Investing in Tomorrow - Bob Bowen sets high standard for endowed position

Bob Bowen
Big ideas, dreams realized and tomorrow’s success stories. That’s what the Beavers Charitable Trust is all about. The California-based network of engineers is both a conduit and a home for hundreds of donors whose firm belief in the importance of investing in the future motivates them to support deserving students who will one day lead the heavy construction industry.

Founded in 1977, the nonprofit organization annually generates nearly $500,000 in scholarships that are awarded to students in construction management or civil engineering.

Recently, the Beavers gave Purdue’s Division of Construction Engineering and Management (CEM) a $500,000 commitment for The Beavers Heavy Construction Distinguished Fellow Honoring Donn E. Hancher.

The endowed position is a renewable three- to five-year teaching appointment designed to provide access to the world’s construction industry leaders and ensure that Purdue’s CEM graduates are the world’s best and brightest.

According to Lynn Barr, chairman of the Beavers Charitable Trust, this type of endowment is exactly what the trust is all about.

Impact Maker

Donn E. Hancher

Donn E. Hancher (BSCE ’66, MSCE ’68, PhD ’72) knows the value of rolling up your sleeves and diving into the real world. A renowned and distinguished member of the construction engineering and management field, Hancher served as a professor of civil engineering at Purdue from 1972 to 1998.

His Sixth Sense

Hancher has an uncanny intuition for recognizing his students’ talents and capabilities and how they apply to industry.

His Spark

Smart, tough and totally energized when surrounded by tomorrow’s leaders, Hancher helped establish and manage the undergraduate Construction Engineering and Management program. For Hancher, teaching was all about student success — one student at a time.

His Legacy

“Purdue’s construction program is the finest in the world, and no one has had more of an impact on that program than Donn Hancher.”

Bob Bowen (BSCE ’62, HDR ’07)
Chairman and CEO of Bowen Engineering

“Donn Hancher is a true Purdue person.”

Mark Hastak (PhDCE ’94)
Head of the Division of Construction Engineering and Management

“In today’s highly competitive world, the modern construction company cannot afford less than the best and brightest personnel. We can touch a few people with scholarships, but when we have passionate, real-world professionals teaching — we can reach the entire class,” Barr says.

The endowment was the brainchild of Cliff Schexnayder (PhDCE ’80), professor emeritus at Arizona State University. It was quickly supported by three Purdue graduates scattered across the Midwest: Anne Bigane Wilson (BSCE ’79, MSCE ’81), president of the Chicago firm Bigane Paving Company; Jeff Russell (MSCE ’86, PhD ’88), vice provost and dean for the Division of Continuing Studies and professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Bob Bowen (BSCE ’62, HDR ’07), founder and chairman of the board of directors of Bowen Engineering in Indianapolis. They all share a commitment to mentorship, a passion for construction engineering and a profound admiration for Donn Hancher.

Wilson, Purdue’s first woman CEM graduate, was a student of both Schexnayder and Hancher. Schexnayder describes her as one of his smartest students. For Wilson, supporting this CEM endowment was a no-brainer.

“A few years ago, after an alumni event, Cliff shared his idea to establish an endowment that would provide educational opportunities to students that truly meet the needs of industry,” Wilson says. “Bring top-quality, practical knowledge into the classroom. Combined with inspired mentoring, that would take the program to the next level of excellence. And most important, honor a man we greatly admire — Donn Hancher.”

Momentum snowballed when Bowen, chairman of the endowment committee, a major contributor and “the coolest guy I ever met,” according to Wilson, volunteered his time to teach the course — pro bono.

Bowen has a childlike enthusiasm for introducing real-life experience to Boilermaker engineers. He says he believes that leadership is a learnable and repeatable set of behaviors — that anyone with guidance and practice can be a leader.

“The first step is to equip students with the most sophisticated technologies and learning,” Bowen says. “The next is to connect them with people, ideas, leadership skills and marketing expertise. The ingenuity and creativity of students astonishes me.”

Mark Hastak (PhDCE ’94), head of CEM, says that Bowen has generously agreed to another year of teaching.

“We are very fortunate to have Bob back in the classroom for the 2012-13 school year. Purdue CEM has been around for 36 years and is considered one of the top programs in the country,” Hastak says. “I attribute the almost 100 percent placement rate of our graduates to top-class faculty, experiential learning, industry partnerships and exceptional leadership courses like this.”

David Woods, executive director of the Beavers Charitable Trust, agrees.

“When you talk about universities turning out exceptional CEM grads, Purdue is the poster child,” Woods says.

“The Purdue position was almost exactly what we were thinking about,” Woods continues. “It takes someone with practical, on-the-ground experience to share their passion and inspire students. Bob does this with almost evangelical zeal.”