Success Becomes a Habit

With work habits and philosophies formed at Purdue, Bill "Shrop" Shropshire supports basic science research in Materials Engineering.

In the late 1950s, before there was a School of Materials Engineering at Purdue, Chicago native William "Shrop" Shropshire (BSMetE '59) was an undergraduate majoring in its precursor: metallurgical engineering. As with so many Purdue alums, his Purdue years were formative and decisive.

"I gained confidence in my ability to learn. I learned to structure the means by which problems can be solved and work can be done," Shropshire says. "The more that you progress through engineering, the more confident you get as you start to successfully solve problems - even when the problems aren't in the field you've studied."

He recalls the generous one-on-one time with faculty that was part of studying metallurgical engineering, which had fewer students than other schools.

"After I graduated, I stayed in touch with the faculty," he says. "Richard E. Grace had been a young assistant professor when I interviewed for admission to the program. Dick dedicated his career to our University and its students. I was lucky enough to have him as my student advisor, a teacher in a junior-year elective, and a friend and resource ever since. Years after graduating, I had dinner with him and he said, 'Isn't it time that you started giving back to Purdue?'"

A Decision to Give Back

Shropshire's answer was an unequivocal "yes" that signaled years of dedicated service and generous support to his alma mater. He and his wife, Harlan (BS Mathematics '60), have contributed to three endowments. One, the Dr. Richard E. Grace Fund in Materials Engineering, provides unrestricted funding that enables the school's head to focus on strategic initiatives, such as undergraduate research fellowships. Another endowment, the Shropshire Family Strategic Initiative Fund in Materials Engineering, supports the school head's priorities. A third endowment helped create a professorship named the Reinhardt Schuhmann Jr. Professor of Materials Engineering. It is named for the late Schuhmann, who was head of the Division of Metallurgical Engineering and the founding head of the school when it was established in 1959. MSE's Carol Handwerker, who now holds the Schuhmann professorship, is grateful.

"Shrop and Harlan's generous gift has allowed my students and me to first imagine and then create new nanoscale materials and microstructures by manipulating the energies of internal and external interfaces," Handwerker says. "Having the ability to explore the underlying science without being tied immediately to a specific application has allowed us to explore a much broader processing and application space, including - for example - powder metallurgy and aerospace coatings. In his own work, Shrop continues to identify new, enabling technologies, and the Shropshires' gift gives us the time and focus to do the same."

Today, as chairman of the board for American Chemet Corp., Shropshire remains active in his field. He also serves as a program visitor for ABET, the accreditation organization for undergraduate engineering programs, and he serves on Purdue's Materials Engineering Advisory Council, visiting campus twice a year for meetings. He also enthusiastically encourages college-bound students to choose Purdue.

Inspiring Teachers

Shropshire promotes engineering and STEM education across the nation as a board member of the American Society for Metals (ASM) Education Trust. The foundation supports materials science education through the ASM Materials Camp Program for high school teachers and students. Since 2000, the program has trained about 7,000 teachers who, thanks to their camp experiences, implement new activities and labs in their classrooms.

David Bahr, head of the School of Materials Engineering, says Shrop's volunteer work with ASM is another example of his generosity to his alma mater.

"Over the last several years we've been getting more students who have heard about materials engineering from a high school teacher," Bahr says. "These programs - particularly in Chicago and Indianapolis - we know they make a difference."

Shropshire says, "I'm impressed with Purdue's range of research endeavors in materials, and I'm in awe of the work being done by the faculty, graduate students and increasingly by undergrads. I believe you never stop learning. More than anything else, Purdue taught me how to learn; and I came to learn that success becomes a habit."

To lend your support to Materials Engineering initiatives, contact Robyn Jakes, director of development, at 765-494-4094 or