Dean emeritus Charles Hosler says biggest legacy was helping others succeed

David Kubarek
April 10, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Charles Hosler, dean of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) from 1965-85, is credited with continuing the transition of the college from its longtime mineral extraction and processing focus to one comprising experts of the entire Earth system. That focus was reflected in the late 1960s with the name change from the College of Earth and Mineral Industries to the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

But, he said, few might grasp the importance of the one decision he felt had the most impact.

After noticing top researchers at other universities were on nine-month contracts, Hosler switched the college’s faculty from yearlong commitments to the nine-month model. The concept seemed unusual: Pay professors the same amount for a shorter period.

However, as Hosler observed, that gave faculty members the opportunity to obtain federal and industrial funding in the "off" months to support their research programs. These funds generated income for the faculty and, as funding increased, released monies to hire additional faculty and support graduate students. This method quickly was embraced by Penn State at large, helping the University grow from a school that secured tens of millions of research dollars annually in the 1960s, to a top research university which received a record-setting $927 million in 2017-18.

“That enriched the intellectual atmosphere,” Hosler said. “Penn State really became a different university with the advent of the explosion in research. Undergraduates benefited by their access to a more diverse faculty on the cutting-edge of their disciplines.”

The Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science is highlighting the career of Hosler and his continuing contributions to learning, through the Charles L. and Anna R. Hosler Scholarship in Meteorology. The scholarship supports students who have achieved superior academic records or who show promise of outstanding academic success.

‘I was working for them’

The concept of hiring talented and motivated faculty and allowing them to plot the path ahead suited Hosler’s management style.

As an administrator, including service as the head of the Department of Meteorology (1960-65), dean of EMS (1965-85), dean emeritus of the Graduate School and senior vice president for research, and acting executive vice president and provost, he felt it best to advocate for those under him instead of himself.

“The faculty knew that I was working for them,” Hosler said. “I was working to get the conditions right to give them the space, the salary, the necessary funds, and I was sincere in trying to do the best I could to promote the faculty and the students.”

Eyes out for the storms

That management style is something he picked up while serving his country during World War II.

Stationed on Guam and Okinawa late into the war, Hosler was attached as the observer to a reconnaissance squadron tasked with flying 200 feet above ground, 10 to 12 hours a day, in search of typhoons. The military was losing ships and men due to the weather, and Hosler and his crew were the eyes out for the storms. When not acting as an observer, Hosler was a forecaster.

Knowing dozens of soldiers and sailors depended on him to make correct weather forecasts — their lives literally on the line — had a great effect on the young U.S. Navy aerologist, a term that later became “meteorologist.”

Due to weather and other dangers, the Navy lost a third of its typhoon reconnaissance planes during the war, yet Hosler was fortunate enough to have never lost more than two of the four engines aboard his plane (a PB4Y-2 Privateer).

“It helped being on a small naval ship with 20 guys who all knew their lives were depending on me,” Hosler said. “I felt the same way about the faculty. They were my responsibility, and I wanted the best for them.”

Intro into aerology

Some meteorologists fall in love with the science when they’re barely old enough to turn on a television. Not so with Hosler: His love came by chance.

Hosler was studying chemical engineering at Bucknell University while enrolled in the Navy V-12 program. Surrounded by hundreds of U.S. Marines and sailors, the grind started to wear on Hosler's small stature.

“The Marines were in charge,” Hosler said. “It was Marine boot camp superimposed over college, and it was brutal. I only weighed 124 pounds.”

So, determined to improve his situation, he signed up for anything he could, even if he didn’t quite know what it was — like a subject called "aerology."

When he got his break, the commanding officer called him in and quizzed him on his interests in aerology.

“I said all my life I wanted to be in aerology,” Hosler told him. “He said, ‘We’re going to send you to MIT to study it.’ Then I said, ‘Thank you, sir,’ and I ran over to the library to look up what aerology was.”

Building the Penn State program

After the war, Hosler studied several engineering fields before earning his undergraduate degree in meteorology at Penn State. While he was pursuing a graduate degree at the University, he was instrumental in recruiting Hans Panofsky and Alfred Blackadar — both with a background in weather forecasting — to the faculty. Both were experts in dynamic meteorology, which he said greatly enhanced the quality of the department.

Hosler entered into radio in 1946 and television as an on-air forecaster in 1957. He said severe shortcomings in the state of weather forecasting drove him to enter into broadcasting as part of the then-College of Agriculture’s “Farm Home and Garden” television show.

Central Pennsylvania farmers especially came to rely on Hosler’s abilities, coining the phrase, “You can make hay with Hosler.” The TV program gave the department visibility on campus and across the region.

Once, when a new Air Force training program he was teaching had Hosler up at dawn, he lamented on-the-air that he would have to end the TV segment because hand-drawing maps every morning was too time-consuming. If only he had a fax machine to get pre-drawn maps, he said, before signing off.

Soon after, a local farmer, who had organized a collection among his peers, paid Hosler a visit.

“That farmer came in with a check for $2,700, the cost of a fax machine,” Hosler said, and that support allowed him to continue his forecasts.

Embracing Earth systems

Hosler said he inherited a vision from former dean Edward Steidle, who saw the importance of Earth sciences. Hosler expanded that to create a college with a comprehensive understanding how the Earth works and how those systems apply to all facets of human interaction with the planet. This was in addition to the college’s expertise in extracting and processing the planet’s abundant resources to provide the materials upon which society is built.

Hosler put plans in place for the Earth Systems Science Center (executed by John Dutton, then-dean of the College of EMS), which was headed from 1986 to 2002 by Eric Barron — now Penn State's President.

“We became one of the first academic systems in the country to embrace the whole Earth system and investigate how man’s activities affect that system,” Hosler said.

Contributions to the Charles L. and Anna R. Hosler Scholarship in Meteorology will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st-Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.

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Last Updated April 11, 2019