Historic gift yields 13 new engineering professorships

Tags: alumni, giving, morgridge match, Professorship

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John and Tashia Morgridge

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A historic $100 million matching gift to University of Wisconsin-Madison has spurred the creation of 13 new professorships that will strengthen top-flight faculty at the UW-Madison College of Engineering.

Announced in November 2014, the gift from UW-Madison alumni John and Tashia Morgridge provided a 1-to-1 match for any other donor making a gift to endow a professorship, chair or distinguished chair. This drew attention to the importance of recognizing and retaining existing faculty and continuing to attract the best new faculty hires. In addition to creating 13 new professorships, funds donated under the match will enhance two previously existing ones.

Professorships mean far more than the prestige the title brings to a faculty member. They provide faculty members with flexible funds that support efforts such as the groundwork of bold new research ventures, and educational innovation—activities not supported by conventional research grants. These crucial resources enable faculty members to make a bigger impact on their academic fields, their communities and the students they serve. They also send a message that UW-Madison is a place where current and prospective faculty can thrive.

“These gifts represent a crucial investment for an institution that relies on outstanding thinkers, educators and researchers,” says College of Engineering Dean Ian Robertson. “To provide the greatest value to our students and the people of Wisconsin, the College of Engineering needs to maintain a competitive edge in recruiting and retaining faculty.”

Susan Hagness is the Philip Dunham Reed Professor of electrical and computer engineering and the college associate dean for research. She calls endowed professorships essential to the college’s competitiveness in recruiting and retaining the most sought-after scholars in the world.

“In turn, we are able to teach and mentor outstanding students, who will make all kinds of positive contributions to the world throughout their careers,” she says. “One of the best features of being part of the College of Engineering is having the opportunity to interact with such a dynamic, talented group of faculty, staff and students.”

College of Engineering faculty currently use endowed professorships not only to expand their research, but also to expand the college’s value to its students. Engineering Physics Professor Greg Moses holds the Harvey D. Spangler Professorship, which has given him the flexibility to take on extra classroom teaching duties, and also funds to support his work on new online courses that train engineering students in the use of essential software tools. “I’m able to go a lot further with the course than just the minimum that’s needed to prepare an online course. The funding from the professorship provides an increment of excellence that isn’t necessarily funded through traditional means,” Moses says.

Professorships enable some faculty to elevate the educational quality of their fields on an even broader scale. Elmer R. and Janet A. Kaiser Chair in Mechanical Engineering Greg Nellis and Ouweneel-Bascom Professor of Mechanical Engineering Sandy Klein have collaborated in recent years to write two textbooks, on thermodynamics and heat transfer, that offer an update on previously available textbooks in those fields by integrating information on the computer tools that employers expect engineering graduates to be able to use. Nellis is currently doing the same in co-writing the second edition of the textbook Cryogenic Heat Transfer. Nellis says his professorship empowers him to look beyond his own research and teaching activities and think about how to have a broader impact on his field, both in academia and industry. “I’m doing it because that’s what universities should be doing—taking knowledge like this and getting it to people working in the field,” Nellis says. “And this book will probably be much more impactful than a paper.”

Several of the new professorships are available to current and perspective faculty across the College of Engineering. Others target specific departments, or are directed toward specific endeavors, including building on particular research strengths and increasing faculty diversity.

The 13 new professorships are:

• Richard L. Antoine Professorship in Chemical and Biological Engineering

• Baldovin-Dapra Professorship in Chemical and Biological Engineering

• Duane H. & Dorothy M. Bluemke Professorship in Chemical and Biological Engineering

• Jay and Cynthia Ihlenfeld Professorship in the College of Engineering

• Leon and Elizabeth Janssen Professorship in the College of Engineering

• Karen Thompson Medhi Professorship in the College of Engineering

• Karen and William Monfre Professorship in Chemical and Biological Engineering

• Alain H. Peyrot Professorship in Structural Engineering

• Gary and Rosemarie Wendt Professorship in Civil and Environmental Engineering

• Thomas and Suzanne Werner Chair in the College of Engineering

• Raymond R. Holton Chair in the College of Engineering

• The Boldt Company Professorship for Construction Engineering and Management

• Patricia and Michael Splinter Professorship in Electrical and Computer Engineering

This is an unprecedented time of alumni support spurred by the Morgridge match and now the Nicholas scholarship match,” says Michael Splinter, retired chairman of Applied Materials, who earned his UW-Madison bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering in 1972 and a master’s in 1974. The professorship Splinter and his wife Patricia Splinter have endowed in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering will focus on women and people of color.

“We believe there is a huge opportunity for the UW to be the place where female engineers and engineers of color want to study, teach and do their research,” Splinter says. “Engineering, and in particular electrical engineering, needs to improve the representation from these groups. In a small way our professorship might help motivate and create a role model for young engineers.”

The Karen Thompson Medhi Professorship shares a similar goal and honors one family’s deep UW-Madison connection. In 1987, Medhi became the first woman to earn her UW-Madison PhD in industrial engineering. Many people in her family, including her parents and grandparents, went to UW-Madison, and her father was a professor at the Wisconsin School of Business. Medhi went on to hold many important engineering roles in industry and later worked as a math teacher, but she died unexpectedly in 2014 at the age of 53.

Medhi’s brother Jim Thompson, who earned his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in electrical and computer engineering, and currently serves as executive vice president of engineering at Qualcomm, decided that the best way to honor her memory would be to establish a professorship that will be available to female faculty across the college. “As the first woman to earn her PhD from UW-Madison’s industrial engineering program, my sister was a groundbreaker and very much a mathematician,” Thompson says.

Thompson says engineering has improved its gender balance since he was in school in the late 1980s and early ’90s, but his experience over the years has shown him there’s still a long way to go, both in academia and industry. “Because it is such a male-dominated environment, you walk into a lab and you might not see any women,” he says.

The unprecedented level of faculty support spurred by the Morgridge match reflects a profound commitment to the diverse and enduring strengths of UW-Madison.

“People around the world know the University of Wisconsin and we’re a relatively small state,” Thompson says. “How did it get that way? Really, it comes down to great faculty. That’s what ultimately creates great universities.”

Engineering External Relations