Endowed Graduate Program Deepens Family's Purdue Ties

Christopher and Susan Burke establish named graduate program in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering

Christopher and Susan Burke’s gift to establish a named graduate program in Purdue University’s Lyles School of Civil Engineering continues their family’s strong Boilermaker tradition.

“Our connection to the University, and particularly to the Lyles School, spans many years and reflects the loyalty our family has to the University,” says Christopher Burke, who earned three civil engineering degrees at Purdue and is now president of Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd.(CBBEL).

Four generations of the family have received 38 degrees at Purdue, Burke says, including his own children.

“It’s an outstanding institution, and it has great leaders like President Daniels; Leah Jamieson, former Dean of the College of Engineering; and Rao S. Govindaraju, the Bowen Engineering Head and Christopher B. and Susan S. Burke Professor of Civil Engineering. They are taking the University and the school in a great direction,” Chris says.

“There is a certain amount of rigor in everything students study. Purdue graduates are really well-prepared,” Susan adds.

The Christopher B. and Susan S. Burke Graduate Program, one of the first named graduate programs in a civil engineering school in the U.S., is significant for several reasons, Govindaraju says.

“Our connection to the University, and particularly to the Lyles School, spans many years and reflects the loyalty our family has to the University.”
Christopher Burke
(BSCE ’77, MSCE ’79, PhD ’83, HDR ’10)

A Secure Future For The Lyles School

“This gift allows us to be confident in funding and to explore innovations,” Govindaraju says. “Our faculty compete for funding from several different sources, but these sources can be fickle. This gift allows us to be more robust. An endowment enables us to plan better as well as purchase more and better equipment for labs. Many graduate students also teach undergraduates while doing research, so this gift will have a strong impact on both the graduate and undergraduate programs.”

The Burkes’ gift is part of Ever True: The Campaign for Purdue University, and Govindaraju explains that it has helped fulfill the campaign goals for the Lyles School.

“One of our constant challenges is attracting high-quality graduate students. It is a positive cycle: The more highly competent graduate students we have, the more attractive our program becomes. The Burkes’ gift will absolutely help us recruit high-caliber grad students,” he says. “The other important thing is that with an endowed gift we can expect the funding to continue well into the future. When we talked to the Burkes, we explained that we cannot foresee the specific needs our school may have in the years to come. So, the unrestricted nature of their gift will help us meet those needs — even in the distant future.”

The Burkes’ gift is the latest of many they have given to the University and the Lyles School. Their contributions helped establish the Burke Undergraduate Hydraulic Laboratory, the Christopher and Susan Burke Hydraulics and Hydrology Laboratory, a named professorship held by Govindaraju, and the Civil Engineering Center for Applications of UAS for a Sustainable Environment.

The Christopher and Susan Burke Hydraulics and Hydrology Laboratory

The Family Tradition

Both Burkes are Purdue graduates. Chris received a bachelor’s degree in 1977, a master’s degree in 1979 and a doctorate in 1983 — all in civil engineering — as well as an honorary doctorate (HDR) from the school in 2010. Susan earned a bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing in 1978. Three of their four children attended Purdue: Megan, Edmund and Christina. Surrounded by all this gold and black, their son Kevin, who attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, can’t help but be a Boilermaker, too.

Susan and Chris have fond memories of their time at Purdue, which is where they met.

“Our story begins at Purdue. I was in the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, and Susan was in the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, which were directly across the street from each other,” Chris says. “That’s how we met.”

He credits his education at Purdue with helping him in his successful career. He started CBBEL, his busy Chicago-based consulting engineering and surveying firm, in 1986. The firm provides services for many high-profile projects and employs more than 200 people, 78 of them licensed civil engineers.

“Purdue provided so many great opportunities. For example, when I was a graduate teaching assistant, I wrote a drainage manual for the state of Indiana,” he says. “I loved that teaching experience so much that I still teach today, at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Purdue was academically challenging, too. I had a great professor, Donald Gray, who was very demanding but extremely generous with his time. He was one of my great resources.”

Susan, too, speaks enthusiastically about her student years.

“When I was there, four of my siblings were there at the same time, so that was kind of neat,” she says. “And most of my sisters also were in Kappa Alpha Theta. That was such a special time. I met great people, and it certainly helped me grow into my career.”

The Burke family pipeline to Purdue is still flowing.

“Four family members are at Purdue now, and another one started his freshman year this fall,” Chris says. “The group that’s there now are nieces and nephews. The next group coming is my cousin’s children.”

For his part, Govindaraju is grateful for the Burkes’ continuing generosity.

“We’re thrilled and very appreciative of the support they have given over the years, to Purdue University in general and the Lyles School of Civil Engineering in particular,” he says. “Their gifts help make our program more visible and bring us even more recognition.”

To support graduate students or the Lyles School of Civil Engineering, contact Don Fry, senior managing director of development, at 765-494-2236 or drfry@prf.org.