Reaching Beyond Boundaries

The Richard and Katherine LeSesne Strategic Initiative Fund in Engineering Education
"The program, and more important, its people, gave me the opportunity to achieve professional goals I could have never approached with traditional engineering programs." — Richard LeSesne

Richard LeSesne (BSIDE '75) last visited Purdue to receive the 2011 Engineering Education Outstanding Alumni Award. While he appreciated the honor, his favorite moments took place outside of the awards ceremony.

That evening, he walked through the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering, stopping every now and then in classrooms and offices to ask students about their research. The best time to get the pulse of engineering, he says, is after business hours, at night. "That's when you can find out what's really going on."

As he spoke with engineering students, LeSesne was reminded of his own studies at Purdue.

His experiences at the University were full of firsts. The first weekend he visited Purdue in 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon.

And because LeSesne spent his childhood in Puerto Rico, his move to Indiana brought many transitions — he lived away from the ocean for the first time, and as fall turned to winter his freshman year, he saw his first snowfall.

During his sophomore year he achieved another first. He became one of the first students to join a new engineering program, Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies (IDE). LeSesne knew that engineering matched his skill set, but he was looking to expand his education beyond a traditional program.

He then had a conversation with a professor that shaped his college career. Richard Grace suggested LeSesne consider a new program that would allow him to explore his interests at the interface of engineering disciplines. As the head of the Division of Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies, Grace helped create a degree that provided opportunities for students to formulate individual programs that reflected their professional goals.

IDE's flexible structure encouraged independent work and self-direction, qualities that gave LeSesne the tools to succeed professionally. In fact, his career at IBM began even before his graduation from Purdue when he took a position as a computer sensor systems engineer. He continued to work at the company for more than 30 years, leading high-profile projects and becoming a founding practitioner of IBM's first networking consulting practice.

LeSesne continued to implement corporate technical strategies and manage projects after his retirement from IBM in 2008 as a private consultant and as chief strategy and technology officer for ActSense Corp.

Throughout his career, he has drawn upon the multidisciplinary aspects of his education, particularly in complex projects like revamping first responder communications and 911 emergency systems for federal government agencies.

"IDE gave me the opportunity to explore and reach beyond the boundaries of traditional engineering disciplines and programs," LeSesne says. "The program, and more important, its people, gave me the opportunity to achieve professional goals I could have never approached with traditional engineering programs."

In the years following LeSesne's time at Purdue, the IDE program has grown and expanded through the School of Engineering Education (ENE). ENE fosters world-renowned interdisciplinary education through the Multidisciplinary Engineering (MDE) and IDE programs.

To help equip ENE students to address real-world problems with engineering skills, Richard and his wife, Kathy, created a charitable gift annuity to benefit the school. They hope their contribution will encourage other alums to engineer the future through active participation in ENE .

"What I quickly came to realize during my decades of professional work is that Purdue, and especially the ENE degree program, is really a permanent part of your professional persona," LeSesne says. "It's your responsibility to continually improve it and keep it relevant through the dramatic changes we see in STEM and engineering disciplines through a career. Your relationship to Purdue only begins when you are bestowed your degree.

"As a student you learn to engineer and build solutions, but as an alumnus you have the opportunity to help influence, forge and machine the future of engineering through its various multi and interdisciplinary 'experiments' and training of educators."

The Richard and Katherine LeSesne Strategic Initiative Fund in Engineering Education will strengthen ENE's efforts to act as an incubator for success as Purdue engineering students pioneer interdisciplinary research.

As ENE students work on this research during late-night sessions in the Neil Armstrong Hall, their creativity will continue to inspire those who came before them and those who follow in their footsteps.