Bill Pegram (MS ’85, PhD ’89)
Bill Pegram (MS ’85, PhD ’89)

By the time William (Bill) Pegram (MS ’85, PhD ’89) arrived at Caltech, the St. Louis native had already completed a self-designed bachelor’s program in computer science, philosophy, and linguistics and obtained an MBA (concentrating in economics and public management), both from Stanford University. He had also spent five years working as an economist for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Congressional Budget Office. He was drawn to Pasadena by the opportunity to study economics under the guidance of Caltech professor Roger Noll (BS ’62), who had been a visiting professor for two of his classes at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and had spoken at several conferences Bill had attended in Washington, D.C.

Bill appreciated Noll’s narrative ability, which he describes as being “buttressed by an encyclopedic knowledge of government regulation,” as well as his sense of humor. Once, for example, Bill was struggling with a task at the blackboard. Noll, on crutches due to an injury he sustained playing basketball, got up with some difficulty to assist. Bill recalls, “After he managed to do this at least twice, he remarked with a laugh, ‘Bill, if I have to do this one more time….’”

In 1982, Bill became one of seven students that year to enroll in Caltech’s graduate social sciences program, which had conferred its first PhD in 1978. He feels fortunate to have received fellowship support throughout his graduate career, which freed him from teaching responsibilities and allowed him to concentrate on his courses and research.

He remembers afternoon jogs, occasional hikes in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, and a brief conversation with Heather Locklear while she was filming Dynasty near campus. He undoubtedly was too focused on his studies when his new girlfriend invited him to join her on an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii and he declined, saying, “I’d better work on my thesis.” Having never made it to Hawaii, he tells himself, “You fool!” when he thinks about this today.

Even as an economist, Bill was profoundly influenced by Caltech’s involvement with JPL. He worked at JPL in summer 1983 on a paper about the investment behavior of defense contractors. From 1986 to 1988, he worked for the same JPL group at NASA’s space station headquarters, attempting to bring economic principles to the operation of the International Space Station. He took a leave of absence to complete his thesis on the political economy of the federal photovoltaics program.

His Caltech PhD helped him acquire a position at the Federal Trade Commission, where his responsibilities included economic analyses of proposed mergers and acquisitions. He regards that as one of the best jobs he’s had.

Today, Bill is an adjunct associate professor at Northern Virginia Community College, where he has taught courses on web design and development, software tools, and programming since 2000. He has also taught at other local institutions, including George Mason University.

In 2019, Bill designated Caltech as the beneficiary of his defined contribution plan from his community college teaching career. He intends for his planned gift to benefit the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, with an eye toward “paying back” the fellowship support he received.