomena associated with liquid metals. Welty is also the co-author of a very successful textbook, Fundamentals of Momentum, Heat, and Mass Transfer that arose from course notes that he had compiled with two Oregon State colleagues, Charles Wicks and Robert Wilson. First published in 1969, the text is still used in classrooms today.

In 1970 the head of Mechanical Engineering retired and Welty was assigned to serve as acting department head, a position that was made permanent a few months later. He continued to chair the department for the next fifteen years, steering Mechanical Engineering through a lengthy period of reduced budgets. He stepped down from department leadership in 1985 and returned to full-time teaching for another eleven years before retiring from OSU in 1996.

Welty was heavily involved with professional organizations throughout his career. A fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Welty received the ASME Dedicated Service Award in 1988 and the organization's Edwin F. Church Medal in 1990. He also chaired the ASME Heat Transfer Division from 1991-1992. In 1999 he was inducted into the OSU Engineering Hall of Fame for his contributions to the science, practice, and education of heat transfer. And in 2003 he was awarded both the ASME Heat Transfer Memorial Award and the ASME Frank von Flue Award.

Welty's influence continues to be felt within the OSU College of Engineering today, through his endowment of two faculty positions: the Welty Professorship of Mechanical Engineering and the Welty Faculty Fellowship.