Pieces of History

You probably know the basic outline of the story: Started to educate veterans returning from World War II in 1946, the school that would eventually become Portland State was swept away by the 1948 Vanport Flood. From the waterlogged wreckage, it stubbornly rose again, got a toehold in the Park Blocks, and over the decades grew to be the most diverse and accessible university in Oregon. Instead of retelling that well-known tale, to celebrate Portland State’s 75th anniversary we sought out the small stories. Each of these 21 objects and artifacts—some little-known, some unexpected—adds a different perspective on the people who lived Portland State’s history and made it what it is today. We hope you learn something new about your alma mater.

The Objects: 1. The Rock and the Rising Waters | 2. Ancient Treasures | 3. A Kind Gift | 4. The Spirit of the Student Body | 5. Clay and Community | 6. The Flood in Vivid Color | 7. A Growing Campus | 8. Whiz Kids | 9. Grit and Guts | 10. Taking to the Sky | 11. The Nude in the Park Blocks | 12. The Million Dollar Tree | 13. Making History | 14. A New Motto | 15. Thinking Very, Very Small | 16. The Clock at PSU’s Front Door | 17. Marking Traditions | 18. The Home at the Heart of Campus | 19. Defying Gravity | 20. World’s Tallest Barometer | 21. The Story of PSU

Mossy Vanport Rock
Photo by So-Min Kang

1. The Rock and the Rising Waters

It’s easy to miss the Vanport Rock as you pass in and out of Lincoln Hall, but this mossy memorial has a story to tell. Named after PSU’s first iteration, the Vanport Extension Center, the rock was dedicated in honor of the college’s second anniversary and buried nine days later by the devastating Vanport flood. Dug out of the mud and debris, then moved to the college’s second home—the former Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation Building—the rock was picked up and moved again when campus relocated to downtown Portland in 1952, finally finding a permanent place outside of Lincoln Hall (then known as “Old Main”). The Vanport Rock is one of only a few items that survived the 1948 flood, including three library books rescued by the college founder and director, Stephen Epler; a few microscopes; football gear recovered by athletics director Joe Holland; and a Vanport administration guestbook. —JENNIFER LADWIG

Lamps from the Middle East Studies Collection
Photos courtesy of the Middle East Studies Center

2. Ancient Treasures

The Roman lamp shaped like a man’s head seen here (left), is from the first century B.C. and is one of the first ever made in human form. It’s part of a collection of nearly 200 ancient oil lamps and burial urns made from 5,000 B.C. to the first several centuries of the current era. The collection includes lamps both simple and fanciful, including one (bottom right) decorated with a frog, symbolizing fertility and spring, and another (top right) shaped like a fish, a secret symbol for early Christianity. All were donated to Portland State’s Middle East Studies Center in 1962 by Robert Bogue, a friend of Frederick Cox, the center’s founder. Bogue, formerly adviser to the World Health Organization, collected ancient artifacts across the Middle East and Mediterranean. Founded in 1959, Portland’s Middle East Studies Center built one of the best Arabic collections in the western United States and the lamp collection is unlike any other in the nation. A few of the artifacts are on campus, nine are on display at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, and the rest are stored at the Portland Museum of Art. —JENNIFER LADWIG

Pearl S. Buck books
Photo by So-Min Kang

3. A Kind Gift

Vanport Extension Center librarian Jean Black was giving a presentation at the American Library Association conference in Atlantic City when the infamous 1948 flood ripped through Vanport. A telegram reassured her that her family and other residents were safe, but brought the hard news that the college’s library was destroyed. The story traveled around the conference, finally reaching Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck, another speaker at the event. Buck found Black and started a conversation with her, which ended with Buck donating a selection of her published work to help rebuild the library’s collection. After decades on the shelves for students to read and enjoy, Buck’s signed copies now live in the Library Special Collections. —JENNIFER LADWIG

The first issue of the Vet's Extended student newspaper.
Photo by So-Min Kang

4. The Spirit of the Student Body

The first issue of Portland State’s newspaper was prepared in a student’s apartment—not unlike what’s happening 75 years later during the COVID-19 pandemic, as student journalists continue to report on the news from their homes.

