How OSU Grew Nuclear Science- 50th Anniversary of the Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics (NERHP) Graduate Program
LaSells Stewart Center, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
October 11, 2009
35 minute transcript
Shirley Campbell (SC): Narrator, Radiation Center Staff since 1984, currently Fiscal Manager
Carmel Finley (CF): Interviewer, OSU History Department Adjunct Professor
CF I hate these things because always mistrust whether or not it’s going to work.
CF Thank you for coming in and talking to us today. How did you wind up at the Radiation Center?
SC My husband and I had just gotten married in 1983 and in 1984 we decided to come to Corvallis. Neither one of us liked our jobs in Eugene that much and so we came, he got a job up here and so I started looking around for a job also. I had previously worked for the State so I put my name on the job lists. At the time you didn’t apply specifically for a position; you put your name on a list. And I was called for an interview to the Radiation Center. The job that I was hired to do was to be in charge of the Radiation Center store. I was hired and I just have always been at the Radiation Center since. Now my job has changed a little bit, well quite a bit over the years but that was what I was hired to do in 1984.
CF So what was the Radiation Center store?
SC The Radiation Center store was set up, presumably by Dr. Wang, as a way of ordering the supplies. All the supplies came through the Radiation Center store and that’s where people came to get what they needed. It also included some supplies that were specific to the Radiation Center and to the reactor itself. I was hired as a Radiation Center employee and not a Nuclear Engineering employee and they’re two different organizations but they both live together in the same building. So I worked there from 1984 to 1988 when due to budget cuts the Radiation Center store was not a viable option anymore and so it was closed.
CF Now did that mean that the department was forced to downsize in its activities or just change its focus?
SC Well they just couldn’t do the store anymore because it was just something extra that they didn’t need at that time. All of the business primarily by that time was in-house. I think that earlier in the history of the Radiation Center other entities from across campus would come in through the store and there was some fiscal support in that manner. It was just something they could do without at the time.
CF How big of an operation was it?
SC As far as?
CF Oh, just I mean in terms of complexity? Was there just a lot of material to keep track of or?
SC The Radiation Center store was located in C128; it was one room, you know at this point I don’t know what the dollar volume was.
SC I just know that I wasn’t creating enough profit to pay for my salary.
CF Ok so what sorts of things were they selling or providing? Were they making the products that they were selling?
SC No. All the products were purchased from outside of Oregon State University. They were just things that were used by the department and like I said, things that were specific to the operation of the reactor.
CF Okay. So then what did you do in 1988?
SC Well, so I found myself in a layoff situation and I was placed at the College of Ag [Agriculture] in the Ag Fiscal Business Office. I was the accounts payable clerk there and I worked there for one year. At the end of that year the business manager position at the Radiation Center had opened up. I applied to that and I was hired back. So I went back to the Radiation Center and I’ve been the business manager now since 1989. Over the years my job has significantly evolved. My job started out as just a Radiation Center job and then there was Nuclear Engineering activities added to my job more and more and more and then also Oregon Space Grant and so now I provide fiscal and personnel support to all three entities: the Radiation Center, the Nuclear Engineering department, and the Oregon Space Grant. And most recently, I’m actually not an employee of any of them; I belong to the Business and Engineering Business Service Center.
CF The new Business Service Center.
CF So did that just come online this year?
SC July the first of this year, 2009. And not a whole lot of what I’m doing changed because I was allowed to stay working at the Radiation Center building, doing pretty much the same functions that I had been doing for quite a few years.
CF So what basically do you do as the office manager?
SC Well, it’s not the office manager—
CF I’m sorry.
SC It’s the fiscal manager.
CF Fiscal manager! I’m sorry.
SC So I manage all of the budgets. That would be the ENG budgets or state-funded budgets, all the research grants, I do all the purchasing, I do all the payables. The Radiation Center provides services for outside entities to use the reactor and I do all that billing and collection of payments. I do a lot of HR activities, hiring, recruitment, all the paperwork that is associated with that, oversight of funds.
CF It sounds like a lot of detail. Has the Radiation Center, it’s been my impression that it’s grown steadily and there may have been some dips in that growth but it’s really grow steadily in complexity. I imagine that the number of grants that you’re overseeing is—
SC Yes, especially over the last ten to twelve years or so. The grants and the dollar amount of the grants have grown significantly. There’s a lot of activity, one of the most, one of the things that really changed things at the Radiation Center was Dr. Jose Reyes’s project of the APEX test reactor. This was a partnership project with US Department of Energy, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and then Westinghouse Corporation.
CF When was that?
