Roger Traylor was not a stellar student in high school. Not even close. He was having too much fun in the small rural community in East Tennessee where he grew up — riding motorcycles, hunting, fishing, rock climbing, caving — anything outdoors, including growing an organic garden.
“We were long-haired rednecks. It was a great, wonderful place to grow up,” he says in a Tennessee drawl.
But he also loved to go with his dad to his work at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) where the engineering laboratory had several scale models including the Tennessee Valley rivers, power plants, dams, pumped storage systems and working locks that raised and lowered model boats. He was also intrigued with the machine shop where he would often go to scrounge bits and pieces of wood and metal to take home to make anything from a crystal radio to a door stop.
“I loved the smell of the machine oil, sawdust, and fresh cut plexiglass. It was the place where ideas were turned into reality,” Traylor says.
During his first year in college at Tennessee Technological University, his life changed when his dad passed away.
“Something like that galvanizes your resolve to focus and make something of yourself,” Traylor says.
Serendipitously, he was hired as an intern the next year to the TVA, where his dad had worked. He enjoyed the experience there as an adult just as he did as a kid, getting his hands dirty with “real engineering” including digging ditches, climbing up 400 foot towers to install electrical equipment in the snow, and learning more about oscilloscopes and power supplies.
“Through that experience I got to see how the schoolwork really applied, and it just got more interesting,” Traylor said.
After college, he followed his passion for communication theory and electronics and took a job with GTE Strategic Communications Division in Massachusetts. There he developed an interest in parallel computing, so he decided to return to school and chose Oregon State for his master’s degree.
Determined to get a job with Intel working on supercomputers, he sent several letters to the management until he was hired on as part of a “rebel” group working in Intel’s scientific computer group. It was a job he loved where he was challenged with seemingly impossible projects.
“Nothing is greater than having someone saying it’s too hard or it’s too complicated. I'll give it a try. It makes me happy,” Traylor says.
But there came a time he was ready to move on and looked for a way to come back to Corvallis. A job in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science opened up in CAD support, so he jumped at the chance to return to the place he and his wife fell in love with. They found five acres 10 miles out of town to build a house on and that’s where they settled with their family of three kids.
Gradually his job morphed into teaching where his favorite classes involve challenging hands-on work for the students.
“I’ve learned that I can be creative in the context of teaching. It’s really fun. I love seeing the light bulbs go on when they get stuff, especially when they learn to build something with their hands and it’s not just theory on a board,” he says.
Although his children are not exactly following in his footsteps, he says they all have a streak for adventure and a love for the outdoors: Andrew challenges himself with rock climbing, Emily is a fearless ballet dancer, and Will has “ice water in his veins” when he plays guitar, Traylor says with pride.
“Your kids are your legacy in a sense, but I have a larger family here. Whatever I can impart to these students about how to approach life and struggles I hope will go beyond this generation to the next,” he says.