Earth-Conscious Activist Connects with Environmental and Ecological Engineers

A gift to Purdue’s EEE program reflects the donor’s green philosophy.

About 30 years ago, Karen Ennen led a grassroots effort to keep a landfill out of her neighborhood in Watseka, Illinois. The proposed landfill would have been the third one in a county of 32,000 people. She says her first experience as an activist brought her together with scientists and environmental lawyers who became some of her best sources of information.

Now, through an estate gift to Purdue’s Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering (EEE), Ennen is helping further a proactive approach to stop environmental damage — by supporting engineers who tackle environmental problems at their industrial source.

The John Jr. and Karen Ennen Memorial Fund, named with her late husband, will, in part, help recruit and retain EEE faculty as part of the College of Engineering’s Strategic Growth Initiative. An unrestricted gift, its funds also may be used for creating student scholarships. Ennen’s gift demonstrates her dedication to sustainability. Her commitment to green engineering, she says, “is simply rent you pay for living on this earth.”

As for her battle over the landfill, Ennen says with reflection, “I was too naive to know that I couldn’t stop it.” Fortunately, after a two-year court battle, her group’s case was victorious in an appellate court.

A Gift for Connecting Like Minds

The experience taught her she could achieve a greater good by bringing people together. From her neighbors to activists like John Thompson, now director of the Fossil Transition Project at the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force, Ennen made connections that resulted in stricter landfill rules and started countywide recycling efforts. “When like minds with knowledge come together, we can accomplish so much more,” she says.

The notion of connecting like minds inspired Ennen’s generous gift. All of EEE’s 16 faculty members have dual, complementary appointments across campus. With their diverse specialties, EEE faculty are dedicated to preventing environmental damage before it happens.

The Value of Foresight

John W. Sutherland, professor and Fehsenfeld Family Head of Environmental and Ecological Engineering, emphasizes the value of foresight when it comes to environmental challenges. “We promote green behavior within manufacturing, the health care sector, construction or chemical processing by deploying systems engineering,” he says. “We need to quit creating problems in the first place. We believe that Purdue EEE is the only place in the world looking at both modern environmental engineering and industrial sustainability.”

When like minds with knowledge come together, we can accomplish so much more.

Friend of Purdue

“Mrs. Ennen saw the unique emphasis and visionary approach we are taking. Her gift can make a real impact on an emerging academic department.”

Ennen has dedicated herself to preserving the environment for more than three decades. Among other activities, she has advised other groups on their own grassroots efforts. “I think my greatest attribute may be in bringing knowledgeable and like-minded people together,” she says.

As for her gift to the College of Engineering and the EEE division, Ennen says, “I’m hoping it will simply inspire and encourage people to ask questions and be concerned about what’s happening in the environment.”

EEE Celebrates 10 Years of Research and Education

Established in 2006, the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering (EEE) is observing its 10th anniversary this year. There’s much to celebrate. The division has established three degrees, including bachelor’s, master’s and PhD programs. The undergraduate program has grown to 100 students. The graduate program is in high demand, and the recruitment of a diverse, world-class faculty is helping to foster a multidisciplinary approach to environmental challenges.

“Environmental problems are inherently multidisciplinary,” says John Sutherland, professor and Fehsenfeld Family Head of EEE. “To get at the core of these problems, you need this kind of broad thinking from a number of different academic disciplines.”

Karen Ennen’s commitment to the environment and to EEE illustrates how alums and friends can support Purdue Engineering as well as ensure a greener tomorrow. Because EEE is such a young program, it is especially in need of foundational support. Gifts such as Ennen’s help shape its future.

“Traditional environmental engineering programs are focused on existing and legacy problems,” Sutherland says. “Certainly we must work to contain, control and mitigate contaminated soil, water and air, but our program also is progressive — our faculty and students are prepared to go after potential problems before they occur.”

To support the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering, contact Rebecca Fry, director of development, at 765-494-0023Call 765-494-0023 or