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slides: 30 Famous College Grads From Oregon

Friday, February 20, 2015


Matt Biondi, Lewis and Clark College grad and winner of 11 Olympic medals

Over the past century, Nobel Peace Prize winners, record-holding Olympic athletes, presidents of global corporations, and the voice behind Disney's Goofy have graduated from Oregon colleges and universities.  

The accomplishments of Oregon alumni shows the state’s colleges and universities can produce top-tier grads, despite being smaller and younger than some of the country’s top schools. 

Slides Below: 30 Famous College Grads From Oregon

Ivy League colleges such as Harvard and Yale have programs dating back to the 1700s, while all but two of Oregon’s schools were established after 1900. The student population at Oregon’s biggest colleges is roughly 20,000. Comparatively, enrollment at big state schools, such as Ohio State, is more than double that number. 

Adam Morris of West Coast Careers said the firm will generally look at the University of Oregon School of Business, Portland State University, and Oregon State University for potential hires in the sales and leadership field. However, he said bigger recruitment firms tend to focus on a few, larger schools. 

“The schools [in Oregon] aren't big enough on a national level,” Morris said. "There are really only a handful of national, usually ivy league, schools that are targeted for their talent." 

On Forbes list of American’s Top Colleges 2014, only one Oregon school made the top 50—Reed College, coming in at 46th. The next highest-ranking school placed 115th. Oregon Institute of Technology and Portland State University placed the lowest places out of Oregon schools, coming in 499th and 564th, respectively. 

However, some programs at Oregon colleges are well-received. Oregon State University’s forestry and agriculture programs rank among the top in the world. The graduate schools at the University of Oregon and Portland State University are also praised nationally.  Some disciplines at OHSU are at the top of medical school ranking lists. 

While some students may pick a college based on its ranking, Steve Clark, Vice President of University Relations at OSU, said it comes down to finding the best fit.  

“Some people may choose to go to an Ivy League [school] on the east coast, but not everyone can afford it,” Clark said.  

Clark said over the years, top Oregon high school graduates have been picking OSU as their college. 

Famous Alumni 

A list of prominent alumni can boost a school's reputation, and help build interest in the institution, according to Clark. 

“It gives instant credibility and a sense of context to how an educational degree from a university is meaningful,” Clark said. “Their advancement has brought pride and opportunity for others.”

Clark said OSU’s top national ranking for its schools of forestry and agriculture has helped bring advancement in civil engineering and computer science disciplines as well. 

However, a degree from a university does not always indicate the direction, or success of an individual. For example, Greg Behrendt studied business at the University of Oregon but went on to a career in stand-up comedy and wrote for the hit TV show, "Sex and the City." 

Robin Tovey, communications manager for Reed College, said critical thinking skills learned at college can help with success just as much as earning a specific degree.  

“My friend was a Chinese Major, but later became a computer programmer,” Tovey said. “I don’t think it matters what path you take. There’s an appreciation for the level of skills you develop, more than the name of the major on your degree.” 

Giving Back

When graduates do go on to make a name for themselves, they often carry their school pride with them. Tovey said talented graduates will return to the state of the alma mater and give back. 

Phil Knight, University of Oregon alumnus and CEO of Nike, has poured millions of dollars into the University of Oregon, as well as other foundations around the state. 

Luke Kanies, founder of Puppet Labs and a graduate of Reed College, moved his successful tech company to Oregon, bringing employment into the state as well. 

“It’s a point of pride—talent that comes from Oregon often returns to Oregon,” Tovey said. 

Clark said he has noticed alumni return to OSU to teach classes, proof that graduates and alumni are important to an institution. 

Yet producing famous graduates is not the end game, Clark said. 

“You want to challenge people to get better and challenge society to get better for people,” Clark said.


Related Slideshow: 30 Famous College Grads From Oregon

Who are some of the most famous people to graduate from Oregon schools? Here is a list of a few of the most interesting or surprising alumni you probably didn't know came from Oregon.

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Mike Richardson

Portland State University, Class of 1977

Founder of Dark Horse Comics, the third largest comic-book publisher in the U.S., and founder of Dark Horse Entertainment, which has produced over two dozen films and television projects.

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Signe Toly Anderson

Portland State University, 1960-1963

Lead female vocalist for the band Jefferson Airplane, jazz and folk singer, and member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.

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Katie Harman

Portland State University, Class of 2002

Crowned Miss America the same year she graduated from PSU.

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Carolyn Davidson

Portland State University, Class of 1971

Creator of the Nike Swoosh. 

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Jordan Senn

Portland State University, Class of 2007

Two time Academic All-American for the PSU football team, who signed on as a free agent with the Indianapolis Colts, and also played for the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bears.

