Alumnus Says Thank You To Former Dean With A $1 Million Matching Gift
Speaking at a College of Engineering breakfast in Naples, Florida, last winter, John Edwardson (BSIE ’71, HDR ’06) asked everyone in the room with an engineering degree from Purdue to stand. Then, he asked all the men to sit down. It was a telling moment.
“There were a couple hundred people in the room,” Edwardson says. “I think there were only five or six women left standing. In today’s world, that’s shocking.”
That experience helped solidify Edwardson’s decision to contribute $1 million in matching funds in support of Purdue’s Women in Engineering Program (WIEP). It took just six months to raise the additional $1 million and establish what is now a $2 million endowment for WIEP.
Since 1969, WIEP has been dedicated to enriching the profession of engineering through the full participation of women. Every year, the program reaches out to more than 4,000 girls and young women — from elementary school through graduate school — in an effort to increase recruitment, retention and graduation of female engineering students.
Edwardson is dedicated to making a difference at Purdue. He served as a University Trustee from 1995 to 2005. In 2001, he endowed the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering.
Edwardson’s latest gift establishes a named directorship for WIEP. Beth Holloway, the current program director, has been named the first Leah H. Jamieson Director of the Women in Engineering Program.
“Leah did a terrific job running the College. All the different ways we measure success improved during her tenure as dean.”
Encouraging Female Engineers
Programs like WIEP, Edwardson believes, help society address its biggest challenges.
“The number of problems that can be solved by engineers continues to grow,” he says. “We need to get more women involved in designing solutions.”
Unfortunately, Edwardson’s experience at the Naples breakfast was not an anomaly, says Holloway, who also serves as assistant dean of undergraduate education for the College. Despite the fact that the number of women studying engineering at Purdue has increased by 40 percent over the last decade — and today exceeds the national average — much work remains.
As both a father of daughters and a long time business leader, Edwardson understands the problem.
“One of the things I paid attention to in my career was ensuring that women had equal opportunities,” says the retired chairman and CEO of CDW Corp. and the former president of United Airlines. “Being the father of three daughters made that a focus for me as an executive. I knew that girls could be successful in math and science.”
Recognizing Great Leadership
Edwardson also knows that women can lead — and that is why he made his gift to WIEP in honor of Leah Jamieson, who stepped down from her position as the John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering in 2017.
“Leah did a terrific job running the College. All the different ways we measure success improved during her tenure as dean,” Edwardson says. “This gift was a way to recognize her and say thank you for her great leadership.”
As a tribute to Jamieson, who remains at Purdue as the Ransburg Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, the gift addresses an issue close to her heart.
“Leah told me that the most important problem we need to solve is the number of women in engineering,” Edwardson says. As the two discussed ways to address the issue, he realized that $1 million was not enough to accomplish Leah’s goals. “That’s when we decided a one-to-one match was the best way to go.”
Edwardson’s gift means WIEP will have the financial resources — in perpetuity — to ensure women have the opportunity to earn engineering degrees at Purdue.
“The number of problems that can be solved by engineers continues to grow. We need to get more women involved in designing solutions.”
Advancing Key Program
Edwardson’s contribution changes the game for Purdue’s Women in Engineering Program.
“Currently, we’re dependent on annual gifts,” Holloway says. “An endowment promises a permanent, steady income, which will help us plan long-term projects and address strategic needs quickly.”
As well as encouraging women to pursue Purdue engineering degrees, Edwardson hopes to change lives — much as his experiences in West Lafayette changed his.
“I came from a blue-collar community. Both of my grandfathers worked in the coal mines early in their careers, and I was the first in my family to earn a four-year degree. Purdue changed my life,” he says. “Giving back is easy for me — because I know it will enable other students to have the same opportunities that a Purdue engineering degree gave me.”
To support the Women in Engineering Program, contact Hilary Butler, director of development, at 765-494-6383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.