Centennial Story 63: Don Weitkamp (MS, 1971; PhD, 1977): An Accidental Graduate Student

During my undergraduate years as a zoology student at WSU, I was, at best, a mediocre student.  I left school after the fall semester of my senior year to earn some money and contemplate my educational future. The following spring, I consulted with a wise adviser, who suggested I consider the College of Fisheries at the UW in light of my interest in the aquatic world. I applied to the UW, but was denied admission. The following summer, I visited the College of Fisheries to find out why I was denied admission. I was directed to Al Sparks who reviewed my records and came to the conclusion that I was eligible. UW Admissions had made a substantial mathematical error in calculating my grade point average!

Al Sparks, Don Weitkamp, and Steve LeGore (MS, 1970; PhD, 1974)
Al Sparks, Don Weitkamp, and Steve LeGore (MS, 1970; PhD, 1974)

During my year as a UW undergraduate, I took several of Al’s courses as well as other fisheries courses, which I found extremely interesting, resulting in much improved grades. In the spring, Al offered me a research assistant position if I acquired my BS from WSU by transferring my UW credits back to WSU.

After graduating from WSU and enrolling at UW, my first task as a graduate student was to assist Ken Chew in setting up several oyster and mussel field stations to investigate shellfish diseases. I did find getting paid to conduct research while taking numerous interesting classes really stimulated my interest in graduate school. Ken introduced me to the questionable pleasure of consuming Olympic oysters fresh in the field. Although I love most shellfish, I never developed a fondness for raw oysters, although they are not too bad when consumed with a good Scotch.

The research funds disappeared during my last year working on my MS degree. However, I was fortunate to support my graduate studies through several opportunities as a teaching assistant under Ken Chew and several consulting projects for private industry.

Ken Chew (MS, 1958; PhD, 1963; faculty) and Don Weitkamp, with field trip results
Ken Chew (MS, 1958; PhD, 1963; faculty) and Don Weitkamp, with field trip results

During the first year I was working on my doctorate, there was a major oil spill at a refinery near Anacortes. Max Katz was hired as a consultant to investigate the effects on intertidal organisms resulting from reports of major mortalities. Max hired me to design and conduct field investigations of the spill impacts on intertidal invertebrates. He routinely provided field sustenance in the form of cheese, sausage, and six-packs of Miller beer. Fortunately, most of the reported dead snails were simply narcotized and recovered, and we did limit our consumption of beer.

These initial consulting experiences led me into a professional life of consulting long before I understood the role of a consultant. This field has provided me with a wide variety of experience and travel to many areas of our country as well as to other countries, together with the opportunity to meet numerous interesting colleagues. I am now mostly retired from a 45 year corer in consulting.

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