Stephen E. Thorsett became the 25th president of Willamette University on July 1, 2011. He is an internationally recognized astrophysicist who brings to Willamette more than two decades of experience as a scholar, teacher and academic leader.

New President Placeholder

Immediately preceding his arrival at Willamette, Thorsett was a professor and former chair of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He also served as the dean of its Division of Physical and Biological Sciences, leading a unit roughly comparable to Willamette in terms of budget and numbers of faculty, staff and students. In addition to traditional math and science departments, his division included a nationally-recognized graduate certificate program in science writing, and he led the development of the successful California Teach program supporting future K–12 teachers. As dean, he hired nearly 50 new faculty who won dozens of national awards as distinguished young scholars. It is the support of this next generation of faculty leaders that Thorsett notes as his most important and rewarding contribution to UC Santa Cruz.

During his academic career, Thorsett taught broadly in both physics and astronomy and has authored or co-authored more than 100 scientific publications, focusing on the late stages of stellar evolution. His work examines radio pulsars, general relativity in binary star systems, neutron stars, planets orbiting pulsars and highly energetic gamma ray bursts. Among his many accomplishments, Thorsett co-discovered the oldest known planet, popularly dubbed “the Methuselah planet.” As students, he and four friends wrote a graduate physics textbook for Princeton University Press that remains in print, and he has edited three scientific conference volumes.

Before moving to UC Santa Cruz, Thorsett worked as an assistant professor of physics at Princeton University and a research fellow at Caltech. He was an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow and received the Fullam Award of the Dudley Observatory. He also earned a number of fellowships and other honors while completing his master’s and doctorate in physics at Princeton and his bachelor’s in mathematics with honors at Carleton College, from which he graduated summa cum laude.

Thorsett FamilyThorsett grew up in Salem. He is the son of Karen and Grant Thorsett, a long-time Willamette University biology professor. Thorsett attended Salem public schools, and graduated from South Salem High School, where four years at the slow end of the cross country team led him to a lifetime of running.

He is married to Rachel Dewey Thorsett, an astrophysicist and an affiliated scholar in physics at Willamette. Thorsett and his wife have one daughter, Laura, who is a recent graduate of Harvard College.

Back to Top