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Engineering Professional Development Celebrates 50 Years

Through the years both its name and college affiliation have evolved, but today the Engineering Professional Development department's mission to renew and refresh practicing engineers' skills is largely the same as it was back in 1949 when it offered its first course for practicing engineers.

"Ever since," says EPD Professor and Chair Philip R. O'Leary, "we've been providing learning opportunities that help engineers and others to gain new ideas, update their knowledge or expand their skills."

EPD at Adopt-a-Highway

EPD staffers take a break after cleaning up a stretch of highway for the Adopt-a-Highway program. (large image)

And this year EPD is celebrating not only its 50 years of continuing education but, through several departmentwide volunteer projects, its community ties.

The idea of engineering outreach occurred at the university as early as 1889, when C.D. Marx, professor of civil engineering, offered a series of experimental mechanics institutes throughout the state. A derivative of the department that emerged (the Department of Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Extension Division, which combined civil and structural, mechanical and electrical engineering), EPD originated in 1949 as Extension Engineering.

Although its continuing-education mission remained the same, the number, quality and variety of courses Extension Engineering offered gradually increased. The department's subsequent name changes included Extension Engineering, Mathematics and Applied Science, Engineering and Applied Science, and finally Engineering Professional Development. As EPD, it officially joined the College of Engineering 14 years ago, and now the internationally recognized department annually offers more than 400 seminars, workshops and short courses that are attended by more than 20,000 professionals.

That contact with the community makes volunteer work a natural way for EPD to celebrate its 50th anniversary, and the entire department--from program assistants to faculty--has embraced the volunteer initiative. Each member participated in food drives for Madison's Atwood Community Center food pantry, and several volunteers joined a Habitat for Humanity project, for which they installed wiring and siding, and painted and landscaped.

EPD members also organized and served a senior-center dinner, adopted a highway and cleaned up roadside debris, assisted with a UW Arboretum restoration project and donated blood at a Red Cross blood drive.

Why community service? The service projects are a way of saying thank you to the community for its longtime support of the department's outreach mission, says O'Leary. "We felt that as a group we had many capabilities that could be used to benefit the community," he says. "I think we've learned that it really does feel good to give back," adds Jim Becker, an artist in EPD who coordinated both the food drive and Habitat for Humanity efforts.

The volunteer work has an added benefit, says O'Leary. "We're convinced that volunteering as a group will benefit not only the community, but also our employees," he explains.

"Aside from the feelings of accomplishment, EPD members develop a sense of camaraderie and teamwork during these activities and get to know each other better--and we have fun!"