Longtime engineering dean passes away

// College of Engineering

Photo of Paul Peercy
Share this story:

As dean of the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering, Paul Peercy constantly sought ways to help students succeed in engineering. In ongoing efforts to educate “global” engineers, he focused on diverse and interdisciplinary experiences, innovations in teaching engineering, and on hands-on work that connected the technical aspects of engineering students’ education with real challenges facing society.

“Engineering is where science meets society,” he said in a 2012 interview, referring to myriad global challenges, including energy needs and pollution. “These are problems that can’t be solved without engineers and can’t be solved by engineers alone.”

Photo of Paul Peercy
Dean Emeritus Paul Peercy

Peercy, who served as dean from 1999 until his retirement 2013, died October 20, 2016. He was 75. (Read reflections Peercy’s colleagues offered at the time of his retirement.)

He came to UW-Madison after having served as president of the not-for-profit consortium of semiconductor equipment manufacturers then known as SEMI/Sematech. He spent 27 years at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, where he rose from the technical staff to director of microelectronics and photonics, a role in which he guided semiconductor development at three national labs.

Peercy was known for his focus on engineering education. At the national level, he served on the executive committee and as chairman of the American Society for Engineering Education engineering deans council and remained active with the group after his retirement. Within the College of Engineering, he implemented several initiatives—including those that expanded teaching innovation, exposed students to global challenges, and encouraged cross-disciplinary experience—aimed at preparing graduates to thrive in a rapidly changing international economy.

“Dean Peercy cared deeply about the College of Engineering and the preparation the college provides practicing engineers of the future,” says Steven Cramer, the vice provost for teaching and learning at UW-Madison who served as College of Engineering executive associate dean under Peercy. “He created, moved and accelerated the college on a path of educational innovation long before it was a formal effort on campus.”

Additionally, Peercy was deeply committed to efforts designed to help students succeed in engineering. For example, shortly after he became dean, he founded the engineering Undergraduate Learning Center to support students enrolled in challenging foundational engineering courses. The center has expanded over the past decade and a half to offer studying, training and tutoring support for hundreds of students in more than 50 engineering, math and science courses.

To further encourage undergraduate student excellence, Peercy and his wife, Cathy, recently established the Dean Emeritus Paul S. and Catherine B. Peercy Undergraduate Tutoring Fund, which funds an annual scholarship of approximately $5,000 for an outstanding tutor in the Undergraduate Learning Center.

“Paul’s dedication to engineering students was truly inspiring,” says Ian Robertson, who became College of Engineering dean after Peercy retired in 2013. “He led a transformation in the way we approach all facets of our students’ education—and his efforts not only established the college as a national leader in engineering education, but also benefited thousands of past and current students.”

Peercy also instituted initiatives to elevate the College of Engineering research profile—among them, efforts to gain federal funding in basic and applied research areas such as materials science, applied physics and microelectronics. He also continued the college commitment to building the Department of Biomedical Engineering, which was established in 1999. “These were natural areas of interest for him, given his longstanding research accomplishments and expertise at Sandia and SEMI/Sematech, to make engineering advances science-based,” says Michael Corradini, the Wisconsin Distinguished Professor of Engineering Physics who served as associate dean for engineering academic affairs under Peercy. “He had a unique ability to analyze complex issues, identify potential solutions, and efficiently address them to the betterment of the students and the college.”

Read Peercy’s obituary, published Oct. 22, 2016, here.

  • A memorial service will be held Monday, November 7. The service will be at 11 a.m. at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 5701 Raymond Road, Madison. Visitation tentatively will begin at 9:30, and a lunch will follow in Peterson Hall.
  • You can make gifts in Peercy’s memory to the Emeritus Dean Paul S. and Catherine B. Peercy Undergraduate Tutoring Fund (fund No. 132340003). Go to the UW Foundation secure giving website, secure.supportuw.org/give, and copy and paste the full fund name into the box under “Choose what to support.”

Author: Renee Meiller