He’s the president of City Club, an assistant director of News and Research Communications at OSU and the editor of Terra Magazine – one might find themselves feeling intimidated at the prospect of interviewing such a guy – but that quickly evaporates. Nick Houtman’s actual presence is disarmingly friendly, even more than his broad smile, he evokes a sense of invitation and easy conversation. He begins to tell his story.
Houtman was raised in a suburb of San Francisco, staying in the Bay Area to earn his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Stanford University; journalism was always a primary interest.
“I couldn’t make up my mind about other things to do. I find too many things interesting and I want to learn lots and lots of things,” he says of his choices. After finishing at Stanford, he worked for a few years in a furniture factory before moving to a farm in rural Wisconsin. When his children were born, he and his wife wanted them to have a wider outlook on life, so they both went back to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. Eventually he received his master’s in Water Resources and Management, which led him to opportunities writing stories for the University, Extension Services, and Sea Grant about their research.
After a stint with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a graduate intern, his interests took him to Maine, where he applied for a job as the science writer for the University of Maine, a position he stayed in for 15 years.
“The primary job of a science writer,” Houtman says, “as it is of any student, is when someone tells you something, to say, how do you know that?”
An opportunity opened in 2005 to start a brand new campus-wide research magazine for Oregon State, so he jumped at the chance and has been writing stories and editing for Terra ever since.
“I see myself as an observer and a story teller,” he says. He also volunteers his time as president of City Club, a small volunteer-based organization giving participants an opportunity to study things about the city in a deeper, more synergistic way than can sometimes be accomplished in other mediums.
As the editor of Terra, Houtman looks forward to developing more opportunities for people to become involved and participate in the research part of Oregon State University. Challenges that he and his team face are mostly centered on the task of turning an immense amount of intricate information into a story that the public will care about. The hardest part is crafting an article that effectively highlights the achievement of OSU researchers while telling a true and authentic story. Houtman affirms, “We really weave the personal and the dramatic and the emotional content with the science, with professional accomplishment, with the things that the public expects the University to deliver.”
As for his motivation, he likes the chance to learn new things; he enjoys talking to people and figuring out solutions to problems, as well as reading great science stories. “I am fortunate enough to work with people who are very good writers, and designers,” he comments.
During the small bit of spare time he does have, he likes to build and construct new things, like his home; he and his wife built their house in Wisconsin from the ground up. His family is very important to him as well- he has a daughter who stays close, working for the Forestry Department at OSU, and a son who works in Boston as a regional manager for Whole Foods.
Everyone says they’re passionate about something. For some it’s science, some are passionate about art, some are obsessed with both, and still others care about neither. But the impetus to do something with your life, to base your career off something that interests you, is not always naturally occurring. And others lack opportunity. Those of us lucky enough to get the chance to do what we love should make the most of it. That’s part of what makes Houtman’s attitude such a breath of fresh air.
When asked why he does what he does, he simply smiles and says “I’m interested in the community I live in.”
by Kyra Young