The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Jane Lubchenco Oral History Interviews

Two life history interviews conducted by Janice Dilg.

October 2014 - April 2015


“From Newport to Washington, D.C.: A World Leader in the Marine Sciences”  October 6, 2014  Location: Cordley Hall, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In her first interview, Lubchenco discusses her family background and upbringing in Colorado, her early interests in science, and the contours of her early education, including her undergraduate experience at Colorado College. In discussing this period of her life, Lubchenco stresses the importance of her involvement in the Ford Independent Studies Program and her participation in a summer enrichment program in marine biology held at Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Lubchenco next recounts her master's studies at the University of Washington, noting the impact of her mentor, Bob Paine, and the circumstances by which she met a fellow graduate student, Bruce Menge, who would later become her husband. She then notes a year spent in Santa Barbara before describing her and Menge's move to the east coast, her time in the Harvard University Ph.D. program, and the research that she conducted with Menge in coastal New England.

From there Lubchenco describes the extension of her and Menge's research to a tropical environment in Panama, as well as her two years on faculty at Harvard. The unique manner by which Lubchenco and Menge relocated to Oregon State University and a description of the OSU Zoology Department at that time are also recalled.

Lubchenco's survey of the research that she and Menge have conducted at OSU comprises a major component of the interview. In reviewing their work, Lubchenco highlights the duo's studies of the ecology of Oregon's seashores - in particular their work analyzing interactions between the rocky shore and the near shore ocean - and the geographical extension of this work through the formation of the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans.

The path that Lubchenco took toward increasing involvement in science policy is another key aspect of the session. In this, she mentions her crucial involvement with the Ecological Society of America's Sustainable Biosphere Initiative, her growing concern with environmental decay, and her creation of both the Leopold Leadership Program and the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea as a means to empower other scientists to add their voices to the science policy dialogue.

The interview concludes with a synopsis of Lubchenco's recruitment as head of NOAA and her four years leading the administration. She also lends her thoughts on the current direction of OSU and expresses enthusiasm for its budding Marine Studies Initiative.

“Understanding and Advocating for the World's Oceans”  April 20, 2015  Location: Cordley Hall, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In her second interview, Lubchenco discusses her work as an advocate for improved science communication and effective science policy.

The session begins with Lubchenco's memories of various travels that she has taken for her research and teaching, including trips to South America, Africa and New Zealand. She remarks on the collaborations that formed as a result of these trips and the unique cultural perspectives on the oceans that she observed.

From there, Lubchenco shares her views on the crucial importance of effective science communication and describes the ways in which this need led to the creation and progression of the Leopold Leadership Program and the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea. As Lubchenco notes, both programs aim to enhance the public's understanding of the world's oceans, including the ways in which the oceans are changing.

The bulk of the interview is devoted to a discussion of Lubchenco's tenure as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including the challenges that she faced and the accomplishments of which she is most proud. In recalling her four years in Washington, D.C., Lubchenco emphasizes the positive impact that the agency had in introducing reforms that have curbed overfishing in U.S. federal waters. She also points to NOAA's creation of a robust scientific integrity policy, its reinstatement of a Chief Scientist position, and its addressing of a dysfunctional weather satellite program as major achievements of her administration. NOAA also forecast a spate of unprecedented wild weather during Lubchenco's time as head, and likewise helped to create a National Ocean Policy.

From there, Lubchenco speaks to her experiences as a mentor to undergraduate and graduate students over the years, and notes her efforts to propel gender parity within her research space. The session concludes with Lubchenco's memories of Hatfield Marine Science Center as it has evolved, and her delight at being a part of OSU's robust program in ocean sciences.