2016 Engineering Hall of Fame: William Chittenden BSGE 1950

Mike Helenthal
9/15/2016 3:01:53 PM

Carol and William Chittenden with ISE Department Head Rakesh Nagi
Carol and William Chittenden with ISE Department Head Rakesh Nagi

On September 16, William Chittenden will be inducted into the Engineering at Illinois Hall of Fame to honor his ongoing support for the development of engineering professionals through continuing education.

Necessity is not only the mother of invention, it is also the word William Chittenden uses to describe the role of the Illinois’s Industrial and Enterprise Systems Department in providing opportunities for humanity to live fuller, longer lives.

It’s also the reason Chittenden, who earned his Bachelor’s in General Engineering from Illinois in 1950, never lost his connection with the university that provided him the perspective to even consider such possibilities.

“I learned so much at Illinois,” he says, recalling a professional career that included his pioneering development of design procedures for nuclear power plants with Sargent and Lundy, and the supervision of design and construction of a number of fossil fuel and nuclear power plants.  

He spent his entire professional career with the company and rose to the rank of CEO before retiring in 1991.

He is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), a fellow of the American Nuclear Society (ANS), and was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 1987.

But he never really left Illinois.

In 1978 he was given the Gamma Epsilon Distinguished Alumnus Award, and in 1989 he received the College of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

“ISE taught business and engineering, which put me in a very good place in my career,” he says. “It gave me the ability to not only recognize opportunities, but create them.”

William and his wife of 64 years Carol have been creating opportunities for Illinois students for nearly 30 years through their namesake Chittenden Family Foundation.

“We’ve always wanted to do what we could to keep the university going forward, and keep this department at the top of the heap,” he says. “We’ve gotten a lot from this university and I’d like to give something back.”
When William and Carol first met during a blind date on campus, they couldn’t foresee the future, but they had a good idea they were heading in the right direction.

It’s that same unwavering feeling that led them to set up two separate scholarship funds to bring together the Colleges of Engineering and Applied Health Sciences, a partnership they feel will benefit humankind in still unknown ways – most notably by creating convenient devices that give older and physically challenged people a better quality of life.

“We thought there were a lot of opportunities for interchange and that it would be beneficial to promote a collaboration,” William says.

“We thought great things might happen if the two schools worked more closely together, and that people could be helped by that,” Carol adds.

To that end, they created the Carol Chittenden Scholarship, awarded annually to an undergraduate student in the Kinesiology and Community Health Department; and the William Chittenden Fellowship, awarded annually to a graduate student in ISE. They also sponsor an award for best graduate thesis relating Engineering and AHS.

Their vision has led to an annual namesake symposium sponsored by the two colleges, where the topics of aging and later-year quality of life are discussed by leading researchers in the field. Last year’s themes were “Health, Technology and Aging” and “Age-Friendly Champaign-Urbana.”

“At Illinois I saw that you needed a lot of teamwork and coordination between disciplines if you wanted to break new ground,” says Chittenden, one of the charter members of the Dean’s Board of Visitors, a group of outside businesspeople who share ideas on academic issues.

The Chittendens were already thinking of Chandra Jayaraman, the 2009-10 William Chittenden Fellowship recipient, when they first set up the fellowship in 1989.

Jayaraman is glad they were.

“The fellowship gave me the freedom to explore different courses, and pursue the kind of interdisciplinary research and inter-departmental faculty collaboration I wanted for my PhD,” he says. “Such an opportunity is a dream come true for initial stage PhD candidates.”

That freedom led to the formation of a collaborative team including  Jayaraman, which developed a device to monitor wheelchair users’ performance, detect flaws, and educate them about proper wheelchair form. The device informs users early on about how to make adjustments before improper form leads to injury.

It’s also led Jayaraman to further pursue a career in rehabilitation technologies, where he focuses on clinical trials and validating usability aspects of early-state medical/assistive devices for individuals with physical disabilities.

He, too, thinks the collaboration inspired by the Chittendens’s vision will lead to even greater discoveries in the future.

“The collaboration with AHS department, specifically Kinesiology and Community Health, opens the door to explore new domains of research that are proving to be useful in making people’s lives better,” Jayaraman says. “Speaking from the experience with my doctorate degree, this fellowship created the perfect atmosphere for faculty collaboration and sharing of ideas between the two departments.”

“The Chittendens envisioned the advantage of such collaboration a long time ago,” he says.

Jayaraman’s experience has been mirrored by a long list of students who have benefited from the Chittendens’ generous support, says Rakesh Nagi, head and Donald Biggar Willett Professor of ISE.

He says their ongoing support will benefit students – as well as humankind — well into the future.

“Their vision is leading to the development of new devices that help solve challenging problems for humans,” he says. “Sometimes you need engineering interventions, and those can take different forms. We love to innovate – it’s what we do at ISE -- and it’s very gratifying to know our research and innovation in this field will help this generation that has helped us so much.”

FOR FURTHER READING:
Chandrasekaran Jayaraman awarded a 2015 Entrepreneurship at Illinois Summer Fellowship
 

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