Employee Portrait Gallery—Jake Peirson
A. (for Abel) Lawrence “Jake” Peirson III has been the glue holding WHOI academic programs together for nearly four decades. When he officially retired in 1996 after 29 years, they had to hold two parties for him—one in Woods Hole and another in San Francisco at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union—because of the many lives he had touched.
His circuitous route to oceanographic education included earning a bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s in petroleum geology at Colby College and Stanford University, respectively, plus 10 years of oil and gas prospecting with Creole Petroleum in Venezuela. During his 9-year expedition to South America, he also found his bride of 42 years, Anna Maria.
By 1965, Jake returned to his native Massachusetts to pursue an MBA at Boston University, planning to move up in the petroleum business. However, by the time he was finishing his studies, he couldn’t see a future in oil. He asked a distant relative, Hoyt Watson who was then running the WHOI Associates Program, to show him around Woods Hole. Jake's interest in oceanography was nurtured by his geology background. A few months later, Jake noticed a lone posting on a bulletin board at Harvard Business School, a detailed, but also rather vague, two-page job advertisement for “management assistance in the top administrative offices of the Institution.”
Jake joined WHOI in July 1967 as a “special assistant in administration,” and 38 years later he still holds the title of “special assistant to the vice president for Academic Programs.” In between, he served as assistant dean, associate dean, and registrar, and worked with all five WHOI deans. He is the one face who has been around from the day WHOI got into the graduate education business, and he still advises the Joint Program Alumni/ae Association.
But to call Jake an “administrator” borders on insult. He made a point of visiting MIT’s Cambridge campus at least once a month so that “I was a person, not a phone number” to his colleagues. He nurtured the relationship between the two venerable institutions with sometimes differing goals and perspectives. “The truly unique thing about this program is that every decision—from the time students are admitted to the time they get their degrees—is made by joint faculty committees whose members have to come to a consensus. Students have to be acceptable to both institutions and feel welcome at both institutions.”
He took the “welcoming” part personally. Jake and Anna Maria entertained students with barbecues and home-cooked meals. They became friends and surrogate parents to many a student, guiding and sheltering them alongside their own three sons. “The students felt comfortable just dropping by our house,” Jake noted. They still do.