SC That was in, it started about ‘93 and ‘94? And it was a lot of purchasing, a lot of construction going on and that project continues to this day, modified and other aspects.
CF So that was with Westinghouse?
SC He partnered with Westinghouse on the APEX, at the time it was the APEX 600 reactor; now it’s the APEX 1000 reactor.
CF So I’m getting to know all these really cool Nuclear Engineering stuff that nobody else knows (laughs).
SC Well you know I continue to have an accountant’s view of what a reactor does (laughs).
CF (laughs) What is an accountant’s view of what a reactor does? I love this!
SC Well you have to be able to know what happened with the reactor in order to bill the customer for the appropriate service. I don’t know, it’s just kind of by osmosis you kind of go OK you know this about the reactor, this about the reactor but if you ask me nuclear engineering theory technology then I’m going, I don’t know.
CF But what do you mean about finding customers for the reactor?
SC Excuse me?
CF I’m sorry, you’re not so much finding customers?
CF Or trying to figure out how—you put it really well what you said about.
INTERRUPTION (man) You guys go ahead, I’m sorry for interrupting.
SC So I get certain information that comes to my desk that says that customer ABC has used the reactor—
CF Oh, okay.
SC And then I’m supposed to follow up on that and send that customer an invoice.
SC So then I need to know what it was they did.
CF What it was they were doing.
SC There are different facilities in the reactor and there are different rates of charge for the different services.
CF Ah. So was this a big uptake in complexity then when the reactor, when that project came online?
SC Now I’m talking about the TRIGA reactor.
SC The APEX reactor is still just a research facility; we don’t have customers for that.
CF Okay. But the TRIGA reactor—
SC The TRIGA reactor.
CF And that came online when?
CF 1967? Okay, so it was—
SC That was one of Dr. Wang’s accomplishments – to have that reactor built on site and it is a research and training reactor; it’s not a power reactor.
CF Do you remember him, Dr. Wang?
SC Oh yes.
CF Uh huh. What was he like?
SC Well, so in 1984, in the fall when I was hired, Dr. Wang was actually on his way out the door to retirement. So to have worked specifically for him I really didn’t but he was part of my interview process. I was interviewed by the person who was the business manager at the time and then she said well I need you to meet Dr. Wang. I was very embarrassed because I had trouble understanding him; he had a very heavy accent and so being, you’re in an interview and you’re nervous to start with and then you have to keep saying, “Excuse me, can you repeat that? Excuse me, can you repeat that?”
Then he came across with a very typical, as I found out later, just blunt statement of, “How come you’re such a job hopper?”
I had gone to community college, got my accounting degree in 1982 and then I had gone through about four different jobs; it was a tough economic time in Oregon, I was just getting started, this and that and the other. And then like I said, my husband and I had just moved to the Corvallis/Albany area and so I hadn’t had a single job over about six months and he says, “How come you’re such a job hopper?”
(laughs) And I tried to explain the circumstances . Well he seemed to approve of me because I did get the job offer. What I remember of Dr. Wang is not the person that apparently, from what I hear, ruled the roost with an iron fist pretty much; it was more this kindly older gentleman that came through and said funny things, the blunt speech being one of them. You know he asked one of our receptionists one day, said, “You’re an attractive woman, how come you don’t have a husband?”
(laughs) And you know those type of things, totally inappropriate conversation, not politically correct but it just came out of his mouth. At the time he still also made frequent trips to China because he worked as a liaison between the American Nuclear Society and the Chinese Nuclear Society. Every time he came back from China, everybody in the office got a new gift from China; it was just a little trivial piece of something you know, but I have most of it at my house, these little gifts from China, a little tea cup or a fan or a little piece of jade or something.
CF Oh, that’s nice. So what’s your favorite story about him? Is there one? He sounds like a very interesting man.
SC Well I think that he was an interesting man and like I said, I didn’t work for him directly. I think just the blunt comments, well why did they do something like that you know he found out somebody had got a divorce and married somebody else and he said, “Well I don’t know why he’d want to do that, that woman is a lot uglier than his previous wife.”
CF (laughs) So he was very frank.
SC He was very frank in his speech but, you know, to me he was just a kindly old gentleman.
CF So he left shortly after you got there, he retired?
SC He retired at the end of 1984 and I came in September of ‘84. He continued to be in the building a lot, for quite a few years. It was only approximately the last eight to ten years or something you know he really just wound things down. You would see him occasionally but not that much.
CF Was it an exciting place to work in some ways, when there would be a big test coming along or a project or something happening where everybody’s scurrying around, trying to make a project happen?
