Rock star turned OSU soil scientist talks dirt to students

Special Reports

OSU Senior Instructor James Cassidy didn't go to college until he was 30

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When it comes time for class registration at Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences there is one course in particular, with one scientist in particular, that always attracts an audience. The course is so popular that students across 40 different majors make time in their schedules for it.

“They ooze out enzymes—billions of times already—as has every atom in your body already,” said OSU’s Senior Instructor James Cassidy.

The subject is soil. While it might sound dry, dig a little deeper and you will uncover why this is one of the most popular classes at OSU. Students say he knows how to talk to them in a way they can understand.

James Cassidy’s gold record sits sideways on a shelf in his office. (KOIN)

“It’s my home away from home,” said Cassidy. “Look around, it’s a mess.”

But hidden here at Kidder Hall are clues as to why he’s such a great performer in the campus classroom. Take, for example, the gold record that is stacked on its side on a cluttered office shelf. It’s actually his. Cassidy formed the electronic-fusion band called Information Society when he was in high school.

“I was a stoner, rock and roller, D-minus student in high school,” said Cassidy.

That pop band eventually discovered gold in the 80s.

“We had a big underground dance hit called ‘Running,’” said Cassidy. He plays the bass in the band’s hit song.

The track topped Billboard magazine’s dance chart. There were times when Cassidy was playing in front of 135,000 screaming fans.

So what’s a rock star like Cassidy doing teaching about soil?

When the band broke up in 1993, Cassidy thought it was time to find another line of work. He went to the library, grabbed a career catalog and flipped through it until he landed on a section titled “fisheries.”

“I didn’t go to college until I was 30,” said Cassidy.

Oregon State University Soil Science Senior Instructor James Cassidy. (KOIN)

Fish and water led him to study soil. While working on a master’s degree at OSU, he was asked to step onto the classroom stage.

“Then they asked me to teach,” said Cassidy. “I know this: now, 15 years later, I just love it. I learn more every time I teach.”

By the way, his music career is still going strong. The band reunited in 2007. Information Society still draws in international crowds. Cassidy splits his time between the classroom and the stage, sharing with his students what he has learned along the way.

“The message to you is pay attention to what matters to you,” said Cassidy. “Go do what you like, what you want to do, and be better than anyone else.”

Soil: What It Is and How It Works for Trees — Seattle
Soil: What It Is and How It Works for Trees — Vancouver, BC

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