Pioneer and Mentor

New endowment honors former professor’s leadership in environmental engineering and commitment to Purdue students

A pioneer in the field of environmental engineering, former professor Jim Etzel (MSCE '55, PhD '57) helped set countless students on the road to success. To honor the impact he had on their education and careers, several Purdue alumni joined forces last year to establish an endowment in his honor.

The Dr. James Etzel Endowment will support graduate education in the area of environmental engineering within the School of Civil Engineering. Its income may be used to fund graduate fellowships, research, travel to conferences, professional development, scientific equipment, or to supplement graduate assistantships.

Etzel's ties to Purdue run deep. Three of his five children graduated from the university, and a distinguished group of students followed him into the field of sanitary and environmental engineering. As a Purdue professor from 1959–90, he mentored and advised more than 100 graduate students who grew into an extended family.

"Professor Etzel was an outstanding faculty member for many years at Purdue," says Kathy Banks, Bowen Engineering Head and Professor of Civil Engineering. "In fact, he is responsible for the high quality and reputation of Purdue's environmental engineering area today."

Robert Jacko (PhD '72), a professor of civil engineering, describes Etzel as a wonderful mentor. "He did an awful lot of wastewater consulting he would then bring into the classroom," Jacko says. Etzel also took students into the field, allowing them to work firsthand on industrial wastewater problems.

An internationally recognized leader in wastewater treatment, Etzel served as head of the environmental engineering area from 1971 until his retirement. He was also a distinguished professor in the School of Civil Engineering. Among his professional milestones, he was instrumental in the formation of what is now known as Heritage Environmental Services, a premier U.S. environmental services firm he later joined as vice president. Etzel was an active industry consultant and an expert witness in several environmental cases, and he chaired both the Tippecanoe County Solid Waste Commission and the West Lafayette Environmental Commission.

According to Ken Price (BSCE '64, MSCE '66, PhD '68), chairman/CEO of Heritage Environmental Services, the endowment seeks to support initiatives that complement Etzel's work and priorities—from work in trade associations to carrying intellectual material out for more general work to building relationships throughout the industrial community. "These are things he did well and perhaps a little differently than almost any other professor that most of us dealt with," Price says.

As a professor, Etzel sought to equip students to be successful and highly employable when they entered industry. "Creating an endowment is something I never thought would happen," he says.

-Matt Schnepf