SC I don’t know if I’d used the word “exciting.”
CF (laughs) Ok, well academics could get excited about some pretty small things.
SC That’s true. I mean, one of the things that we were very proud of was our 25 year anniversary of the TRIGA reactor. We had a big party over that and Dr. Wang actually came to that party and his wife. That was good time.
CF So that must have been shortly after you got there if it started in 1967.
SC Yeah, 1967 and then add 25 so then it was what 92?
CF Ninety-two, yeah, 1992 so you remember that? That was a big deal.
SC Pretty much responsible—
CF You probably had to organize it and you certainly had to pay for it. (laughs)
SC I had to organize the whole thing. And, yes I paid the bill too.
CF Right, you had to pay the bills. So what did you do? What sorts of things did you do?
SC So we sent out guest lists we ended up with about 100 people or so. People had to buy their tickets for it. We had it at a Chinese restaurant that no longer exists. It’s in the Elks building or something, I think on 9th Street now. I don’t remember the name of the Chinese restaurant, and we hired a band to play and we had some history go on and some speakers and like I said, Dr. Wang and his wife were there. It was a very nice occasion.
CF A really nice evening.
CF So what’s this 50th anniversary like in comparison?
SC Well we hired Lyn [Smith-Gloria] a couple years ago and so now I don’t do that kind of stuff. I don’t do that organizing and the like; I’m just a participant.
CF But you’re still paying the bills. (laughs)
SC I’m still paying the bills so yeah. I’m not sure, I don’t even know how many are on the guest list for the activities of the weekend. I think I heard that there might be about 60 people at Monday night’s dinner.
CF So are you looking forward to seeing any particular person that you perhaps might have been around?
CF Favorite researcher?
SC Well so the former Radiation Center office manager is coming tomorrow and I haven’t seen her for a couple of years. She worked there for nine years and we were very, very good friends and I just haven’t seen her for a while. I always enjoy seeing Art Johnson. He doesn’t come around the building very much anymore.
CF And who is Art Johnson?
SC Art Johnson was one of the Radiation Center directors. Like I said I don’t know who’s on the guest list so I’m not sure who I’m going to get to see.
CF It’s going to be a pleasant surprise.
CF Good. So what do you think is, when you would tell people on campus that you worked at the Radiation Center, what were their reactions?
SC Well they usually ask me if I glow at night.
SC And I say, “No, I don’t.” (laughs)
CF So have you noticed a change in how nuclear energy is regarded over time?
SC I believe so, I think that when I first started working in the Radiation Center there was quite a bit of political action going on in Oregon that was anti-nuclear.
SC There were a lot of ballot measures.
CF Uh huh, closing Trojan.
SC Closing Trojan and the like. So from my prospective we just kind of kept doing what we were doing, keeping a clean ship operation, kind of with your head down but you just kind of keep moving forward. Over the last eight to ten years especially when Dr. Reyes success with his new generation reactors that he’s testing and the like. There’s been a lot more publicity and out in the news and people are more accepting of nuclear energy as a viable option I believe. Coming straight from our former president’s mouth, a couple state of the union addresses that we really need to look at nuclear energy and I think we are just a little more overt about yes, we’re the Radiation Center and we’re here, we have a reactor and everything’s fine.
CF And we’ve been here for 50 years.
SC That’s right. (laughs)
CF As you look back over your time at the Radiation Center, does anything in particular stand out? Well you talked about the 25th anniversary. Was there anything else? And you talked about the cooperative partnership with Westinghouse in ‘93. Any other big milestones that stand out? What?
SC (laughs) That wasn’t on my list so I didn’t give any thought to something like that.
CF Well, what was on your list? What did you want to talk about? What did you think was important to record?
SC Well so here’s this question, it’s says, “What’s the craziest thing that ever happened at the Radiation Center?”
CF (laughs) I wasn’t going to ask that, but what was the craziest thing that ever happened at the Radiation Center?
SC So this caused me a lot of thought because there’s a lot of things like I told you earlier that we just really wouldn’t want to put on paper that have happened at the Radiation Center and I think that would be true of any business or any department. So I gave this one a lot of thought and I was telling my daughter-in-law about this and she said, “Well I think you ought to talk about the huge amounts of feminine products you buy as part of your job.”