Don Carlo, an Army veteran who lost his sight in combat, prepared the first issue of what was then called Vet’s Extended in his apartment on Cottonwood Avenue. It was published on Nov. 15, 1946, with a welcome letter from Vanport Extension Center founder Stephen Epler. The first editorial was titled “The Spirit of a Student Body,” and declared: “We, as students, are helping to start a new idea for colleges.…We have within us the insatiable search for knowledge that was born while waiting for the end of the war. Many of us waited years so that we might have an opportunity to attend such a school.”

The paper was soon renamed the Vanguard at the suggestion of faculty adviser and English professor Vaughn Albertson. The first issue of the paper under that name appeared on Jan. 14, 1947. It would be another seven years before photographs graced the pages. The weekly newspaper was given free rein by the administration, but was not without its controversies. In 1967, the paper went on strike over the Dean of Student Life’s handling of its finances. The strike was settled, but within a month the paper’s choice of photos in back-to-back issues caused an uproar. First, a photo of beat poet Allen Ginsberg nude from the groin up appeared before his campus visit. Next, a publicity photo for the musical Archy and Mehitabel showed a rear view of a woman in tights bending over a garbage can with the caption, “Touching Bottom.”

President Branford Millar—hard at work to gain university status for Portland State and sensitive to public perception—felt the editors were out of hand. He suspended publication until further notice, a decision that drew both support and criticism from the campus community. A radical faculty group, the Society for New Action Politics, offered its office and equipment, and philosophy professor Donald Moor organized support from 80 faculty members for an Independent Vanguard. It published two editions before Millar reinstated the official Vanguard with a mutual agreement for organizational changes and publication standards.

Today, the student-run paper publishes a weekly print edition and daily stories online. It’s been the recipient of many awards over the years, including 22 in the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association’s 2020 Collegiate Newspaper Contest. —CRISTINA ROJAS

Ray Grimm with collection of his ceramic work
Photo courtesy of the Grimm Family Collection

5. Clay and Community

For decades, Jere Grimm stared at a photo of her late husband Ray Grimm, fresh from graduate school, holding a pipe and posing with a few of his latest ceramic pieces, and she wondered where a lidded jar that holds so many memories ended up.

The jar traveled with the Grimms from Illinois to Portland in 1956 when Ray was hired to help set up a new ceramics department for Portland State College, which had just become a four-year school. Jere said the jar is certainly reflective of the pottery of its time, but “Ray didn’t do a lot of things like everybody else,” she added. “So it’s a rather unique shape and it’s quite original. He was doing a lot of experimentation with glaze development during his graduate year.”

During Ray’s first year at PSC, he hosted a ceramic show featuring the jar. It was purchased by friends, but for years Jere couldn’t recall who. Recently, she was talking with PSU’s School of Art + Design about a donation from Ray’s collection and mentioned the jar. To her surprise, it had been donated back by the estate of of former dean of students, Charles W. Bursch, and his wife, Julia, and was on display in the dean’s office. “After all those years,” Jere said. “This story tells me about the closeness of those people building the University. It’s such a tight-knit community.”

   When Fariborz Maseeh Hall opened in 2019 after renovations, Jere visited the campus to see a display featuring nine of Ray’s pieces—with the jar now featured. The display case resides about 5 feet from the original entrance to the ceramics department her husband loved so dearly and dedicated 30 years of his career to. The department may have closed in 2000, but Jere said the memories live on—even if the building looks nothing like its former self. “I almost expected to still see the clay footprints coming in the hall from the ceramics department,” Jere said. “It’s perfect.” —KATY SWORDFISK

Detail from Vanport mural
Photo by So-Min Kang

6. The Flood in Vivid Color

Tucked into the south stairwell in Smith Memorial Student Union, a vibrant, 14-foot mural by Isaka Shamsud-Din ’99 MFA ’01 tells the story of the Vanport flood. As a boy, Shamsud-Din and his family fled a racist mob in Texas, landing in Vanport, Oregon, where his father worked at the Kaiser shipyards. (A temporary city built to accommodate the influx of World War II workers, Vanport was the only place in the area, other than Portland’s Albina District, where Black people were allowed to live.)

Less than a year later, on May 30, 1948, the flood hit. The waters overwhelmed the barriers, killing 15 people and washing away the homes of 18,500—including some 6,000 Black residents. Seven-year-old Shamsud-Din and his family were among those displaced. The Vanport Mural puts the viewer in the center of the turmoil he and his family experienced that day. Adults and children flee on foot as rising waters fill the frame. Pain, chaos and bewilderment are expressed through his distinctive style and vivid color.

