College's online program named to reflect gift from alumnus and wife

A generous gift from alumnus Bob Buckman (BSChE '59) and his wife, Joyce A. Mollerup, led to naming The Robert H. Buckman College of Engineering Online Education Program.
Bob Buckman and Joyce Mollerup
Bob Buckman (BSChE '59) and his wife, Joyce A. Mollerup, have invested in the College of Engineering's online education program.

As a trustee for three different higher education institutions since 1987, Robert Buckman (BSChE ’59) has watched the cost of earning a college degree tick up faster than students’ ability to pay.

But not at Purdue, which “has marched to a different drummer for over 12 years now,” Buckman said, referring to the tuition rate for in-state students remaining frozen at the 2012 level. “I cannot think of a better steward of my investment in higher education.”

That investment — which will now support not only undergraduate online programs, but also graduate online programs and certifications — has come in the form of a generous gift from Buckman and his wife, Joyce A. Mollerup, to name The Robert H. Buckman College of Engineering Online Education Program.

“I am delighted that we are celebrating Bob and Joyce for their vision and generosity. When we proposed and accepted their gift in Engineering Online, we could not have anticipated its big impact on undergraduate education during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dimitrios Peroulis, senior vice president for Purdue University Online and the Reilly Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “It is wonderful we now have the opportunity to celebrate it.”

Now past the pandemic-era needs, the Buckman Engineering Online program will focus on transformative opportunities in the post-pandemic era. One focus will be to provide online required courses for undergraduate students doing internships and co-ops so they can continue to make progress on their degrees and graduate on time. Another focus will be to grow online master’s programs while improving graduation rates. Across both undergraduate and graduate online programs, the Buckman program also will invest in innovations to improve education quality and student engagement and to use artificial intelligence (AI) to boost outcomes for students across educational levels and career stages.

With online programs, professors don’t need classrooms, students have flexibility and universities can expand their student bases, Buckman said.

Indeed, scalability is one of the hallmarks of online engineering at Purdue, which is ranked as the No. 3 online graduate engineering program in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Quality of the curriculum, micro-credential options and the availability of support coaches also contribute to its success. But for the program to retain its spot and strive for No. 1, there is always more to do.

“Modern technology and modern expectations mean we must keep evolving with the times to provide students with top-flight experiences,” said Milind Kulkarni, academic lead for The Robert H. Buckman College of Engineering Online Education Program and head of the Elmore Family School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Long before the pandemic forced universities across the country to deliver courses via online platforms, Buckman had a vision of expanding programming to accommodate more students. Conversations about his gift date back to 2019, and it was approved by the Purdue Board of Trustees in April 2020, leading to what is now the formal announcement of the addition to his gift.

Arvind Raman, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering, said he appreciates the couple’s confidence in the college’s online graduate program.

“I’m deeply grateful to Bob and Joyce for entrusting Purdue Engineering with this gift,” Raman said. “Their incredible generosity will allow us to enhance our competitiveness and keep our name top-of-mind when students are shopping for superior online engineering programs.”

Buckman is the retired (2000) chief executive officer of Bulab Holdings, Inc., the parent company of Buckman Laboratories, an industrial chemical manufacturer. He served on the board of directors until 2008, rejoined for the 2020-21 term and now serves as chair emeritus.

“In our business at Buckman, we have been leveraging online education for our associates scattered in 90 different countries since the mid-1990s,” said Buckman, explaining his vested interest in online engineering programs. “Delivering the content through computer networks allows for the redefinition of the cost of education.”

First class all the way

The Purdue online curriculum builds on the university’s existing infrastructure for online education to ensure that students receive the support — and community — they need through a progressive agenda:

  • Interaction — By utilizing existing delivery platforms and partnerships, courses ensure that students find opportunities to interact with other students, professors and teaching assistants. In addition, there will be opportunities to build face-to-face cohorts with on-campus peers.
  • Experiences — Many online courses are offered concurrently with their on-campus counterparts so that online students can access the same resources — relying on the same pedagogical principles — as on-campus students.
  • Labs — Through cutting-edge lab experiences, students develop practical skills that open doors for them to explore robotics, semiconductors, chemical processes and more.
  • Support — Recognizing the unique dimensions of online learning, the program offers tailored coaching and advising. The program also will incorporate increasingly capable AI-based tools to further shape students’ experiences based on their needs.

“Bob and Joyce’s gift will take us into the next era of what we want to do online — offering first-class programming for students wherever they are in the world and wherever they are in life,” Kulkarni said. “We want to reach learners in more situations: working professionals, undergraduates on internships and co-ops, and students studying abroad. All of these folks are going to be touched by this program.”

Buckman echoed that mentality: “The speed at which we can innovate will determine our scope.”

It’s important to keep in mind that students don’t have the same experiences they did 40 years ago, Kulkarni said. They aren’t staying all four years on campus anymore, but that doesn’t mean their degree progress has to be put on hold. With many undergraduate courses available online, students can access and complete classes while at the same time participating in off-campus enrichment options.

“The goal here is to broaden the scope of what students can do in the online space,” Kulkarni said. “We want to provide opportunities to more of our undergrads without compromising their educational program and without slowing their time to degree.”

Access to education is the best way to open windows of opportunity, Buckman said.

“Joyce and I have always believed that education is about helping individuals grow to be the best that they can be. Can we do that by expanding the reach of the university for engineering education through online learning? I think we can,” he said.

60-plus years of outreach

The concept of distance education has been in existence at Purdue since 1922, when the university began broadcasting electrical engineering courses over radio station WBAA. In the 1960s, closed-circuit two-way television broadcasts of courses were offered both on campus and in Indianapolis and Bloomington. In the 1970s, Purdue’s Engineering Television Center produced courses for use on the statewide Indiana Higher Education Telecommunications System TV network, and in the 1980s, Purdue installed a satellite uplink to enable engineering courses to be distributed throughout the country via the National Technological University.

The first internet courses were introduced in the 1990s, and by the mid-2000s, the college offered online graduate degrees in aeronautics and astronautics, electrical and computer engineering, industrial engineering, interdisciplinary engineering, mechanical engineering and a dual Master of Science in Engineering + Master of Business Administration.

Today, there are more than 200 unique graduate engineering courses available in 15 disciplines. Online students hail from all 50 states and 31 countries, and 145 faculty members teach courses.