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Bill Oxenham Receives Distinguished Graduate Professorship Award

Bill Oxenham

By Susan Fandel

William Oxenham, the Abel C. Lineberger Chaired Professor at NC State University’s Wilson College of Textiles, was one of four NC State faculty to receive the Alumni Association Distinguished Graduate Professorship Award for for 2018. The award, which recognizes outstanding graduate level teaching at NC State, was presented at the 2018 Faculty Awards and Mathews Medal Ceremony on April 23, 2018.

Oxenham, who is known for his pioneering work in fiber, yarn and fabrics and particularly the development of technologies for staple yarn processing and manufacturing, has been a member of the faculty at NC State since 1992. This appointment followed 18 years of experience in university education in the United Kingdom.

From 1996 to 2001, he served as associate department head and graduate administrator in the Department of Textile and Apparel, Technology and Management. From 2001 to 2016, he was associate dean for academic programs in the Wilson College of Textiles. Whether in a teaching or administrative role, Oxenham has sought to engage and nurture students.

“He has always held graduate education as his number one priority regardless of his administrative responsibilities, and has been a great visionary, a great mentor and great teacher. Under his leadership, the graduate program in the Wilson College of Textiles grew significantly while maintaining its diversity,” said Behnam Pourdeyhimi, associate dean for industry research and extension and director of The Nonwovens Institute. Pourdeyhimi first met Oxenham at the University of Leeds when the former was earning his Ph.D. and the latter was a lecturer.

Indeed, his impact on graduate education has been impressive. During his tenure as associate dean for academics, the Wilson College of Textiles saw Ph.D. enrollment more than double and an 80 percent increase in master’s students (recruited from five continents).

“This is fully aligned with the University’s and College’s strategic plans and one may argue has helped maintain the College’s international prominence and stability during a time of disruptive change in both higher education and the textiles industry,” said David Hinks, dean of the Wilson College of Textiles.

Throughout his time at NC State and in his various roles, Oxenham has consistently been committed to ensuring that students are provided with impactful education, innovative programs, ample opportunities to develop professionally, and the support needed to make the most of those opportunities.

During his 40-plus year career, he has chaired or co-chaired more than 50 Ph.D. students and 80-plus master’s students (from 24 different countries), making it a priority to understand each student’s interests, motivations and strengths.  

“My philosophy has been that each student is an individual and their mentoring needs are very different. This includes issues such as how much input they need in planning their research, guidance on execution and interpretation, assistance in reporting their research – dissertation and thesis writing, and presentation and communication skills,” said Oxenham.

His efforts have been successful as many former graduate students today hold leadership positions within industry, international academia, government and private research organizations.

One of those individuals, Eunice (Eun Kyung) Lee, first met Oxenham when she started her master’s program at the Wilson College of Textiles.

“As an international student who just arrived in NCSU from Korea, he was the first professor who guided me what courses I should take, what areas I could focus, most importantly, he was the one who helped me to get the graduate scholarship so that I could support myself,” said Lee. “He was the father of all graduate students for initial period to guide them to settle and find the direction.”

His support continued as she pursued her Ph.D. and remains strong today he is still the “go-to person” for Lee when she needs advice and references. “His style of mentorship is lifetime mentorship that he connects people. And it became a huge network globally and it is growing every year,” said Lee, director, Footwear Innovation at Nike, Inc., which employs morre than 40 Textiles alums.

Oxenham has built an international reputation as a leader in his field through his own research, funded with greater than $8 million in external support. He has also enabled advancement of knowledge in the field of textiles as editor-in-chief of a leading textile journal, The Journal of the Textile Institute, as well as editor of several other publications. He has involved students as first authors on many papers.

“I have actively encouraged students to disseminate their newfound knowledge in seminars, conferences and published papers and firmly believe that the highest impact advertisement for our programs is when our students give presentations at conferences,” said Oxenham.

While Oxenham has furthered graduate student success via academic and research opportunities, he’s also done it by creating a sense of community and belonging in the classroom and setting high expectations.

“But the most important thing he taught me, which I doubt if he remembers, was through the simplest of advice that slipped out during one of our conversations; something that was an eye opener when I first heard it and that has been my guiding principle in approaching work and life in general since. Two words: Be useful,” said Nikhil Dani, who earned both a master’s and a Ph.D. at the Wilson College of Textiles and is now an associate research fellow leading innovation on wipes for The Clorox Company. “These two words summarize my entire experience with Dr. O – it was very useful and beneficial. Right from the first time he funded me to the time he used his influence to ensure I graduated on time with my Ph.D. on so as to be able to accept a great opportunity at Clorox, he was always there for me and useful to me. When my 6-year-old daughter grows up and attends college someday, I hope she finds a mentor like Dr. O to guide and shape her.”