Shamsud-Din painted the mural as an art student in 1965 after winning a contest held by Portland State’s Art Department. He left his studies to become an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a civil rights group, in Arkansas. Returning decades later in his 50s, he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and later served as the James DePreist Visiting Professor of Art. In 2019, Portland declared June 19 Isaka Shamsud-Din Day, in honor of his art and social justice leadership. For more than half a century, the Vanport Mural has quietly stood both as a window into the life of this important artist and activist, who spent his career working to document and illustrate the African American experience, and as a powerful connection to a core event in PSU’s history—the Vanport flood. —KAREN O’DONNELL STEIN

Administrators look at models of potential campus growth
Photo from the University Archives

7. A Growing Campus

During the 1960s, Portland State College grew quickly, and with that growth came the need for more buildings and parking. Today, we can still find some of the project models from this time, including those of the Business Administration building and State Hall (now Cramer Hall) stashed in archivist Bryce Henry’s office. The University kept models and ephemeral items not because they serve a practical purpose anymore, but because they show interesting visual and historical looks at campus.

In this archival photo, a reporter (left), Business Manager William T.  Lemman, Jr. (center) and President Branford Price Millar (right) examine an early scale model of planned growth during the 1962 homecoming. This particular model is from the 1961 Skidmore Owings and Merrill study, which demonstrated the campus could accommodate 20,000 students. Aerial photos of campus from that year show the mere six main buildings that were the campus at the time. —JENNIFER LADWIG

Jim Westwood holding the College Bowl trophy
Photo by So-Min Kang

8. Whiz Kids

Jim Westwood ’67 was barely 20 when he and his teammates, Robin Freeman ’66, Larry Smith and Michael Smith smashed expectations for the little-known Portland State College with a record-breaking run on a nationally televised quiz show. Led by the legendary Professor Ben Padrow, the team won five contests in a row in the “intercollegiate battle of brains”—the General Electric College Bowl. 

Before that first trip to New York City in 1965, Westwood had never flown on a jet plane. Soon he and the team were flying back and forth weekly to compete. The first time they returned victorious to Portland, a small group came out to congratulate them. By the last time, they were met by a crowd. “It could have gone to my head,” Westwood jokes. “It did.” 

When the final buzzer sounded, they’d racked up $13,200 in scholarship money (roughly $88,000 in today’s dollars) and clinched the College Bowl trophy. But they’d achieved something else, too—they’d put Portland State on the map. After their victory splashed across national media, the state legislature invited the team to Salem, and Westwood addressed the Senate and House. “The idea was to show Portland State had arrived in the big leagues and that the legislature could send more money our way,” he says. Applications skyrocketed and three years later the college gained university status. 

Unknown to most, team member Michael Smith was battling cystic fibrosis even as he competed each week. After his death in 1968, Smith Memorial Student Union was named in his honor. It’s a rare example of an American university building named not for a benefactor or official, but for a student. That’s where the team trophy etched with all their names is usually on display. Westwood, now a retired attorney, asked to pose with it outside the building in Smith’s memory. The last surviving member of the team, he wore the letterman’s jacket he received after their victory and held that trophy in his hands for the first time since 1965. —SCHOLLE McFARLAND

Mountaineering axe and 1969 yearbook
Photo by So-Min Kang

9. Grit and Guts

This mountaineering ice axe from the mid- to late-1960s is a relic of the Portland State Outdoor Program’s earliest inventory. How it survived this long without getting lost, stolen or broken is a mystery. The axe was connected to the Outdoor Program by the number 11 imprinted on the handle, which is in series with the numbering on ice axes pictured in this photo from the 1969 Viking yearbook. The photo was likely taken on the south side of Mount Hood during a program trip. Printed above it is a poem that includes the lines: Somewhere amid bruises / and sore muscles and minor traumas, / you find strength. / On the outside, it’s know-how. / On the inside, it’s guts.

