SEAS honors the passing of Professor Emeritus Dr. Charles E. Olson, Jr.
The SEAS community mourns the passing of Professor Emeritus Dr. Charles E. Olson, Jr., who died on June 28, 2020.
Dr. Olson had recently been nominated for the distinguished US Geological Survey William T. Pecora Individual Award by three of his former remote sensing PhD students: SEAS Associate Research Scientist & Lecturer Kathleen Bergen, and Senior Research Scientists Nancy French and Laura Bourgeau-Chavez of the Michigan Tech Research Institute.
The letter of support from SEAS for this nomination, and written in May of this year, now serves as a fitting tribute to Dr. Olson’s impact as an educator and scientist.
“With a career that spanned over 35 years at the University of Michigan, Dr. Olson was an early leader in the development of Earth remote sensing science and technology, and a master teacher to multiple generations of remote sensing scientists.
“In 1963, Dr. Olson moved his new academic career to the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources (now SEAS). Here he started as a Research Associate and Lecturer, advanced through the professorial ranks, completed his tenure as a full Professor, and officially retired as Emeritus in 1999. When called upon, he served as Dean of the School. It was at Michigan, its associated Willow Run Laboratory, and the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan (ERIM), that Dr. Olson fully developed his work and collaborations in visible-infrared, thermal, and radar remote sensing theory and technology. Drawing upon his former experience as an expert instructor in military photo-interpretation and applying it to his chosen career in natural resources management, Dr. Olson also developed into an outstanding and inspiring teacher of graduate and undergraduate students.
“Dr. Olson’s over 60 remote sensing graduate Masters thesis and PhD dissertation students at Michigan have gone on to leadership careers at many academic institutions, the USGS, USFS, US Fish & Wildlife and other government agencies, commercial forestry companies, and applied remote sensing companies and organizations. In his 35 years at Michigan, Dr. Olson had one of the highest rates of successful mentoring and graduating of PhD students in the School’s history. Furthermore, he advised a diversity of students, and as such was ahead of his time in being supportive of MS and PhD students of diverse ethnicities, female students, and those from developing countries, in the technical ‘STEM’ field of remote sensing. Many additional graduate students each year benefitted from his courses in Map and Image Interpretation, Remote Sensing, and Digital Image Processing. Undergraduates also coveted Dr. Olson’s useful hands-on image interpretation courses; with the addition of this even larger body of students - who also went on to work in our local, state, and federal land management agencies, land trusts, and commercial companies - the long-term national influence and genealogy of his 35 years of teaching cannot be overstated.
“Although Dr. Olson officially retired in 1999, as Emeritus professor he continued to be active in professional organizations, including ASPRS and the Pecora Symposium, and sought after as an expert consultant. It would be difficult to think of an individual who has dedicated his/her life more faithfully and rigorously to the development of remote sensing theory and technology, to civilian and national interest applications alike, and to mentoring new scientists in the field, than Dr. Charles E. Olson, Jr.”
Read Dr. Olson’s obituary on the Dignity Memorial website.