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Engineering professor tapped for presidential award

Jeffrey S. Russell

Jeffrey S. Russell (9K JPG)

At a May 16 ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C., University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Jeffrey S. Russell received the 2004 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM).

On behalf of the White House, the National Science Foundation administers the award, which recognizes people and institutions who encourage those in traditionally underrepresented groups, including women and minorities, to participate in science and engineering.

A professor of civil and environmental engineering, Russell is passionate about developing future leaders from underrepresented groups. His mentoring efforts couple a local, "one-on-one" approach with "global" participation. When he came to UW-Madison in 1989, one of his objectives was to build a construction engineering and management program. At that time, he recognized that the next generation of construction professionals would be more diverse in gender, ethnicity and talents and created an inclusive program full of opportunities for those new students.

He continues to mentor and encourage female engineering students to be leaders in on-campus activities and provides opportunities for them to interact with and learn from leaders in the construction engineering and management field. In addition, he supports the efforts of female faculty and staff to assume leadership roles within the UW-Madison community and in the construction industry.

"Professor Russell has the ability to read a person's potential — and support that person in fulfilling it," says Tamara Larson, a former student who now is a field engineer for construction firm M.A. Mortenson. "He is a teacher of engineering, character and self-confidence. His belief in lifelong learning has shown me the importance of not always having the answer, but having confidence to ask the question."

College of Engineering Assistant Dean Sarah Pfatteicher met Russell during the final stages of her doctoral work in the history of science, when she interviewed for an editing position in his office. Convinced the job wouldn't challenge her, Russell arranged for Pfatteicher to teach an engineering ethics course for undergraduate and graduate students. "Over the ensuing years, Professor Russell continued to advocate for me and offer me opportunities to teach, publish and become more involved in the College of Engineering," she says. "Professor Russell's advice and mentoring were instrumental in helping me attain the position of assistant dean for engineering academic affairs within just five years of finishing my PhD."

Nationally, Russell has led and participated in initiatives to increase awareness of and publicize diversity issues within engineering education and practice. To address these issues, Russell has worked with leaders in the construction industry, in government agencies and in private and professional organizations. His work on the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) National Committee on Diversity and Women in Civil Engineering resulted in the publications, "A New Day for ASCE: Celebrating Diversity and Women in Civil Engineering," and "It's about us, too: White Men as Full Diversity Partners in Civil Engineering." At an ASCE national convention, his vision inspired the lecture and panel discussion, "Teaching Diversity: What Every College Student and Professor Should Know."

The future of science and engineering, says Russell, is about developing leaders. "To be successful, we must have a diverse workforce," he says. "We all have an obligation to enable everyone in our society to reach their full potential. I am grateful for this recognition and this will further motivate me to double my effort and commitment to fostering a diverse workforce."

As a PAESMEM recipient, Russell will help lead the national effort to develop fully the nation's human resources in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He earned his bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Cincinnati in 1985 and master's and PhD degrees in civil engineering from Purdue University in 1986 and 1988, respectively.