Established in 1966 and celebrating its 55th anniversary this year, the Outdoor Program was the first of its kind and has served as a model for university programs across the nation. Today, it’s housed within Campus Recreation and offers guided trips, workshops and rental gear, as well as an indoor Climbing Center. You can even rent an ice axe, albeit a newer version, for your next adventure. —BRITTANY GOLTRY

Campus skybridge under construction
Photo from the University Archives

10. Taking to the Sky

In 1966, the architectural firm Campbell, Michael and Yost came in with a “daring” approach to expanding Portland State that featured twice as many buildings and numerous skybridges, modeled after the University of Illinois at Chicago. That was too much for the Portland Development Commission, says Ellen Shoshkes, urban studies and planning adjunct faculty. “They balked at the skybridges.” Over the course of several years, though, plans for Portland State’s expansion continued to shift and refine, ultimately resulting in a skybridge network connecting seven buildings that contained nearly half of the University’s classrooms, as well as offices, storage and two parking structures. The first skybridge opened in 1970. Installing a skybridge network signaled a new focus on pedestrian access and safety—at the time, even the Park Blocks were not yet closed to cars—and a marked shift away from vehicle-focused design. —KATY SWORDFISK

Farewell to Orpheus statue
Photo by So-Min Kang

11. The Nude in the Park Blocks

While strolling the Park Blocks, it’s hard to miss the sculpture of a semi-reclining nude in the angular reflecting pool across from Cramer Hall. “Farewell to Orpheus,” by the late Professor Frederic Littman, was installed in 1973 as part of urban renewal efforts that transformed the South Park Blocks into a pedestrian-only zone. Dedicated in 1975, the cast-bronze sculpture captures the moment when Eurydice—wife of Orpheus, the mythical Greek prophet—is forced to return to the underworld. Eurydice’s fate is the unfortunate result of Orpheus’ love; after she dies of a snakebite, he persuades Hades, the god of the underworld, to release her. Hades’ only condition is that Orpheus avert his eyes from her until they reach the land of the living. When Orpheus steals a glance, she is ripped away forever.

Frederic Littman was one of Oregon’s most influential artists. Born in Hungary in 1907, he enrolled at prestigious fine arts schools in Budapest and Paris, but like many Jewish artists, was forced to flee Nazi persecution as World War II began. He landed in New York in 1940 and joined Portland State in 1960, where he taught for 13 years. His students included many of Oregon’s sculpture luminaries—James Lee Hansen, Manuel Izquierdo, Charles Kelly, Lee Kelly and Donald Wilson—creating a lasting cultural legacy. His works adorn spaces throughout Portland, including Council Crest Park, the Portland Art Museum and Temple Beth Israel.

At the statue’s dedication, Littman thanked the city for the newly installed reflecting pool and benches “that we may on some nice summer afternoon, sit here and contemplate the changing patterns of light and shadows as the sun moves slowly around the sculpture and brings it to life.” —KAREN O’DONNELL STEIN

Copper beech tree in front of the library
Photo by Brent J. Schauer

12. The Million Dollar Tree

If trees could talk, the impressive 130-plus-year-old copper beech in front of Millar Library would tell of the growth of Portland State, students studying beneath its shade and the bustling farmers market on Saturday mornings. The tree itself dates back to the 1890s, when the Watson family planted it in front of their newly constructed home on the corner of Hall and Park. Joseph Franklin Watson, a Massachusetts merchant, arrived in Portland in 1871 and quickly established himself as an influential figure in the city’s growth and progress. Is it any coincidence that Watson had a taste for literature, or that the word origins for “book” and “beech” may be related? We don’t think so.

The future PSU found a permanent home in the Park Blocks in 1952 when it moved into the former Lincoln High School, and the campus expanded rapidly after becoming a four-year college in 1955. By 1965, Portland State acquired three private residences across the Park Blocks, including the former Watson house. Though the house was demolished to build the campus library, the tree remained and the grassy area in front of the library became a feature of student life.

An oft-told tale says that in the 1980s, students chained themselves to the tree to save it from the wrecking ball, altering the library’s expansion to wrap around its branches—and in the process, earning the copper beech the nickname “The Million Dollar Tree.” But our research suggests events a little less dramatic. As far back as February 1969, a tree company noted that “the copper beech tree is one of the more unusual trees in Oregon.… In our estimation, the tree is worth saving and provided the roots aren’t damaged excessively during the excavation for the new library, will be an asset to the University.”

In 1986, as plans for a library remodel took shape, architects, administrators and the library planning committee agreed that the tree should be preserved and that the building should be designed to protect it. Meeting minutes from April 10, 1986, read, “It is felt that the tree is a major element of how campus is identified.” The resulting design bent around the tree, creating both a focal point and entry courtyard. According to Tom Pfingsten, director emeritus of the library,  the architects “enjoyed the challenge,” eventually landing on “the impressive, curved glass wall with brick anchors at each end, which the architects called the ‘bookends.’”

