KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. — When World War II ended, troops coming home were starting families, and building homes and careers. To help those vets get a head start, a surplus military installation in Klamath Falls became a unique training ground for future engineers and medical professionals.
Snow still covers much of the campus at Oregon Institute of Technology, on a hill overlooking Klamath Lake and Klamath Falls. The school is known nationally as one of the best for producing students who are ready to hit the ground running when they graduate in their chosen field.
“Our grads have, have some of the highest starting salaries of grads from Oregon schools, and I think a lot of that goes back to the fact that, they have an education that is very marketable. It’s in demand. The students have a very good reputation. They’re known as folks that, when they’re hired, they walk in the door and they can start work right away. they don’t need a lot of training,” said Anne Hiller Clark.
Anne Hiller Clark is the librarian and archivist for a unique branch of the OIT library, the Shaw Historical Library. Looking back over uncatalogued of classes, she points to the first put out by the school when it was new in 1947, but then it was known as the Oregon Vocational School. It was established in a former Marine Corps facility in the hills above Klamath Falls that was no longer needed by the military, and had been given to the state of Oregon.
“That facility had not just barracks,” Clark explained. “It was a recuperation facility, so it had laboratories and barracks; and a gymnasium and a pool; and a full physical plant and cafeteria; and pretty much everything you needed for a self-contained educational complex.”
Under the leadership of Dr. Winston Purvine, the campus grew quickly and the second year the name was changed to Oregon Technical Institute, OTI.
“They would would get a very hands-on, very applied education,” said Clark. “The instructors were people who had experience in industry as well as education. And then the students would be able to rapidly go out and begin a career, right off the bat.”
George Marostica was one of those. He spent four years at OTI in the early 1950′s, then went to work for Hyster Corporation. When a recession hit, he was asked to come back to Klamath Falls to teach manufacturing classes.
“It was older students, and they were pretty serious about their work,” Marostica recalled. “A lot more labs, than what they have now; more math. more physics; more communications.”
By the late 50′s, OIT officials could see the old Marine buildings were wearing out and they were also expensive to heat.
“The story goes that the heating bill was just enormous,” said Clark. “For that complex, hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, in the late 50′s and Winston Purvine saw that that really wasn’t sustainable.”
So, the search for a new campus site was launched where geo-thermal heat could be utilized, and in 1963 the campus moved to it’s current location overlooking Klamath Lake, and is virtually all geo-thermally heated today. Then, in 1973 the school changed its name to OIT, Oregon Institute of Technology.
“The school has evolved over time from a program that an institution that was designed to provide that rapid education for returning GI’s, into one that today offers Bachelors and Masters degrees in Engineering and Health sciences,” Clark said.
The first accredited degrees were in Surveying and Structural Engineering. Those have evolved into geomatic and civil engineering programs today, as well as several majors in medical fields.
“So the hands-on emphasis, the expectation of the faculty members who teach here have industry experience, has been there from the beginning. That was part of Winston Purvines vision,” Clark explained.
A lot has changed in the more than 65 years since OIT stared out as a vocational training school at the old Marine barracks in Klamath Falls. It now has campuses at several locations around the state, and it’s student body has become much more diversified as has it’s class offerings.
There are about 3,000 students at OIT’s Klamath Falls campus. They also have a satellite campus in Wilsonville, near Portland, and near the Boeing plant near Seattle. There is also an OIT dental hygeine school at La Grande.