Great Foundations for Success

Bill Nicholson


Even before he graduated from high school, Bill Nicholson (’80 B.S., Nuclear Engineering) knew he wanted to make a difference for future generations. The Portland native had always been interested in the clean energy field, and, at the time, solar and nuclear power were the two most promising technologies.

Settling on nuclear engineering, Nicholson was admitted to Stanford University and intended to enroll there, until he realized that Oregon State had a higher-ranked nuclear engineering program in his own backyard.

“What a great decision that was for me!” he said. “It gave me a great foundation to do a lot of things in my career.”

Nicholson recently retired after serving as senior vice president of customer service, transmission, and distribution at Portland General Electric, where he had been employed since graduating from Oregon State.

“My degree catapulted me to a high-profile position straight out of school, and from there I was able to take on a variety of leadership roles at Portland General Electric,” he said.

Nicholson started at PGE even before graduating from Oregon State, working as an intern for three summers. After graduating, he was hired as an engineer at the Trojan nuclear power plant, where he worked for 13 years, until it was shut down for economic reasons.

After considering a job at another plant across the country, Nicholson i nstead chose the opportunity to branch outat PGE. He worked in the engineering and construction division that built new power plants, as well as maintaining and upgrading existing facilities. Later, he ran the customer service, transmission, and distribution sides of the business.

“I got to work in almost every part of PGE’s operations, and the strong technical foundation that I got at Oregon State allowed me to transition to different fields of the energy business,” he said.

Throughout his career, Nicholson worked in many ways to create a better future, not only through his own work, but by helping to shape education and preparation of students at Oregon State for more than a decade. A member of the School of Nuclear Science and Engineering’s industrial advisory board and the College of Engineering’s Dean’s Leadership Council, Nicholson enjoys the opportunity to share his perspective on the training students need to meet industry needs and to succeed in their careers.

He also understands the importance internships play in preparing for a career, having completed a few of his own as a student at Oregon State. “I love to encourage students to pursue any internship they can, even if it might be voluntary or not well paid. It’s so worth it if it’s in the area that they are interested in,” he said.

Sept. 23, 2020