Though the “Million Dollar Tree” tale may be tall, “it gives me a smile that people use it as a story that connects the love of the students for a place with their ability to make a difference,” says Carolee Harrison with the University Archives. “It’s wrong for that tree, but not wrong for PSU student protests in general.”

"The College That Wouldn't Die" book with original papers
Photo by So-Min Kang

13. Making History

Portland State’s story is one of perseverance—founded in 1946 as the Vanport Extension Center for the surge of World War II veterans returning to Portland, resurrected from the devastating 1948 Vanport flood, designated a four-year college in 1955 and given university standing in 1969 after years of political struggle. The aptly named book “The College That Would Not Die” by the late Gordon B. Dodds, former chair of the History Department, chronicles the school’s first 50 years, taking its title from the Vanguard student newspaper, which after the flood, included the line “The College That Wouldn’t Die” under its name, inspired by a national story in the Christian Science Monitor about Vanport’s post-flood success. “One of the major themes of the university has always been a sort of eye-of-the-storm institution, beleaguered and making its way against tremendous difficulties,” Dodds told PSU Magazine in 1988, after he was charged with preparing a history of PSU in time for its 50th anniversary in 1996. He drew on oral interviews with faculty and administrators, the University Archives’ hundreds of boxes of materials, minutes of faculty senate and state board meetings, and articles from the Vanguard, The Oregonian and Oregon Journal to compile the history. He dedicated the book to Stephen Epler, “founder and savior of the university.” Find copies in the University library as well as in limited quantities through Powell’s Books and Amazon. —CRISTINA ROJAS

Presidential medallion
Photo courtesy of the President's Office

14. A New Motto

Portland State’s motto “Let Knowledge Serve the City” was adopted in 1990 when Judith Ramaley, sixth president of Portland State and first woman to serve as a president in the Oregon state system, created the phrase to sum up her vision for the University’s future. 

“Across the country there is a kind of institution emerging in the major metropolitan areas,” Ramaley told PSU Magazine in the Summer 1990 issue. “This kind of institution draws its strength and its inspiration from the urban area, and first and foremost responds to the needs of the urban area.” 

Professors Rod Diman and John Cooper translated the motto into Latin (“Doctrina Urbi Serviat”) and Professor Robert Kasal fashioned it into a new seal, incorporating a classic rose window in reference to “Portland, the City of Roses.” The old seal had mirrored the State of Oregon’s. “Somehow it didn’t seem to me that a picture of a Conestoga wagon and team, or a sailing vessel, represented us very well,” Ramaley explains today. Neither did the old seal’s reference to 1955 as the institution’s beginning. Though that was when Portland State officially became a college, it had actually been established in 1946 as the Vanport Extension Center—a fact Portland State now embraced with pride. 

The new seal was etched onto Ramaley’s presidential medallion for her inauguration that fall in 1990. “Given our financial condition at the time, the medallion was made of steel,” she says. A few years later, it was replaced with the fancier golden version seen here. Though the original medallion Ramaley wore has been lost, the message that first appeared on it shapes Portland State to this day. —SCHOLLE McFARLAND

Electron microscope in the lab
Photo by So-Min Kang

15. Thinking Very, Very Small

When Professor Jun Jiao decided to purchase a transmission electron microscope for Portland State in the early 2000s, she encountered more barriers than just the hefty $1.5 million price tag. Ultimately, it took more than a dozen letters from companies based in Portland’s Silicon Forest to prove Jiao’s efforts had the backing of the local science community. In 2001, PSU became the first university in the Pacific Northwest to secure such state-of-the-art nanotechnology.

After adding a scanning electron microscope in 2003, Jiao and a group of PSU researchers celebrated the opening of the $3 million Center for Electron Microscopy and Nanofabrication. Housed in Science Building 1, the facility serves students, faculty, the public, other universities and local semiconductor companies that can’t afford their own electron microscope, providing more than 5,000 user hours annually to Portland’s microscopy community.

