The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Jack Higginbotham Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

November 3, 2015


“A Nuclear Engineer Leads Oregon Space Grant”  November 3, 2015  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Higginbotham discusses his upbringing as an "Air Force brat," his early interest in aviation, and his decision to pursue nuclear engineering as an academic discipline. He then recalls the two summers that he spent as an intern at the Black & Veatch consulting firm, and the work that he did that anticipated the accident sequence that struck the Three Mile Island nuclear facility several months later. From there, Higginbotham details the eleven years that he spent as a student at Kansas State University, commenting on his academic progression, his student jobs as a reactor operator and supervisor, his master's research on coal fly ash, and his experiences as a Ph.D. student during the Chernobyl era.

The session then turns its attention to Higginbotham's rich and varied career at Oregon State University. In this, Higginbotham shares his memories of arriving at OSU, his early impressions of the OSU Radiation Center and the university itself, his activities as senior reactor operator and senior health physicist, and his interactions with important OSU colleagues. He likewise reflects on his involvement in the collective bargaining process with OSU's graduate student union; trends in faculty support for the Radiation Center; research that he conducted on irradiated foodstuffs and probabilistic risk assessment; his tenure as chair of Radiation Health Physics; his association with Hewlett-Packard as a consultant; and his years as associate dean of the Graduate School.

The final third of the interview is chiefly devoted to Higginbotham's leadership of Oregon Space Grant. In recounting this time period, he provides both an overview of the history of the Space Grant program nation-wide as well as the program's arrival at Oregon State. He then details the mission of Oregon Space Grant, shares his memories of assuming leadership of the program, and discusses the arc of program activities over time, including it's emphasis on robotics and K-12 outreach.

The interview concludes with a discussion of spaces on the Corvallis Hewlett-Packard campus that were purchased and are now occupied by OSU; Higginbotham's recollections of his stint as president of the OSU Faculty Senate; and his thoughts on the current direction of OSU as it looks toward it's 150th birthday.