Commencement Speaker

Rod Ray, Ph.D., is the former president and CEO of Bend Research, Inc., a Bend-based technology development and pharmaceutical company that forged a path for the tech sector on the High Desert. Ray’s career with Bend Research spanned 30 years—and covered all bases. Starting on as a teenager digging fencepost holes at the original lab, he later helped the company innovate as it grew steadily and gained a contract with Pfizer, and, ultimately, he developed into the company’s leader, helming its diversification and its sale to Capsugel several years ago.

Raised in Bend, Ray skied for Bend High School and hunted game on the then quiet slopes of Awbrey Butte. His mother, Nancy Zahl, served as director of Health Sciences at COCC in the late 1960s and 70s and wrote curriculum for the Registered Nursing program.  His stepfather, George Zahl, served as dean of students and director of the COCC Foundation. Ray recalls his “outstanding” time at COCC (1974-75) as a part-time student, and remembers fishing and hunting outings with then-COCC President Fred Boyle and history professor Orde Pinckney.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Oregon State University and a master’s degree and doctorate (at the encouragement of Bend Research’s founders) in chemical engineering from the University of Colorado, Ray returned to Bend Research and helped it grow. With roots in membrane technology—which included creating a wastewater recycling system for NASA’s space station and devising a way to recover potable water from the exhaust of military vehicles—the company would shift its focus to the development of absorption technologies in the pharmaceutical industry, including drugs for Alzheimer’s, hepatitis, cancer and diabetes patients.

Starting with four employees in 1975, today the company employs more than 300 among its six Bend facilities. Under Ray’s direction, the company developed large-scale programs that advanced pharmaceutical compounds and commercialized products in the industries of electronics, energy, medicine, agriculture and space. Currently, he’s a consultant and serves as a board member for a number of pharmaceutical and technological companies. He holds 23 U.S. patents.

Bend Research has championed COCC over the years, including through paid internships and offering scholarships in chemistry and nursing. Ray’s daughter, Mary, followed in her grandmother’s footsteps and earned a nursing degree in Reno, Nevada, after completing her prerequisites at COCC.

Ray and his wife, Lori, an engineer and former vice-president of Bend Research, split their time between Bend, John Day, and the San Juan Islands of Washington.