Conners give with the future in mind
Rick Conner (BSCE ’76) believes civil engineering is an important component of every construction project, and he has built a successful career on this belief. Now, he wants to ensure that future Purdue civil engineering graduates have the same opportunity.
Conner and his wife, Penny (BA Elementary Education ’76), recently provided funding for the creation of two new engineering laboratories in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering. The Rick and Penny Conner Labs, each of which focuses on a different aspect of civil engineering, are located on the newly renovated ground level of Hampton Hall.
“The way the Lyles School offers its curriculum is very important to me, and labs are a big part of that,” says Rick Conner, majority owner, president and COO of the Indianapolis-based engineering and architectural consulting firm American Structurepoint.
“My Purdue education set the stage for everything that came after that for me, and hands-on, real-world experiences such as lab learning were an important part. I want every civil engineering student who passes through Purdue to feel that same way.”
Penny Conner’s reasons for giving are similarly simple.
“Outside of getting married and having children, my time at Purdue was the best four years of my life,” she says. “Purdue set the foundation for our success in so many ways. We’ve lived a good life, and we want to keep that going for future generations.”
The Conners, who have donated a total of $1.8 million to Purdue civil engineering over the years, gave $800,000 toward a structural engineering lab and $750,000 toward an architectural engineering lab. The Conner Structural Engineering Lab covers 1,395 square feet, and the neighboring Conner Architectural Engineering Lab covers 1,735 square feet.
“I think testing your knowledge firsthand, alongside your professors and your peers, is the best way to learn,” Rick Conner says. “You need to get in there, work with a team and analyze the results. That’s learning how to work in the real world, and there’s always room for more of that.”
Rick Conner, a recipient of both the Civil Engineering Alumni Achievement Award and the College of Engineering Distinguished Engineering Alumni/Alumnae Award, says he built his career around a well-rounded engineering education. He started at American Structurepoint as an apprentice drafter when he was just 16 years old, and he continued working there during summers while he was at Purdue. His professional career with the company included leadership in its bridge group, its structural group and even its architecture group, an unusual opportunity for an engineer.
“I focused on structural engineering as a specialization within civil when I was at Purdue, and I worked my way up as a structural engineer at a company that is truly multidisciplinary. My first jobs were on all sorts of structures,” Conner says. “Civil engineering is a very important component in nearly every project, including architecture and so many other areas, and these laboratory teaching experiences will become the foundation for a thorough understanding of the underlying engineering principles at work.”
Rick Conner visited the finished labs for the first time in summer 2019 when he and grandson Blake Conner, the oldest of seven grandchildren, were on campus to take part in Purdue’s Grandparents University program. The program allows families to live the college life and take tailored coursework for two days each summer. The Conners enrolled in the “Engineering Everywhere” curriculum, which included classes at Hampton Hall.
“We give back because Purdue has such an excellent civil engineering program and we want that to continue for the generations that follow,” Rick Conner says. “And when we refer to future generations, we’re not kidding.”