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Leading the way – As the Honors College celebrates its 25th anniversary, its first graduate looks back

This year, the Oregon State University Honors College is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Since the college’s founding in 1995, over 2,000 students have graduated with honors baccalaureate degrees, each of them embarking on professional and personal journeys representing the full range of the OSU alumni experience. It all started, though, with Joe Voje, whose 1996 H.B.S. in history was the very first honors degree conferred by Oregon State. 

For Joe, college was a “redemption,” since he had struggled academically in high school. As a native Washingtonian, he ended up choosing Oregon State University because it was close to home, and he was offered a scholarship to attend. 

Joe transferred in as a member of the Honors College’s first cohort of just around 250 students. “It was really exciting actually…it was something new. There was a lot of energy within the administration and the students. I think we all knew we were a part of something special.”

Already deep into his undergraduate education, Joe had to complete his honors degree requirements very quickly to stay on track for graduation. “I was able to complete the degree quickly with the assistance of the Honors College faculty and staff. Since I was more than halfway through my original degree, I worked with faculty willing to add additional course work to my regular classes and meet with me one on one to expand my learning opportunities. I can’t say enough good things about the great folks running the program back then.”

As an Honors College student, Joe enjoyed working on his thesis, as well as the unique classes the HC offered. His favorite was Far Side Entomology, taught by Mike Burgett, who continues to teach this class today. 

“I think I might have been in the very first class that the Honors College put on for that…. What a blast. I learned so much in that class.”

In fall term of 1996, Joe became the first OSU Honors College student to defend his thesis, which analyzed the migration history of his own family and explored the factors that led them to migrate from Europe to the United States. 

“One of my favorite memories was defending my thesis…. No one had gone before me; it was new.”

After graduating from the Oregon State Honors College, Joe worked in cybersecurity for the U.S. Navy in positions of escalating importance. “At one point, I managed cybersecurity operations for the Navy spanning from the West Coast of the United States to the tip of India.”

Joe went on to earn a Master’s of Science in network security, and he now holds a plethora of certifications, including Certified Chief Information Security Officer, Certified Information System Security Professional, Information System Security Engineering Professional and Certified Ethical Hacker. 

With his Oregon State degree and prestigious credentials, Joe was able to serve as the Chief Information Security Officer for the City of San Francisco. He then returned to Oregon, becoming the Chief Information Security Officer for Oregon Health and Science University in Portland in 2017. His responsibilities there include “protecting both the intellectual property of the institution and the health care infrastructure used to treat patients,” Joe says. 

As the HC looks to the next 25 years, Joe hopes that it will continue to focus on the individuality of its incoming students. “I’m sure I wouldn’t have been accepted into a traditional honors college program that focused on grades and extracurricular activities.” He says he is grateful that the Honors College is a visionary program that focuses on more than just academic ability and would like the HC to continue giving students chances, with attention to who they are, rather than just their accomplishments on paper.  

Joe says that the Honors College helped him to believe in himself and was ultimately instrumental in getting him to where he is today. 

“The Honors College let me know that I was capable of more than I thought I was.”

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