Jiao and the center’s new manager, Greg Baty, recently purchased a dual electron beam plasma focused ion beam microscope. Once again, it is the only of its kind at an Oregon university and puts PSU at the forefront of the microscopy community. —KATY SWORDFISK


The Urban Plaza with clock tower
Photo by NASHCO

16. The Clock at PSU’s Front Door

Above the clang of passing streetcars and chatter of students drinking coffee atop the Urban Center Plaza’s fountain parapets stands the Debbie Murdock Memorial Clock Tower. Named for a lobbyist, adviser and mentor who advocated tirelessly for Portland State for 14 years, the clock was added in 2008—seven years after the Urban Plaza was created by closing off Southwest Montgomery Street to traffic between Fifth and Sixth avenues. Murdock was a true public servant, known for encouraging students along their academic and professional paths. In 1993, she joined Portland State as a special assistant for government relations to President Judith Ramaley. Murdock’s intellect, passion and powers of persuasion led to tens of millions of dollars in funding—making possible, among other accomplishments, the plaza itself. While she was known as an outspoken crusader for Portland State, Murdock famously eschewed the spotlight. Placement of the majestic clock tower right at PSU’s front door assured that her presence would always be felt, and her years of service would never be forgotten. Murdock died of cancer at the age of 52 in 2007. —ERIN SUTHERLAND

The top of the Salmon Cycle Marker
Photo by So-Min Kang

17. Marking Traditions

Standing 50 feet tall and overlooking the Native American Student and Community Center, the Salmon Cycle Marker rests at the intersection of Southwest Broadway and Jackson streets. Made by Ken MacKintosh and Lillian Pitt and installed in 2005, the sculpture was designed to symbolize the cultural traditions of PSU’s Native American, Alaskan Native and Pacific Islander students while also pointing toward the future.

The wood and metal marker depicts the salmon cycle from birth to spawning and features the likeness of She Who Watches, also known as Tsagaglalal, a mythical figure found in a  petroglyph in the Columbia Gorge. Pitt speculates the log, found floating in water on Mount St. Helens, had been there since the 1980 eruption.

“We thought that by using it we would not be destroying any living thing,” Pitt said in her recounting of the project, “and at the same time, we would be honoring all of the creatures and plant life that once lived on that mountain.” —KATY SWORDFISK 


The Simon Benson house
Photo by So-Min Kang

18. The Home at the Heart of Campus

The Simon Benson House, built in 1900, fits so well into the Portland State campus, it looks as though the University was built around it. In truth, however, it has only sat on the Park Blocks since 2000. Built by lumberman and philanthropist Simon Benson (of Benson Bubbler fame), the graceful Queen Anne-style house originally stood at Southwest Clay and 11th Street, but fell into disrepair and was condemned in 1991.

Since the house was on the National Registry of Historic Places, it could not be torn down. Under the leadership of the late City Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury MPA ’08, the Friends of the Simon Benson House was formed. Critically, Kafoury forged a partnership with PSU’s Alumni Association. With the financial support of more than 1,000 businesses and individuals, a total of $1.6 million was raised from donations both large and small. (The house’s patio bears the names of donors who gave $100 to have their names engraved on a brick.) The Alumni Association contributed $285,000. People lined the Park Blocks on Jan. 16, 2000, to watch workers slowly transport the house by truck to the plot of land donated by the University at the corner of Southwest Park and Montgomery.

Simon Benson house on the truck
Photo courtesy of the Alumni Association

Led by the Alumni Association’s long-time executive director, Pat Squire, who finagled, fund-raised and served as the official project manager, the painstaking restoration of the building was completed—including tracking down the original 13 leaded glass windows, some of which had been stolen. The Alumni Association scheduled a dedication ceremony for Sept. 10, 2001, but bumped it to Sept. 11 to avoid the opening of Trimet’s new MAX Red Line to the Airport. “Sadly, we know what events occurred on that day,” says Mary Coniglio, current executive director of the Alumni Association, of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. “While we did not have the fanfare we had planned and hoped for, people still came to the house that day to find comfort and solace in one another and in community.”

