Why We Gave to the CEE Modernization Project

Why We Gave to the CEE Modernization Project

The facilities portion of the CEE Modernization Project is under construction – a large addition to the Hydrosystems Lab and a Smart Bridge. Due to the pandemic, construction has been delayed; the new completion date is estimated to be sometime this fall. Plans are being made for a grand opening celebration sometime in spring 2021. All donors will be invited.

Below, a few of our approximately 500 donors share their motivation for giving to this historic initiative. We are humbled and honored by their generosity. Gifts are still needed to fully realize all the planned spaces.

To see more named spaces, visit modernize.cee.illinois.edu/namedspaces

Amanda Bordelon (BS 05, MS 07, PhD 11), Matthew George and Lucas George*

* future engineer, BS 2039

Concrete Canoe History Display

When I was looking at colleges, I remembered getting a tour of a school with canoes on the wall and was inspired to go there. Upon becoming a freshman at Illinois, I remember someone telling me to join the Concrete Canoe Team, and I was hooked.  I loved learning the complex challenges associated with the mixture and the aesthetics, and learning so many of the managerial/leadership skills. Most of all I loved that the other alumni from the Boneyard Yacht Club came back to train and support us through the process.  I am donating back to Illinois so that the future visitors will continue to see and be inspired by the history of the concrete canoe team starting with [faculty members] Clyde Kesler and Francis Young in 1971. I hope Illinois students will continue to take part and lead in this long-standing, notable, now-international competition. 

Ernest J. Barenberg Concrete Materials and Pavement Instructional Laboratory

I was in the transportation group working for Jeff Roesler during my graduate years.  I loved my experiences with the other faculty, staff and students in all of the transportation area – including going to the Railroad Seminars and driving out to Rantoul to test pavement materials, before and after the Illinois Center for Transportation existed.  I felt like the transportation group was my family.  The staff throughout the entire department were also very memorable to me for their friendliness and wilingness to help. I have very fond memories of those who helped me with my research and would like to give back to the Ernie Barenberg lab so that they can continue to progress as being world-renowned for pavements and railroads.  I hope to also pay it forward myself as I use the knowledge and skills learned in graduate school on concrete and pavements in my own career as a professor.

— Amanda Bordelon, CEE alumna and Associate Professor at Utah Valley University. Pictured above are Bordelon with her husband, Matthew George, Ph.D. (PhD MATSE 09), Application Scientist at Moxtek, and their son, Lucas.


Greeley and Hansen
Andy Martin

Vernon L. Snoeyink Water Chemistry Laboratory

Greeley and Hansen is dedicated to designing better urban environments by providing sustainable and innovative water resources solutions and programs to meet the needs of the water sector.

Since our founding in Chicago in 1914, a long line of U of I alumni have joined Greeley and Hansen and many have contributed to the continued success of our firm by serving in key leadership positions and roles over the years.  And, we believe that both our firm and our clients have benefitted from the strong technical training, advanced skills and innovative mindset that U of I CEE graduates have brought, and continue to bring, to our project work.

 As a leading global engineering firm, Greeley and Hansen is committed to supporting and advancing the water and wastewater industry, the engineering profession, and STEM education as well. In keeping with our vision and commitment to advancing technical excellence and innovation in the field of civil and environmental engineering, over the years our firm has forged a valued and rewarding relationship with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign CEE department.

 And, Greeley and Hansen is proud to continue to honor our partnership with CEE through our leadership gift for the Vernon L. Snoeyink Water Chemistry Laboratory as part of the CEE Modernization Project. This world-class lab will provide students with cutting-edge facilities for advanced study, innovative research and transformative learning related to water engineering.

“The gift to sponsor the Snoeyink Lab is in direct alignment with the work, commitment and spirit of our firm from its earliest history,” said CEE alumnus Andy Martin (BS 98), Principal and Global Design Center Manager at Greeley and Hansen. “In fact, our founder, Samuel A. Greeley, was a true pioneer in advancing water and sanitation practices in the early 1900s.”

In addition to supporting Greeley and Hansen’s overall commitment to advance STEM education, we believe the Snoeyink Lab will have a profound and lasting impact in preparing future generations of engineering leaders in the water resources field.


Dana Mehlman (BS 99, MS 01)

CEE Alumni Association Board of Directors Student Collaboration Space

I am often confronted with the question, why do you give? And sometimes when others discover that I give to the University of Illinois, that question is combined with an off-the-cuff, you paid a ton in tuition, haven’t you given enough? To this, my answer is always the same. No. I will never be able to give enough.

Giving is a way that I can express what really matters to me. And one of the things that really matters to me is education. My education, your education and the education of generations to come. Strength in higher education comes in many forms: excellent teachers, excellent students and an excellent learning environment. This is why I chose to give to the Phase II Modernization Project through the Civil and Environmental Engineering Alumni Association (CEEAA) Board of Directors Student Collaboration Space.

The CEEAA Board of Directors was established in 1963 to inspire loyalty and pride among alumni and friends by developing and enhancing their continued relationship with the department. My own commitment to the CEEAA Board of Directors began in the fall of 2012, and I look forward to the next eight years where I will have the opportunity to serve on the Executive Committee of the CEEAA.

