Although Gary Wendt spends most of his time in Florida, his presence resonates across UW-Madison’s campus through a long history of philanthropy. A scholarship he established to promote diversity in the College of Engineering has already helped 99 students pursue their degrees.
Now, Wendt will support even more future scholars as they achieve their educational dreams. He will expand his namesake scholarship and, through a historic matching gift from UW-Madison alumni John and Tashia Morgridge, create a named professorship in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
“The Morgridge match inspired me to establish the professorship,” says Wendt, who aspires for UW-Madison to become more independent and unfettered from political ideology.
The Gary Wendt Professorship in Civil and Environmental Engineering will support a professor who encompasses UW-Madison’s deep commitment to high quality instruction and innovative research. In particular, Wendt hopes this faculty member will provide cutting-edge solutions to environmental problems, such as phosphorus runoff from fertilizers into streams and rivers.
He attributes his lifelong love for the outdoors to his rural Wisconsin upbringing. More recently, he has enjoyed the chance to explore nature in the Everglades National Park.
“I spent a lot of time in offices during my career; now that I’m semi-retired I can get out on the water more often,” says Wendt.
During Wendt’s long career with GE Capital, he orchestrated more than 300 acquisitions. He says that the business classes he chose as electives while pursuing a degree in civil engineering gave him a unique perspective on the world.
Coming from a small high school, Wendt faced challenges familiar to many freshmen at UW-Madison—especially the notoriously torturous introductory calculus. His desire to contribute to important public works, like the nascent U.S. Interstate Highway System program, propelled him through challenging coursework to receive a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering in 1965.
Recognizing that financial burdens prevent too many students from reaching their potential, Wendt established a scholarship bearing his name in 2002. Originally conceived to promote women pursuing engineering education, subsequently its scope expanded to help minority students of both genders. Now Wendt is providing additional funding so that even more aspiring Badger engineers may benefit.
Ahraaz Qureishi, who received his bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering in 2013, credits the award for setting him down the path to his current position at Pierce Engineers.
“The Wendt Diversity Scholarship not only helped to pay for books and tuition, but it also gave me peace of mind to know I could focus solely on schoolwork. For me, this made the award worth more than just its monetary value,” he says.
Wendt receives letters every year from each of the scholarship recipients, giving him a way to reconnect with campus through the students. His advice to graduating seniors is to have focus on their passions, but not at the expense of being open to new experiences.
“Take a job and work at it to expand yourself,” Wendt says. “Working hard and keeping an open mind at the beginning of your career will help you get into your core interests.”
And … he recommends that incoming freshman make sure to study their calculus.
Author: Sam Million-Weaver