When asked to trace the roots of his fascination with science, Honors College Board of Regents member Dr. Kenneth Krane returned to a childhood memory: watching his father repair clocks. Krane grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and his parents owned and operated a clock repair shop. He recalled watching the swing of a clock’s pendulum and wanting to understand the forces behind its motions.
In college, Krane pursued his interests by enrolling as an engineering major. But during his freshman year, he took a physics course and discovered that he was more interested in science than engineering. This shift sparked a decades-long career in physics research, advocacy, and education, including more than thirty years as a faculty member at Oregon State University.
After completing his Ph.D. in nuclear physics at Purdue University, Krane faced a job market with nearly impossible odds: in 1970 more than 1,400 advanced physics degrees were conferred in the United States with only 300 academic jobs available. In the post-Sputnik era of American science, the federal government invested millions in science graduate programs. The job market couldn’t keep up.
Krane focused instead on research opportunities, despite a strong personal interest in teaching. He held post-doctoral research positions at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Krane then faced a choice—continue along a career in which research was his primary focus, or join a small liberal arts college and devote his time to teaching.
Instead he found a place with an opening that offered both. “Oregon State seemed like an ideal match,” he said. “It’s a research university—there was support and encouragement to continue my research—but Oregon State also values teaching. This is true of the Department of Physics, the College of Science, and beyond. The department head and the dean encouraged me to pursue both research and teaching.” In 1974, he accepted an invitation to join the Department of Physics at Oregon State.
As he had hoped, at Oregon State, Krane was able to successfully pursue his passions for both research and teaching. During his tenure at Oregon State, Krane’s research and grant proposals brought more than 5 million dollars in funding to the university. The grants supported an array of research and teaching opportunities, including “nuclear physics research and grants that support education, whether it was for enrichment programs for pre-college students, research and course development for undergraduates, or programs that encourage graduate students to get teaching experience by working in public schools, as well as scholarships and fellowships,” he said.
Beginning in the 1980s, Krane wrote and published physics textbooks. These included Modern Physics (currently in its 3rd edition) and Introductory Nuclear Physics. In addition to research and teaching, he also chaired national committees on physics education, and he served 14 years as chair of the Department of Physics at Oregon State. During the 1993-94 academic year, he worked at the National Science Foundation in the Division of Undergraduate Education.
Prior to the founding of the Honors College in 1995, Krane had taught courses in the honors program that had previously existed at Oregon State. These gave him a chance to lead discussion-based classes for small groups of students that were much different than the introductory physics courses he taught in large lecture halls. Students in the honors program looked forward to discussions and interacting with professors in a small-group setting.
Krane valued working with the dedicated students in the honors program, and he was disappointed to see the program disappear in the wake of statewide budget cuts in the early 1990s. He quickly accepted when he was asked to chair a faculty-student committee tasked with forming an honors college at Oregon State. The committee studied honors colleges across the United States. Using the knowledge gained from their research and input from faculty, the committee set up the initial framework of the Honors College. The faculty, staff, and administrators they spoke with were overwhelmingly supportive of this initiative. “It was one of the easiest tasks I’ve ever had to tackle as faculty member,” he said. “Everyone wanted to help establish an honors college here at Oregon State.” The new college opened its first group of students in the fall term of 1995.
Krane noted that much of the structure established at the founding of the Honors College remains in place today. “The overarching philosophy was that we didn’t want a separate, elite structure at the university; we wanted the students and the faculty who were part of the Honors College to be thoroughly integrated with the entire campus,” he said. “Students in the UHC take roughly one-sixth of their courses in the Honors College. The other five-sixths are in general population. This is the same with faculty: we don’t have any faculty who teach exclusively in the Honors College. Faculty really look forward to teaching their honors courses. The students also look forward to small, intimate, intellectually challenging honors courses. It raises the intellectual level of the entire campus, not just the students and faculty who participate in the program.”
He also continued teaching in the Honors College. In 2011, he joined the Honors College Board of Regents, establishing, with his wife, the Ken and Paula Krane Experiential Learning Scholarship supporting out-of-class experiences for Honors College students. This has helped him maintain his link to the university and to the Honors College community he helped create: “Teaching in the Honors College, and now serving on the Board of Regents, enabled me to keep a connection to the campus and its students,” he said. “I’m really delighted to continue to participate, and we are doing everything we can to help support the Honors College.”