And so I gave that some thought. So really I buy six to eight cases of sanitary napkins a year. And these are used, they call them “smear pads” and they have student employees that come through the building and wipe the floor with these sanitary napkins. It’s to see if there’s any contamination in the building, radioactive contamination. But the funnier—
CF That’s pretty funny. (laughs)
SC Even funnier part of this is that, this was about in 1991 or 1992, the TRIGA reactor has like I said various facilities for putting samples into and depends on what kind of reaction you want where you put your sample but we have a facility we call the Lazy Susan, which sits at the bottom of the reactor core and you know it kind of just like a Lazy Susan—
CF A Lazy Susan.
SC And it goes around and you’ve got your samples in there and somehow the beams hit the samples and produces a result for the scientists. But this Lazy Susan apparently had some accumulated lubrication that was clogging it up so it wasn’t circulating the way it was supposed to. It was just really gummy and they had to figure out how to clean it, which is a problem because the TRIGA reactor is in a pool of water, three stories high.
SC And so how are you going to get to this to clean it, you know you can’t send scuba divers in and so you also have to be very careful of what you put into this water because depending on what it is it causes a reaction that maybe you didn’t intend. So they decided that they would use the product Simple Green to pour into the water because that would not create a significant radioactive waste unintentionally you know. But what it did do was create was just tons of foam.
CF You mean like soap suds in your sink!
SC Yes. And so they had to flush it multiple times with lots of water and this and that. But anyway the Lazy Susan is not in the water; it’s encased and it’s dry but somehow you know they had to get it dried up and so they started using tampons, which are very absorbent and they were putting them down and drying up all of this liquid.
SC And then and so they were sending people to Bi-Mart to buy tampons. (laughs)
CF You’re sending students to buy—(laughs)
SC No, it was our staff person, which is even better because we have this big guy that’s over six foot tall, big beard, and everything and he’s buying just boxes and boxes of tampons. (laughs) But then the follow up to that story is that I got a call from the accounts payable office in Kerr and they said, “Shirley, we know you probably have a really good reason but why are you buying so many tampons at Bi-Mart and putting them on state money?” (laughs)
SC So I got to tell them the story also. So I submit that as my craziest story. (laughs)
CF Well were there any other really technical situations like that where you had basically a household remedy, right? You know, Simple Green that’s, I’ve got it under my sink.
CF Right. So you have this highly complex, sophisticated organization and yet you’re turning around and sometimes doing really simple things to take care of these problems.
SC That’s right.
CF That’s an interesting dynamic, isn’t it?
SC I can’t think of any other stories off the top of my head.
CF (laughs) That’s a really good story. So what else sticks out in your mind?
SC I don’t think I have any other stories.
CF (laughs) It’s a great one though. It’s really, really good. I can imagine the accounts clerk over in Kerr…
SC Yeah. And I knew the people at the time that worked in accounts payable too and so it was a friendly conversation; it wasn’t a bad one or anything, it was just like, “Shirley! What are you doing?” (laughs)
CF So what else stands out in your memory? Anything in particular that’s funny? Has it been a good place to work?
SC Yes, yes it has. You know when I came to the Radiation Center twenty-five years ago it was never with a career path in mind. I just needed the job but it’s been a really good place. I think that one of the things that sticks out in my mind is that it’s a very friendly place to be. Like any other family, you have your problems here and there and the other place but at the end of the day I believe that everybody works well together, they care about each other and it’s just a really nice place to be when you have to spend so many hours of your day somewhere it’s a good place to work.
CF And the people are pleasant?
SC The people are pleasant. You know I worked for every single one of the Radiation Center directors and the nuclear engineering department heads, with the exception of Dr. Wang because like I said I came in as he was going away but I worked for all the rest of them.
CF Who stands out in your mind.
SC Art Johnson especially. Art Johnson is known for attention to detail and then giving it some more attention, He ran a very straight forward operation. You knew what the rules were when Art was in charge and there was nothing gray there. He did a very good job of keeping things moving along. I guess the other Radiation Center director that stands out is the current director, Steve Reese. He’s just a marvelous person to work with, to work for. I think he’s doing a great job.
CF So there’s been a wonderful team over there all along.
SC Yes that’s right.
CF That’s really good. So you were lucky to be part of it; you have been lucky to have been a part of it.
SC You know, in a lot of circumstances you find that you have the faculty and then you have the staff and the lines aren’t quite so black and white. You feel like you’re part of the group and that your efforts and your contributions are important to the success of the team as a whole.
CF Because they are.
SC And so it’s a good thing. It’s a good feeling to feel like you’re part of doing something good.
CF And you must be looking forward to tomorrow, seeing all these people coming back, seeing whoever shows up. What else do you remember? Was there anything you wanted to put on the record or share? Just an important thought? Something that was important to you?