Through my involvement in the CEEAA, I have been able to maintain and establish relationships with the faculty, students and staff of the CEE department. The ingenuity, creativity and intelligence of the students never ceases to amaze me. But students need more than internal traits to succeed; they need modern facilities and collaboration spaces to flourish. Just as those before me gave so that I could have a first-class education at the University of Illinois, so too do I give, so that others can build upon the legacy that began so long ago.

—Dana Mehlman, Environmental Attorney, Vedder Price, P.C


Jerry Benson (BS 75)

Vernon L. Snoeyink Water Chemistry Laboratory

The education I received at the University of Illinois set a great foundation for my career in the field of research engineering and my professional career. Part of those experiences involved the knowledge gained and skills gained in addition to the interaction with fellow students, teachers and professors. Even some 55 years since graduation, I still remain in contact with fellow students. Upon hearing about the Modernization Project through the CEE magazine, especially since it included a laboratory involving one of my former professors, whom I greatly admired, I was moved to make a contribution to this worthwhile project.

That professor was Dr. Vern Snoeyink, who was a mentor while I was a student and served as a wonderful example I used as a model for my professional career. Fortunately, my successful career in engineering and later as a founder/owner of a commercial laboratory allowed me to contribute to the Modernization Project.

— Jerry Benson retired after 30 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory. He founded and was one of four owners of Isotech Laboratories Inc. When it was sold in 2011 he retired to Lafayette, Colo.


Michael A. Burson (BS 73)

Transportation Faculty Classroom in honor of Barry Dempsey

Professor Benito Mariñas, at the time Head of CEE at Illinois, came out to Chico, Calif., where I live and met with my wife, Gloria, and me to explain the project in detail. Dr. Mariñas was so enthusiastic about the undertaking and provided me with significant details; which also got me interested in how I could help.

If not for my education at Illinois, I would not have known about the company for which I worked my entire 40-year career. In 1973, The Lyles Construction Group (LCG) from Fresno, Calif., only interviewed on campus for CE graduates from Purdue (where the owners graduated), Illinois and Iowa State. I was fortunate to be hired that year and worked my way up from being an engineer-in-training to president of the company when I retired.

In retirement now for seven years, I work a few days a month and serve as Chairman of the Board. LCG is composed of W.M. Lyles Co., American Paving Co., Lyles Utility Construction, New England Sheet Metal and Mechanical, and Lyles Services Co. The companies specialize in sewage and water treatment plants, asphalt paving and grading, pipelines and underground utilities, and industrial/mechanical systems. LCG is one of the largest construction organizations on the west coast.

It was not the specific details that I learned from my classes at Illinois that allowed me to have a successful career so much as the critical thinking that was needed to solve problems and how to work with a team/group to complete projects. I took a different route than most CEs in that I went into construction management, whereas most CEs go into a design role.

As Professor Mariñas and I discussed how I might help, he asked me who my favorite professors were during those four years in Champaign. Two professors stood out, Barry Dempsey and Narbey Khachaturian.  I had both of them for two classes each and both were excellent, not only as instructors but as gentlemen who treated their students with respect. I said I would be glad to provide the leadership gift for the classroom renovation for whichever one Professor Mariñas wanted. As it turned out, Professor Khachaturian’s classroom gift was taken, so I gladly took on the pledge to start the one for Professor Dempsey.

—Michael A. Burson, Chairman of the Board, Lyles Construction Group


Marilyn Erickson Tears (BS 80, MS 82) and Nelson Tears

Illinois Alumni of ExxonMobil Conference Room

The CEE Modernization Project provided an opportunity for me to join with other ExxonMobil employees as a group to link our personal contributions to the improvement effort.  We saw this as a great opportunity to recognize the university department that gave all of us a strong foundation to begin our careers.  The effort also allowed us to establish a lasting legacy by naming a conference room for ExxonMobil and show our pride in working for ExxonMobil. 

My entire career I was involved in campus recruiting for engineers at U of I and take pride in the number of CEE alumni that have joined ExxonMobil and their accomplishments – so the room naming is extra special for me. I am looking forward to future pictures of ExxonMobil alumni in front of the classroom named in ExxonMobil’s honor.     

In addition to being a student at U of I, I also grew up in Urbana and was exposed to the benefits of the University at a very young age through after-school science programs and school field trips. I still remember our field trip to take water samples along the Boneyard Creek and view under microscopes in the laboratory. The facilities at U of I benefit not only the students and faculty but also the community. I’ve seen the value in other bricks and mortar improvements over the years and believe that the Modernization Project will set CEE up for students of the future.  My BS/MS in Civil Engineering education supported my successful 37-year career at ExxonMobil in construction, operations management and global project management. I look forward to seeing the future CEE alumni make a difference in our world.       

One item that is great about giving at U of I is that donation pledges are allowed to be done over several years.  This gave me the ability to make a larger pledge over several years. I found this option useful for donating to the CEE Modernization Project. I also used this option when establishing a scholarship to honor my parents previously. I take pride in CEE’s standing as a top civil engineering program and I am very vocal of my pride in being a CEE graduate. If there are any alumni who have not donated to CEE through either monetary donations, time or talent, I hope this article gives you a nudge to think again about making a pledge to support CEE.

—Marilyn Erickson Tears (BS 80, MS 82) retired in 2019 after a 37-year career with ExxonMobil




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