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Suzanne McGrath in front of cityscape view

Breaking the stereotype of science graduates

By Debbie Farris

Suzanne McGrath, OSU alumni in mathematics

For Suzanne McGrath, things are coming full circle.

After graduating from Oregon State with a degree in mathematics, McGrath taught math for one year at Oregon State University and three years at Newberg High School. Fast forward 40 years, and she is seeing the fruits of her labor through the success of her former students including OSU Head Baseball Coach Pat Casey and Ken Austin III, a principal owner at A-dec, one of the nation’s largest dental manufacturing companies based in Newburg, Oregon.

Coach Casey likely uses the probability, mathematical and statistical skills learned in McGrath’s classroom to develop a winning game strategy and build one of the greatest success stories in the state's athletic history in the course of his 20-year career. Austin is using a similar skill set in his role at A-Dec while managing other businesses.

Although McGrath loved teaching mathematics and inspiring her students, she hoped for a broader career experience. As she encouraged her students to follow their dreams, she too followed hers. She applied her computational and problem-solving skills to accounting and became a CPA. Today, McGrath is President of Vision Capital Management, Inc., an investment advisory firm she founded with her daughter, Marina Johnson, CFA, 18 years ago. Vision Capital manages just over $550 million and employs a team of 12 professionals.

McGrath forged a path first as one of the few female accountants in Oregon in the 1970s, and then as an investment manager in the 1980s when women in finance were few and far between. She seized the opportunity to be a trailblazer for other women to follow in her footsteps, knowing there was both a need and space for women in finance.

McGrath is characterized by her hallmark determination and exuberance, whether it is getting up at 4:30 a.m. every morning to head to the gym, masterminding financial plans for clients or finding ways to support the best and brightest in science.

She credits her science education with giving her the fundamental skills and solid foundation to confidently navigate every step of her career.

“There is a reason that every student at OSU takes a course in the College of Science, whether they are majoring in music, engineering or business.” said McGrath, who “loves athletics” whether it is football, basketball or baseball.

She is especially proud of the McGrath Family Press Box, which is perched behind home plate at OSU’s Goss Stadium. She watches the games with enthusiasm during baseball season, cheering the Beavers to victory both on and off the field.

“We have supported and love Coach Casey and are thrilled that he has built an outstanding legacy of baseball at OSU,” said McGrath.

McGrath and her husband, math alumnus Bernie McGrath (’70, ’74), have had fruitful careers and are deeply committed to giving back. They have generously supported OSU across a range of interests, from the Colleges of Science, Engineering and Business to athletics. They see their gifts and the resulting impact as a way to pay it forward and to inspire others to respond, amplifying their support.

In November, McGrath will receive the College of Science’s 2017 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, which recognizes exceptional achievements and leadership that bring honor, distinction, and visibility to the College and to Oregon State University. The College’s distinguished alumni have made valuable contributions to science, the University, Oregon and the world.

“This is totally unexpected,” said McGrath. “It really caught me off guard. It is both flattering and humbling at the same time.”

The McGraths support graduate students through the ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) Foundation Portland Chapter. The distinguished national non-profit, is a volunteer women’s organization dedicated to advancing our nation’s competitiveness in scientific and technological innovation. Next year, McGrath has agreed to lead the organization as co-President, which has necessitated her departure from the College of Science’s Board of Advisors. However, she is still volunteering and advocating for the College of Science through her new position.

“It is such a gratifying feeling to hand the students their cash gift each year and encourage them to pursue their studies so they don’t have to worry about finances,” said McGrath.

This year, together with another couple, she and Bernie are supporting Jennifer Leaf, an OSU engineering student with research interests in robotic learning and planning in unstructured environments.

Read more about Suzanne McGrath and the profound impact she has made professionally and personally to the College, OSU and her community.