Dr. Chesney Moe



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Dr. Chesney Moe 

Born in 1908 in Rainy River, Ontario, Chesney Moe moved to Chula Vista at the age of 6 before finishing his undergraduate study at San Diego State Teacher’s College (which would later be known as SDSU) and Stanford; he would return to San Diego in 1929 as a physics instructor at a newly constructed college at the age of 23.


Following the successful completion of his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California (USC) in 1939, Moe became a full-time professor at San Diego Teacher’s College in 1945, a position he held until 1972. Aided by the G.I. Bill and the boom in the electronics industry, Moe helped to elevate physics from a 2-man department into a university-level facility, adding more labs, offices, lecture halls, and instructors. Outside of the classroom, Moe helped found the State Employees Association, served on the Board of Directors for the State Retirement System, helped found the Faculty Senate, and served as chairman of his department for two terms.

Moe was called to serve his country twice; once during WWII and again during the Korean War. During WWII, Moe worked as a Naval Scientist on sonar and underwater sound at the Naval Electronics lab in Point Loma. Later on during the Korean War, he served at the Sonar School and retired as Captain in the Naval Reserve.

Dr. Moe also worked as an acoustical consultant for the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and served as director of the Electronics Investment Corporation in addition to working for a several local firms.

After several decades of service to his country, SDSU and his community, Chesney Moe retired from the Navy in 1965, from SDSU in 1972 and passed away on May 6, 2003, of respiratory ailments.

Download the PDF transcript of the complete interview.

Part 1: Ancestral and Family History 
Moe discusses his European lineage before touching upon the migrations and business successes (e.g. wholesale produce, real estate) that his grandfather and father experienced within the United States. The interview segment concludes with Moe moving to San Diego in 1914 at the age of 6 and once again in 1920 to Chula Vista, which at the time held a population no greater than 1,600.

Part 2: Early Education: Chula Vista Elementary to San Diego State College 
Moe briefly mentions his schooling at Chula Vista Elementary and a newly built Sweetwater Union. He then discusses his first years of college at San Diego State, where he enrolled in a 2-year engineering program, before coming back for a 3rd year to take advanced and teacher training courses. Afterwards, Moe guides the interviewer through the original four buildings of the college, including their layout and location. Furthermore, he elaborates upon his studies at Stanford University, where he finished the final year of his undergraduate career and achieved his master’s degree in 1931. In the same year, Moe returns to a newly built San Diego State College, only this time as an instructor. The interview segment ends with Moe stating his positions in various organizations, including founder of the Faculty Senate.   

Part 3: Development of San Diego State and Surrounding Areas 
Moe recalls the level of development of specific streets, such as El Cajon Boulevard, University Avenue, Park Boulevard, Adams Avenue, and College Way. He develops this recollection by mentioning the path his Boy Scout band traveled during a parade which celebrated when “East San Diego became San Diego”. Moe then draws the conversation closer to the college by focusing on its immediate surroundings, including a Kosher slaughterhouse and a nearby residential neighborhood (which housed two athletic coaches as well as Moe himself).

Part 4: California College History 
Moe offers a brief, general history of California before discussing the general origin of junior colleges and California State colleges in areas such as Bakersfield, Fresno, Santa Barbara, and San Jose. Furthermore, he discusses state colleges but more specifically, their emphasis on teacher training and later consolidation with state colleges.  The interview segment ends with Moe talking about achieving his State Teachers College diploma after 2 years.

Part 5: Later Education: Stanford and PH. D. 
The interviewer asks Moe “What got you interested in physics?” In response, Moe explains that Professor Barrett was largely responsible for his decision and begins to describe his educational experience at Stanford. Afterwards, he explains Hepner’s role in transforming San Diego State College to a university level by requiring Ph.D.’s; Moe also recollects earning his own Ph.D. at the University of Southern California (USC).

Part 6: Expansion of the Physics Dept.  
Moe covers the “heydays” of the physics department, in which an expansion of the physics/astronomy departments was facilitated by a flood of incoming G.I. Bills and the electronics boom. In time, however, the engineering program shadowed the physics program and Moe’s academic focus shifted to take a more traditional turn.

Part 7: Relationships with Faculty 
Moe reflects upon his relationships with faculty, both as a student and as a fellow peer. Members of the faculty included C.E. Peterson, Dr. Edward Hardy, Dudley Robinson, Jack Adams, and Oscar Barrett.

Part 8: General Education: The Push and Growth 
Moe recounts the change in direction that swept the school due to the advent of President Hepner, who made a strong push for a more general education, even in the sciences; while beforehand students could choose a traditional physics, chemistry, or biology course, the new curriculum offered more hybrid options for lower-division, physical science courses. He discusses his reluctance to teach such courses as well as his relief upon finding Don Watson, a man who was qualified and willing to teach them. Moe also briefly touches upon his involvement in the Korean War with several other members of the faculty. The final segment of the interview closes with his discussion of the contributions of Don Watson and Jack Smith to their respective departments.

Interview recorded digitally by Michael Milligan, Ph.D on March 3, 1993.

Grateful acknowledgement and thanks to Mr. Gordon Shackelford, former Associate Dean of the College of Sciences, for his assistance in making this interview available at this site.

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