Four retiring professors awarded Order of Pacific

Gary Litton, Gene Pearson, Bill Swagerty and Linda Webster

For decades of exceptional service, four University of the Pacific professors have been selected to receive the university’s highest honor, the Order of Pacific:

•    Gary Litton, professor of civil engineering; 
•    Eugene Pearson, professor of geological and environmental sciences; 
•    William Swagerty, professor of history; and 
•    Linda Webster, professor and senior associate dean for Benerd College.

The award was established 70 years ago to recognize faculty, staff and regents for outstanding contributions over many years.

The honorees’ contributions are impactful and wide ranging, from improving the region’s water quality to advancing knowledge of California and Native American history.

The most significant, and one of the most important marks they share, is the lasting impact on their students. 

Gary Litton

Gary Litton, Professor of Civil Engineering

Gary Litton’s extensive research on water quality has made a significant impact on the region.

He is equally proud of his work with students and often brings students into his lab to gain experience.

He has worked on almost 30 grants resulting in about $1.5 million in funding. Most were for researching water quality issues in the San Joaquin River and south Delta region. 

“A lot of our work was focused on solving the dissolved oxygen depletion in the deep water ship channel of the San Joaquin River,” said Litton. “It was quite a team effort, and our studies led to a demonstration project to actually fix the problem.”

Dissolved oxygen, the amount of oxygen present in water, is necessary for salmon and other fish to survive.

The research resulted in profound changes in water resource management practices in the area, successfully restoring dissolved oxygen to the river.

Having students share the experience is what led Litton to the university. “I came to Pacific (29 years ago) because it was a recognized teaching institution,” he said.

And his students have benefitted. Daniel Vitoria ’21, ’22 wrote, “It is clear Dr. Litton has been fulfilling his dream of providing knowledge to his students in every way possible, going out of his way to ensure that there is no student left behind in any of his classes.” 

“Gary’s impact has been profound, not just directly on students, but by the example that he sets for all of us,” said Camilla Saviz, professor and chair of the Civil Engineering Department. “He got students engaged in research by showing them the importance of thinking through all the steps and shared with them the joy of learning and discovering.”

Litton has received the Distinguished Faculty Award, Hoefer Research Award, Michael A. Minch Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research, the Eberhardt Teacher/Scholar Award, and Faculty Research Lecturer Award. 

“My time here has been absolutely fantastic,” said Litton. “I can't imagine teaching anywhere else. Pacific has been a wonderful home for me and my family.”

Gene Pearson

Eugene (Gene) Pearson, Professor of Geological and Environmental Sciences

Throughout his 51 years at Pacific, Gene Pearson’s priority has been his students.

“I am most proud of the accomplishments of the students that I have had the honor of interacting with over many years.  I hope that they have learned as much from me as I learned from them,” Pearson said.

Pearson began his career at Pacific in 1971 and marked his milestone 50th year at Pacific in 2021. He has the most years of service of any tenured professor at Pacific.

His teaching inspired Katie Ortega ’18 to switch her major as a junior from Spanish and French to geology. She’s now working on her Ph.D. in geology at University of Illinois. 

“The passion that he has is contagious,” Ortega said. “He always had so much energy and enthusiasm, and it was clear that it was something that he loved to share with other people.”

He has taken his students on numerous trips to give them field experience. 

Being out in nature is partly what drew Pearson to the field. The other part was an accident.

“I entered college as a math major because I didn't know what else to put on the form. I had a geologist as my faculty advisor. I had to take a science class, and that was all she wrote,” Pearson said.

Lydia Fox, associate professor, is glad he made the switch. She’s worked alongside him for more than 30 years.

“He was an amazing mentor to me when I got here,” said Fox. “He's a really good faculty colleague and has been a valuable member of the department. And then he has served the university at so many different levels. 

“He's the go-to guy when you need somebody on a search committee. He chaired the Academic Council, and he did a fabulous job representing the faculty when he did that. He's given so much to Pacific.”

Other leadership roles have included: chair and assistant dean of the College of the Pacific, chair of the Athletic Advisory Board and chair of admissions and financial aid committee, among others

Pearson has received the university’s Distinguished Faculty Award, Faye and Alex Spanos Distinguished Teaching Award and the Faculty Mentor Award. 