SC No just that it’s been a good place to work and being encouraged to advance. You know, as I told you, my job has kind of grown and grown and grown with different responsibilities and different tasks and my bosses have encouraged that growth in me and I never thought I would be to this level of taking care of everything like I do but my bosses have been instrumental in encouraging me to attain those types of responsibilities.
CF Wow. It sounds like you’ve had a really interesting career in there.
SC I have.
CF Never thought about job-hopping again?
SC Well, I have applied for a couple of jobs over the years – thinking well maybe I should do something else, maybe I should go here go there. For whatever reason those opportunities didn’t work out. I felt okay about each attempt and thought afterwards I’m just going to stay here. So I’m just a few years away from retirement now and I don’t think I’ll be looking anywhere else. (laughs) I think I’ve got a really good deal and a really great bunch of people to work with.
CF Well it sounds like you’ve watched the program grow over a really important period of time. I’m sure that there were a lot of fiscal responsibilities attached to the more the program grows the more your work load grows as well.
SC That’s true and processes to do the same task for example, paying a bill, have changed over the years and you just have to do so many different things that you didn’t have to do. Just the compliance issues and process issues that have changed over the years to where it takes you twice as long to do something that you used to do. Plus now you have so many more of them.
CF Yes and what you need to do is more rigorous.
SC That’s right. Sometimes. Even in this paperless electronic age, things got more complicated. (laughs)
CF What about students? Have the number of students coming through increased as well?
SC Yes, there’s a larger volume of students. Where I get to know the students the most is when I put them on the payroll. They have to come and talk to me and the undergrads of course have to come in on a monthly basis and leave their timesheets. The grad students have to come in and do their paperwork but you know, you got to keep track of them and you get to know them a little bit. Plus they have offices in the building so you have more opportunities to interact with them.
CF So has there been a difference over the years with, are there more women now? Your students or was it always kind of…
SC I have seen more women in the program the last few years. It was historically pretty male and pretty white.
SC Here’s a story for you. When I first started working there was a men’s and women’s bathroom in one corridor and then another corridor had two men’s bathrooms and the third corridor also had a men’s bathroom. There was only one women’s bathroom in the whole building. (laughs) But you know over the years between the staff and now we have women on the faculty and women students. They had to give up one of those bathrooms and let the women have a second one.
CF A little parody with the bathrooms. So who was the first woman faculty? Do you know? Do you remember?
SC I believe it was Mary Kulas, who ended up not staying with us for very long.
SC She got married in the meantime and her husband’s career actually took them elsewhere away from Corvallis and so shortly after that was when Kathy Higley was hired, who went up through the ranks of tenure, became full professor, and she’s now the acting head of nuclear engineering and radiation health physics.
CF So that must have changed things as more women came.
SC I think so.
CF So how do you think it changed things? In intangible ways?
SC Well the bathroom was a big one. (laughs) I’m not much of a high ideals type of person. I’m just down to earth and this is the way we’re doing things.
CF Good. So is there anything else you wanted to share or anything I didn’t ask you about that you think is important to get on the record?
SC Just that I feel it’s been a great opportunity in my life and I’m glad that I ended up there even though I had no idea what I was getting into when I accepted the job in 1984.
CF And if you had known?
SC Well I probably would’ve thought, “Yeah! You better do this.” (laughs)
CF Well in some ways it’s one of the more exciting departments on campus. It’s got an international reputation, there’s some high level physics going on there. So what do people say now when you say you work in the Radiation Center?
SC Oh, they still ask me if I turn green or glow at night.
CF (laughing) Green at night.
SC Or, “Aren’t you afraid?” You know, when we used to do recruitments for hiring the receptionists in the building and the clerical workers and there was actually a time when you’d call people and say I have a job opening and you’d tell them where you were calling from and they’d go, “I…just don’t think I want to work there.” And you would get a lot of turn downs even just for an interview but you don’t find that anymore.
CF So that’s changed.
SC I think so and that would go back to the whole public perception of things and there’s not a fear to be in the building.
CF Right. So you were never worried about anything? You always had complete trust in the safety standards and the way everything was kept.
SC Yes, yes. Absolutely.
CF And do people ask you about that sometimes?
SC Um, not recently.
CF Not recently. (laughs)
SC We continue to have a controlled access building and so some people make comical remarks about with statements like “yeah, we want to come see you but we have to check in and this and that”. It is what it is and it’s fine.
CF Okay. Well I really appreciate you being willing to talk with us. You sure there’s nothing else you want to say? You must be looking forward to the party tomorrow night.
SC I am, I am.
CF Well I think it’s been really interesting that you stayed at one place for so long. Right?