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Barry Hansen

Reed College, Class of 1963

Nationally renowned radio show host Dr. Demento, with weekly show of "mad music and crazy comedy." 

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Barbara Ehrenreich

Reed College, Class of 1963

Award winning essayist, political activist and author of New York Times Best Seller, "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America." 

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Earl Blumenauer

Lewis and Clark College, Class of 1970 and 1976

U.S. Representative for Oregon’s 3rd district since 1996 and a leading proponent of livable communities.

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Matt Wuerker

Lewis and Clark College, Class of 1979

Winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for editorial cartooning, as well as a finalist for the award in 2009 and 2010, and one of the founding staff members of Politico.

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Heidi Hitkamp

Lewis and Clark College, Class of 1980

Hitkamp was the first woman ever elected to represent North Dakota in either the U.S. Senate or House. She has been a Senator since 2013.

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Matt Biondi

Lewis and Clark College, Class of 2000

Winner of 11 Olympic medals in swimming and one of the most decorated American Olympians of all time.

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Greg Behrendt

University of Oregon, Class of 1991

After starting out to study business, Behrendt went on to become a script consultant for Sex and the City, as well as a standup comedian and author.

Photo Credit: Facebook: Greg Behrendt 

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Walter Brattain

University of Oregon, Class of 1926

Inventor of the transistor, “the most important invention of the 20th Century,” and co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1956.

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Neil Everett

University of Oregon, Class of 1984

ESPN Sports Center anchor

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James Ivory

University of Oregon, Class of 1951

Director of several films, including Academy Award winners A Room with a View and Howard’s End, and founder of Merchant Ivory Productions.

Photo via IMDB.com

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Renee James

University of Oregon, Class of 1986

President of Intel, after a promotion to the two-person executive team in 2013 and ranked 37th on Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.

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Linus Pauling

Oregon State University, Class of 1922

The only person ever to win two unshared Nobel Prizes, Pauling was the leader of his time in chemistry. One of his Nobel Prizes was for peace, after his efforts to end atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.  

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Mercedes Bates

AKA Betty Crocker

Oregon State University, Class of 1936

Head of Betty Crocker Kitchens at General Mills, and the first female corporate officer for the company, Bates also developed the Betty Crocker character, turning it into a national icon.

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Julie Bentz

Oregon State University, Class of 1986

The first female officer in the Oregon Army National Guard to reach the rank of general. Bentz is now a member of President Obama’s National Security Staff.  

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George Bruns

Oregon State University, Class of 1936

Music Director for Walt Disney Productions for over 25 years, wrote the “Ballad of Davy Crockett,” and music for “Tony the Tiger” and “Pillsbury Doughboy” ad campaigns. Burns directed the music for “Sleeping Beauty,” “Robin Hood,” and the Mickey Mouse Club TV show.

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Vance DeBar 'Pinto' Colvig

Oregon State University, Class of 1911

Mostly known as the voice for Disney’s cartoon “Goofy” for over 20 years, Colvig also voiced "Sleepy" and "Grumpy" in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Colvig also wrote the song "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf," performed all the sound effects for Jack Benny’s 1930s radio show, and was Capital Record’s first Bozo the Clown in the 1940s.

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Timothy Leatherman

Oregon State University, Class of 1970

Inventor of the Leatherman multi-tool.

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Dick Fosbury

Oregon State University, Class of 1972

Revolutionized the high-jumping sport by jumping over the bar backward--coined the “Fosbury Flop.” He won a gold medal in the event at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968.

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Alan Hart

OHSU, Class of 1917

Born as Alberta Lucille Hart, Hart became one of the first female-to-male transexuals in the United States, after graduating from the School of Medicine. He also was a pioneer for using radiology to detect tuberculosis.  

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R. Bradley Sack

OHSU, Class of 1960

Internationally recognized for his work with oral rehydration therapy (ORT) which became the worldwide standard for treatment of dehydration and diarrhea.

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Oscar Frederick “Doc” Willing


After receiving a degree in dentistry from OHSU, Willing went on to become one of the top American amateur golfers of the 20th Century, and is one of 15 indvudals undefeated in U.S. Foursomes and Singles Matches in the Walker cup.

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Harry Glickman

University of Oregon, Class of 1948

Founder and president emeritus of the Portland Trail Blazers. 

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Norma Paulus

Willamette University, Class of 1962

Former Oregon Secretary of State, Paulus was the first woman to hold a statewide elected office in Oregon.

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Patrick Carman

Willamette University, Class of 1988

New York Times best-selling author for his children's fantasy series The Land of Elyon, Atherton, and Elliot's Park. 

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Shelley Beattie

Southern Oregon University, 1988

Professional bodybuilder who won third place in Ms. International and Ms. Olympia, a member of the first all-female America’s Cup Team, and an actress on the TV show “American Gladiator.”  


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