He was also recognized with a special service award from the university’s board of regents.

“No other faculty member has been of greater assistance to the university and to me personally than Professor Pearson,” said President Emeritus Donald DeRosa.”

Bill Swagerty

William (Bill) Swagerty, Professor of History

For 20 years, Bill Swagerty has made an impact on Pacific, notably through his work as director of the John Muir Center.

He also received accolades for his teaching. In 2021 Swagerty received the Northern California Excellence in Teaching Award from Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society. 

“What I most enjoy is teaching good students as well as the possibility for doing things that I couldn’t do at a huge university,” Swagerty said.

Swagerty’s courses, covering topics such as Native American history and California history, often take an immersive approach, whether through trips to archives for research or field trips to Yosemite and Gold Country.

“His ability to get through (to students) that this isn’t just something you read in a book, this is a reality, is just extraordinary,” Said Professor Emeritus Robert Dash. “He’s really made a difference in these students’ lives.”

Swagerty has made significant contributions to California history and the West through his research.

He has published a two-volume book titled, “The Indianization of Lewis and Clark” and has another book underway. He co-edited two documentary histories of the Nez Perce Indians and has published more than 20 articles on aspects of the fur trade of North America, his main research area.  

He is also working to increase knowledge of a Native American village that was once located at the site of Pacific’s campus. His students are assisting.

“We want to make sure people understand that this was a very large Northern Valley Yokut village at one point prior to the Gold Rush,” Swagerty said. 

Swagerty was a Senior Fulbright Scholar in 2007 and spent part of a semester in New Zealand and Australia lecturing on environmental history and working with the Maori Nation of New Zealand on treaty rights. He also spent the last 22 years working on Native American treaty rights for the U.S. Department of Justice.

In 2020 he was named Rockwell D. Hunt Chair of California History by then interim president Maria Pallavicini. He has also served as a Ford Foundation fellow, National Park Service fellow and visiting scientist at the National Museum of Natural History.

Linda Webster

Linda Webster, Professor and Senior Associate Dean of Benerd College

For more than two decades, Linda Webster has helped steer Benerd College.

“She has taken on the role of interim dean twice. When asked, she always stepped up,” said Associate Professor Justin Low. “She did not take a sabbatical for many years (time granted to faculty to conduct research). She has assumed a lot of roles for the greater good.”

While serving as interim dean in 2019 Webster led the merger between the School of Education and University College. The schools were combined to modernize and strengthen Pacific’s education programs and offer more flexibility to students.

“Linda was a key player … in working to blend two distinct units and cultures in a synergistic whole,” said Farley Staniec, associate professor of economics.

Webster saw the potential for online programs long before the pandemic made them essential. Her dedication to change the school’s accreditation resulted in Benerd College being one of the first schools at Pacific to provide online courses for graduate programs.

“She was instrumental in helping to create new and thriving online and hybrid programs in Sacramento and in Stockton and she helped create external partnerships that brought hundreds of students to Pacific,” said Dean Patricia Campbell. “Any future success Benerd enjoys can be tied right back to her efforts. She is an exceptional educator, scholar and colleague.”

In the classroom, Webster’s focus has been helping her students excel.

“What I love about teaching is planning things in a way that is going to lead students to understand ideas better,” said Webster. “And to do it in a fun way. I think learning ought to be engaging.”

Many of her classes involve gamified learning, using activities like Jeopardy and role play where students interact. 

Before she began her teaching career, Webster worked as a licensed psychologist. She spent eight years with Contra Costa County Child and Adolescent Outpatient Mental Health, then went into private practice. It was while teaching part time at University of California, Berkeley, where she received her Ph.D, that she realized her passion for teaching and soon made the move to Pacific.

Webster has continued to conduct research primarily focused on attachment theory, which explores the impacts of relationships between young children and caregivers.

“I worked with foster children and youth, and I was very interested in understanding why they were the way they were,” said Webster. “That became the focus of my research and publications, using attachment theory to help understand and then design interventions for foster children and their families.” She has published nearly 30 articles, book chapters and presentations. 

Through all she’s accomplished, it’s the people she admires the most.

“We've got amazing students, amazing faculty and staff. They're really devoted, and their heart is in the university,” said Webster.