Once inspired by faculty,
donor now supports teaching excellence
When Gerald Holdridge (BSECE ’55) attended UW-Madison, tuition and fees cost him $75 per semester. While $75 was more money in those days than it is now, he knows that financing an education today is a much heavier burden for students. This is why Holdridge is committed to giving back to the university.
“My success is due to many things, and one of them certainly is education I received at UW-Madison,” Holdridge says. “I”m just trying to repay some of that.”
Holdridge has established the Gerald Holdridge Family Fund in honor of his parents, brother and sister, who all received degrees from UW-Madison. The fund, which was matched by IBM, where Holdridge was employed until retiring in 2000, provides two awards that recognize engineering educators. The Teaching Excellence Award goes to faculty members who make outstanding contributions to teaching, and the Course/Lab Development Award recognizes teaching assistants for noteworthy work in the classroom or the laboratory. Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Irena Knezevic received the 2008 Teaching Excellence Award.
It’s fitting that Holdridge is supporting the professors and teaching assistants who make a direct difference in students’ lives, as Holdridge himself once benefited from faculty mentors who gave him crucial advice while he was a student.
Holdridge’s technical interests were sparked by ham radio. The Sauk City, Wisconsin, native was tutored by amateur radio “hams” in Sauk City and attended American Radio Relay League meetings in Madison while in high school. He remembers a chemistry professor who spoke to the Madison group about atomic energy, and Holdridge told himself he would take a class with the professor when he came to college. He did, though he opted initially for a physics major rather than majoring in chemistry.
During one summer early in his undergraduate career, Holdridge worked part-time in a low temperature laboratory. The professor he worked for took an interest in his career plans and advised the electronics-oriented Holdridge to switch to engineering.
Holdridge followed the advice, and after graduating with an electrical engineering degree, he joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He became a programmer in charge of operations of the first large computer system in the Army, and those experiences led to a job at IBM as a systems engineer. He eventually shifted to forecasting new products for IBM USA, and IBM World Trade, and ended his 32 years with IBM as a manager of Latin America financial planning.
Throughout his career, Holdridge says he relied heavily on the problem-solving skills he learned as an engineering student. “Thinking with an engineering mentality helps structure your work,” he says. “An engineering training can be used in so many ways.”
Holdridge says he is glad his donations are rewarding people who directly provide training to the next generation of engineers. Stephen Kennedy, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, is one of the 2008 Course/Lab Development Award winners. “I was very excited to receive the award this last year,” says Kennedy. “I put a lot of myself into teaching and the award was validation of some hard, yet enjoyable work.”
Benjamin Yang, another electrical and computer engineering graduate student who received an award in 2008, agrees. “The Gerald Holdridge award is unique by virtue of being the only source of financial recognition of teaching assistants for teaching and learning excellence in the electrical and computer engineering department,” he says.
“The funding enabled me to spend extra time collecting data on teaching techniques. The resulting adjustments led to measurable improvement in exam scores and the students’ retention of the subject material.”
As Kennedy and Yang continue to refine their teaching techniques, Holdridge, who resides in Connecticut, continues to be a computer student—his wife, Barbara, teases him about the amount of time he spends reading and learning about new technology. Beyond his technical hobbies, Holdridge enjoys sailing, “fixing things” and traveling with Barbara. Together, they have taken many international trips, including 11 Alumni Holiday International vacations with the Wisconsin Alumni Association and Simmons College, which is Barbara’s alma mater.