An investment with a guaranteed return

An investment with a guaranteed return

Robert H. Dodds Jr. (MS 75, PhD 78)
Professor Emeritus

Our department is a national treasure for public education and research in the field of civil and environmental engineering. Incredibly talented and innovative faculty, exceptionally bright and enthusiastic students, dedicated staff, strong support from campus leadership and extensive laboratories and classrooms all together make CEE at Illinois a world leader in our profession. Our deep and ongoing tradition of fostering excellence insures that future CEE at Illinois graduates will advance into key leadership positions in practice, government and academia and will drive innovation in all areas of the profession.

Bob and Deana Dodds at Bob's retirement reception in the Yeh Student Center in 2012
Bob and Deana Dodds at Bob's retirement reception in the Yeh Student Center in 2012.

Over the years, many CEE alumni and friends have recognized the tremendous impact their gifts could have at Illinois, empowering the world’s top faculty and students. Their investment in the future has led to growth and sustained excellence in the department. Private support for CEE at Illinois increased markedly during the 1990s with major gifts to support undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships, and endowed Fellows/Professorships/Chairs for faculty. In earlier decades, much of the private support focused on scholarships for undergraduate students. But over the more recent past, a surge of national and international interest in MS-level education as preparation to enter practice has more than doubled CEE’s graduate enrollment from 300 to 750 full-time students. New gifts that establish continuing fellowships enable CEE to attract the most outstanding of these students from across the nation to study at Illinois. The increased number of permanent, endowed funds for faculty Chairs/Professorships/Fellows enhances the ability of CEE to attract and retain exceptional teachers, researchers and leaders for the department’s future. Unlike at many private universities, funds for the Chairs/Professorships/Fellows are not used to replace the usual academic salary provided by the campus. In CEE, our faculty use these funds, for example, in direct support of students connected with research (often in high-risk early-stage projects), for student travel to present work at conferences and for hosting distinguished visitors to the department. 

As the department has grown, a different need arose for the modernization of our 50-year-old facilities and more space for our growing department. In 2005, the first year of my tenure as Head of CEE, we launched the largest campaign in the department’s history to raise $7M of gift funds to construct a CEE Student Center linked to Newmark Laboratory. Following more than a decade of generous support for CEE, M.T. Geoffrey Yeh (Class of 1953) contributed his challenge gift of $4M to be matched by $3M of gifts from alumni, faculty, friends and supporters. The campaign exceeded this goal, and the M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Student Center opened in fall 2011. The Yeh Center had an immediate, profound impact on the daily life of our students and faculty. The large, attractive and contemporary study spaces and classrooms fostered new levels of interactions between students and faculty – bringing the teaching and mentoring missions of the department under one roof with the faculty for the first time since the 1960s.

I felt extremely fortunate to head our leadership and development teams to secure the $3M of matching gifts. In our extensive travels over the next four years, we met with many dozens of our alumni who supported this challenge with generous gifts of all sizes. We heard captivating stories of their favorite professors, their hardest professors (!); of lifelong friendships started while studying, working late nights on concrete canoe teams, and playing intramural sports; of caring support from a CEE staff member during some snafu with their scholarship; of first dates at Steak & Shake with a spouse of now more than 50 years; of first apartments after getting married – is the building still there? And, of course, we heard the many and varied marvelous stories of how the CEE at Illinois education and experiences launched and impacted their professional careers. A decision to provide financial support to help today’s young people make their own CEE at Illinois experiences through the Yeh Center has proven to be a most satisfying investment.

With the Yeh Center now designated as Phase I, my wife, Deana, and I are again pleased to make a new gift pledge in support of Phase II of the CEE Modernization Plan focused on the Hydrosystems Laboratory. The project aims and goals follow in the same spirit of the Yeh Student Center. Phase II, however, is far more ambitious in both scope and cost. While CEE Department, College of Engineering and Campus funds comprise much of the total $32M project, private gifts of $5.5M will be critical to reach this goal. Not surprisingly, my reasons for continued giving align with those mentioned above. As a young graduate student in 1974, CEE professors – D. Pecknold, B. Schnobrich, L. Lopez, N. Khachaturian, B. Walker, A. Robinson, J. Stallmeyer, H. Langharr and others – nurtured my growing fascination with structural engineering and mechanics, leading to a most rewarding career of teaching and research on metal behavior for the most demanding of engineering applications. The intellectual fervor and the melting pot of national and international students in the program during my graduate studies forever influenced my outlook on scholarship and world viewpoint. This new gift is made in grateful recognition of those faculty and fellow students.

Few investments we make in life are surefire winners — but gifts to CEE at Illinois in support of students, faculty and facilities carry a 100 percent guarantee of contributing to a better future for our nation and people everywhere. Deana and I are honored to count ourselves among those whose gifts will have such profound impact, and I urge my fellow alums to join us in meeting this new challenge for the future!

Professor Emeritus Robert H. Dodds Jr. (MS 75, PhD 78) served on the faculty of CEE at Illinois from 1987-2012, and as department head from 2004-2009. He was the inaugural holder of the M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Chair in Civil Engineering. During his tenure as head, Dodds began the initiative to raise funds for the M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Student Center, a 20,500-square-foot addition to Newmark Civil Engineering Laboratory that provided state-of-the-art classrooms and collaborative space. The $7 million project, fully funded through private gifts, is now considered Phase I of the longer-term CEE Modernization Plan. Dodds is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

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