From Construction Worker to Nuclear Engineer

You are here

Seth Cadell (C'07)
Assistant Professor and Senior Researcher, Oregon State University

After a childhood working alongside his dad building custom farm machinery in Oregon, Seth Cadell had all the skills he needed to earn good paychecks in the building trades. So he skipped college and worked in construction— until, he says, he “got bored” after five years and decided to follow his younger sister to Principia College.

“I was ready to find opportunities and push myself to grow,” he notes. And Principia, with its abundant ways to get involved, opened unexpected doors.

Now, as Assistant Professor and Senior Researcher at Oregon State University (OSU), Cadell manages a quarter-scale model of an advanced nuclear reactor and a team of student researchers. He oversees testing and analysis that the federal government uses in licensing nuclear facilities.

Cadell went straight from graduation at the College to Oregon State University, where he earned an MS and PhD in nuclear engineering in five years, and then on to private firms before returning to lead research at OSU in 2016.

He credits that rapid career trajectory to the rich mix of extracurricular opportunities at Principia. Football, rugby, student government, and intense involvement in the solar car program, Cadell notes, “helped shape me and helped form what I wanted in my life.”

Principia solar car work—including an MIT vehicle design summit—was the genesis of his interest in energy efficiency. And mentoring by Dr. Joseph Ritter, who “worked with the best traits of people and got them motivated,” says Cadell, guides how he manages his own research team now.

Having come from what he calls the “hard power” world of construction, Cadell says the “soft power” of diplomacy at Principia was a revelation. In addition, he comments that “how to be a man” was the subtext of many ethical discussions with his Buck House Resident Counselor, Garry Sprague (US’82, C’86), and continues to influence how he carries himself today.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2018 Purpose.