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Washington State University Graduate School


Craig Owen and his grandfather, Charles Heebner

Charles Heebner as a graduate student at WSU in about 1970


Craig Owen with his family


Craig with Lisa Gloss, Interim Dean of the Graduate School


Craig in his laboratory

Following in his grandfather’s footsteps

Third generation Coug graduates with his Ph.D.


By Frank McNeilly

Exactly 47 years after Charles Heebner graduated from Washington State University with his doctoral degree, his grandson graduated with his. Charles, dressed in full-faculty regalia, attended WSU commencement on December 9, 2017, to hood grandson Craig Owen, who earned his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering.

Ironically, the commencement ceremony was the first for Charles, who missed all three of his own.

“He received his Ph.D. here, but he never participated in a commencement ceremony through all his years,” says Craig. “He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Connecticut—but his bachelor’s degree ceremony was rained out, and for his master’s degree ceremony he had already moved to Pullman to begin his Ph.D. research. His Ph.D. ceremony in 1970 was missed due to starting a new job in the Olympia area.”

From Woodinville, Wash., Craig applied to all the four-year universities in Washington, but chose WSU in 2009, following in the footsteps of both of his parents and grandfather. He began his undergraduate work in materials science and engineering, encouraged by his parents, who believed he would have few distractions at WSU, would focus more on academics, and would have opportunities to work closely with faculty members. They were right.

“Being separated from my family was actually good for me because it made me take control of my own career,” Craig says.

Craig was intent from the beginning to pursue his passion for battery technology—an interest that began in high school when he built an electric bicycle for his mother to commute to work. After this project, he knew he wanted to be involved in battery research and eventually have a career related to battery technology. Once at WSU, he began research as an undergraduate student, crediting Cecilia Richards, a faculty member in mechanical engineering, for giving him his first opportunity. He was also a researcher on a fuel cell development project with Drs. Grant Norton and Su Ha in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

Craig believes his undergraduate research gave him the critical experience needed to apply and secure fellowships as a graduate student. “Cecilia Richards took a chance on me when I was a young student, and I wouldn’t have made it where I am today without her,” Craig says.

In 2013, Craig graduated with his bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering. After applying to graduate schools across the county, he received offers of admission from several schools, including Stanford and Northwestern, but ultimately decided to stay at WSU and pursue his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering because of research opportunities.

“I decided to stay at WSU because I had already been working with Grant Norton, who had just started a project I was really interested in,” says Craig, who also says that establishing Norton as an advisor was instrumental in his success in graduate school. “I had heard that what makes your graduate school experience is your advisor and the environment.”

Not Just a Degree

After Craig began graduate school in fall 2013, another important part of his life fell into place during Graduate Student Orientation.

“I was trying to decide if I should go to Orientation or not because I had already been at WSU for four years, and I said to myself, ‘why not—I’ll just go. Maybe I’ll talk to some people, make some new friends.’”

During lunch Craig sat by Staci, who had received a bachelor’s degree from Gonzaga University and came to WSU to pursue a master’s degree in plant pathology. Four years later, the two were married.

“So, if I hadn’t decided to stay at WSU for my Ph.D., I wouldn’t be where I am academically, and I wouldn’t have met my wife,” says Craig.

Craig’s doctoral journey was marked with success in other ways, too, including financially. He was awarded the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, the Russ & Anne Fuller Fellowship in 2016 and 2017, and was an honorable mention for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship

Craig’s dissertation research focused on developing materials for lithium ion battery electrodes, and he is intent on a profession in battery technologies, either in research and development or working with applied/integrated batteries. He is currently interviewing for positions in industry.

Craig is leaving WSU with not only a doctoral degree in materials science and engineering, but also a wife and the perpetuation of a family legacy of Cougs.

“Attending WSU is the best decision I’ve ever made,” says Craig.


Craig and Staci Owen