Since its move to campus, the house has been the site of many photoshoots, tours and parties. One that stands out for Coniglio is the ceremony for Joseph LaBaron ’69, who in 2008 was sworn in as U.S. ambassador to Qatar on the patio. It was the first swearing-in of a U.S. ambassador outside the District of Columbia. Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz ’72 HD ’16 officiated. Most importantly, Coniglio said, the Simon Benson House is now “home for the University’s greatest assets—its alumni—and a visible presence to students to encourage their life-long relationship with PSU.” —JENNIFER LADWIG

The Dryden Drop Tower
Photo by Andrew Wollman MS ’12 PhD ’16

19. Defying Gravity

In the center atrium of Portland State’s Engineering Building sits the Dryden Drop Tower, a six-story marvel that defies gravity—literally. Objects dropped from it experience a 100-foot fall and 2.1 seconds of weightlessness, allowing students and researchers to test how materials and prototypes would behave in space.

While the atrium of the Engineering Building was originally designed with room for the tower, actual construction was only a pipe dream. The drop tower didn’t become a reality until 2010, when donors gave money in honor of Robert Dryden, who served as dean of the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science for 13 years until 2008.

“It’s the first of its kind,” says Mark Weislogel, mechanical engineering faculty, who previously worked at NASA. “It’s a high-rate drop tower that’s extremely safe, that’s in an open-air environment and which has a very low cost to operate.”

The low-cost design makes doing experiments more accessible. “Students come out of here with hundreds and hundreds of ‘drops,’ more than most NASA folks,” says Weislogel. As a result, they develop a feel for how things behave in low gravity. PSU drop tower alumni use this intuition as aerospace engineers at companies like Blue Origin, and their drop tower experiments have sparked publications in scientific journals, multiple patents and even a start-up company.

Weislogel and his lab use the drop tower to test 3D-printed prototypes for fluid systems to be used in spacecraft. Successful ideas are tested on the International Space Station (ISS), with the lab running experiments with astronauts via the NASA-PSU telescience center—a remote control room for communicating with the ISS. One notable discovery: the Space Cup, which astronauts on the ISS now sip from to enjoy their morning brew. —SUMMER ALLEN

The Bennett Barometer
Photo by So-Min Kang

20. World’s Tallest Barometer

In 2013, Portland State took its commitment to recycling to new heights by transforming recycled drainpipes into the world’s tallest barometer. Barometers measure atmospheric pressure. The taller they are, the easier it is to measure small differences in pressure. PSU’s is a whopping 47 feet tall, earning it a place in fluids textbooks. Besides its height, the PSU barometer is unique because it uses vacuum pump oil rather than mercury or water as its barometric fluid. A good barometric fluid must have very low vapor pressure. The oil used in PSU’s barometer has a vapor pressure four orders of magnitude less than mercury.

Development engineer Tom Bennett, who conceived and led the project to install the barometer in the Engineering Building, got the idea after plumbers salvaged a trove of old glass drainpipes removed during the remodel of Science Building 2. Seventeen students, faculty and staff helped design and install the barometer. Now civil engineering students have the special opportunity to use the barometer in their fluids lab course.

When students are allowed back on campus, Bennett has another project for them: replacing the 40-year-old glass pipe fittings with new coupling to reduce air infiltration. This means rebuilding the barometer, all 47 feet of it. A tall order, indeed. —SUMMER ALLEN

Collage of Portland State Magazine covers
Portland State Magazine

21. The Story of PSU

For 34 years, Portland State Magazine has strived to promote a greater sense of connection between the University and the community it encompasses—newly minted alumni and those who graduated decades ago; faculty and staff; supporters and friends.

Editor Cynthia D. Stowell oversaw the metamorphosis of Portland State’s original alumni newsletter (published 1969-1986), into magazine format, editing the first three issues. “Bright and bold, PSU Magazine is the expression of a university in its prime, confident of its future,” she wrote in the premiere issue. Its pages included articles about an outdoor aerobics show on local cable TV that promised the “nicest buns in Portland”; the quest for funding to expand the library; and research into the safety of storing nuclear waste at Washington’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The magazine’s next editor, Kathryn Kirkland, would steer its direction for 32 years as first the cover gained color (1990) and eventually all of its pages did (2000). “When I first started, the magazine’s circulation was around 35,000, and when I left it was 138,000,” Kirkland says. “I witnessed, and the magazine covered, momentous changes both academic and physical: the birth of University Studies, which revolutionized undergraduate education at PSU, and the construction and major remodel of at least 17 buildings.”

The magazine’s back issues provide a fascinating window into the University’s transformation and the lives of its students, alumni, faculty and staff. Just in time for PSU’s 75th anniversary, the complete archives are now searchable online. Take a look at pdx.edu/magazine/archive. —SCHOLLE McFARLAND


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