2003 Distinguished Lecture Series: David L. Olson

Transcending Degree Programs


David OlsonDave Olson, known as Ole by many of those who work with him, received a BS Phys. Met. (Wash. State Univ.) and a PhD Mat. Sci. (Cornell Univ.) in 1970. After a short tour of work at Texas Instruments and postdoctoral studies at the Ohio State University, Dr. Olson joined CSM in 1972 as an Assistant Professor in Met. Engr. In 1978 he was appointed Professor of Met. Engr. and in 1979 he was a Visiting Senior Scientist at the Norwegian Inst. of Tech., investigating hyperbaric welding for the North Sea. In 1981 he was appointed Head of the Center for Welding Research, where he worked with other faculty to build a world-class welding research program. From 1986 to 1989 he served as Vice President for Research Development and Dean of Research. In 1997 he was named the John H. Moore Distinguished Professor of Physical Metallurgy. Dr. Olson is a Professional Engineer (Colorado).

His research is in welding metallurgy, reactive metals, hydrogen behavior in alloys, and non-destructive electronic and magnetic determination of alloy microstructure, properties, phase stability and aging. He has authored and/or edited over 16 books, 400 technical papers and 135 archival reports and holds six patents. He has been recognized with over twenty international awards as well as the CSM Burlington Northern Foundation Faculty Achievement Award (1990), the AMOCO Foundation Teaching Award (1982), the Dean’s Excellence Award (1994), and the DOD TTCP Achievement Award (1999). Professor Olson is a Fellow of ASM and AWS, and a Foreign Member of the National Academy of Sciences of the Ukraine. He won the 2001 IIW Arata Medal and Prize and was elected to Theta Tau, Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi, Alpha Sigma Mu and Blue Key.

He has chaired the ASM Materials Handbook Committee, the ASM Joining Division Council, the AWS Research Committee and the Materials Advisory Group of the Committee on Marine Structures (NAE). Dr. Olson holds membership in ASM, AWS, APS, TMS, A Cer. S, MRS, NACE and ASNT. He has served as a DOD Focus Officer on an Intl. Project on hydrogen management in steel welding. He has served as US delegate to Intl. Ship Structure Congress, on the US-Indian Welding Research Program, on NSF US-Argentinean Study Group on cracking in nuclear fuel rods, and on a DOD team visiting Russian shock and welding research centers. Professor Olson is a University Affiliate at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Professor Olson has traveled extensively and has visited many geological and historical sites.


With a significant fraction of the faculty now coming to Mines from a non-mineral-based experience and preparation, the impact of this new culture is being felt. Realizing that change is the natural cycle of life and that these new faculty bring new possibilities, this lecture recognizes, first, what we should hope to preserve as we make changes and, second, the institutional changes that are required to achieve our continued uniqueness as an institution.

Unique perspective has always been a Mines strength, as we see from our history as a mineral industry educational institution. The exceptional ability to advance core science preparation and then offer radiating degrees has made CSM distinctive. We have offered interdisciplinary degrees that gave a sound preparation in a discipline subject and a significant preparation in a related applied subject – programs in mineral economics, petroleum refining, physical metallurgy, extractive metallurgy, geophysics, geochemistry, etc. We stood out from other institutions with these clearly defined degrees and students identified with this difference in preparation and found that industries sought their talent.

As time has passed and the Mines faculty has changed, each new faculty member has brought his or her own experiences and enriched the Mines culture. However, inevitably, the expectations drawn from other educational backgrounds have been laid across the Mines paradigm. In some cases, this shift in thought has obscured those practices and philosophies, which have made Mines unique and successful like the changes in degree descriptions, such as Petroleum Refining to Chemical Engineering and Extractive Metallurgy and Physical Metallurgy being identified as Metallurgical and Materials Engineering and on its way to becoming Materials Science. These changes were made with good intentions, especially with the idea that our institution may not be able to compete unless it presents its programs like those in other institutions. However, when we portray ourselves as a small institution that offers programs identical to large institutions, our programs appear common and comparatively expensive. This direction will most likely lead to our eventual incorporation into a large university.

For us to continue to maintain the important attribute of uniqueness and to attract future high-caliber students to CSM, we need to actively produce specific interdisciplinary degree programs and not generalize our identity. This lecture suggests a framework for such transcending degree programs and identifies the practices that hinder interdisciplinary degree programs. Further, it suggests solutions to promote unique, leading-edge transcending programs and to promote a climate where faculty members, as well as students, gain both intellectually and economically from being part of such programs. The proposed transcending degree program can lead the way to better serving the student body with innovative programming and with a faculty supported in their dedication to cutting-edge research.

There are many methods to create, operate and phase-in interdisciplinary programs in timely response to regional and national needs. This lecture will present some actions, which will move CSM in a better direction, ideas that can be further developed into a meaningful and “open-ended” roadmap for creating a unique and truly worthwhile educational experience. Some suggested initiatives may, at first glance, seem difficult – even threatening – to different segments of our present culture. Change is seldom initially comfortable, but the goal must be to look to the future and envision an institution and a culture that can respond energetically and positively to new possibilities

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