Enriching the Future of Nuclear Engineering

Purdue couple names headship in the School of Nuclear Engineering

When James McCarthy Jr. (BSNE ’79) came to Purdue, he had plans for becoming a nuclear medicine physician, remaining single and joining the corporate world. Instead, he graduated with a nuclear engineering degree, married a fellow Boilermaker and enjoyed a career in the Navy.

After his successful naval career, he and his wife, Cheryl (BS Family Housing & Equipment ’77), found a special way to give back to the School of Nuclear Engineering — a way that champions research and innovation in emerging areas. The couple made an estate gift to establish the Capt. James F. McCarthy Jr. and Cheryl E. McCarthy Head of Nuclear Engineering.

The newly named headship is held by alumnus Seungjin Kim (MSEE ’92, PhD NE ’99). As of June 1, 2017, Kim is the school’s first Capt. James F. McCarthy Jr. and Cheryl E. McCarthy Head of Nuclear Engineering.

A Purdue Couple

James and Cheryl met on a blind date at a Purdue football game when James was a junior and Cheryl had just graduated. Although there are horror stories about blind dates gone wrong, the meeting of James and Cheryl turned out to be a happy tale.

“She actually didn’t believe that I was younger than she was,” James says with a laugh. “That blind date changed my mind about wanting to remain single.”

While James finished his nuclear engineering degree, Cheryl began her career in interior design.

“Purdue’s program was very good,” she says. “It had more of an architectural focus, and you really had to understand how to put something together before you could take it apart.”

As a freshman in engineering, James says, he faced a stark reality. Although he had been easily in the top of his class in high school, the situation was much different at Purdue. The courses and curriculum were challenging. He really had to learn to study and be a good student. The hard work paid off.

“It worked out very well for me at the beginning of my career because there was an assumption of my capability and competence right from the start — because of my Purdue degree,” he says.

Thanks in part to her own Purdue degree, Cheryl found work each of the 19 times they moved together while James served in the Navy.

After 28 years as a nuclear surface warfare officer, James retired from active duty as a captain in 2007. He then served as assistant deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources on the staff of the chief of naval operations.

Securing The Future

After considering ways to give back, James and Cheryl decided to make an estate gift to the School of Nuclear Engineering to name the headship.

“We talked about what to do, and it seemed like a logical choice because we both believe so highly in education and in Purdue,” Cheryl says.

“We wanted to pay it forward,” James says. “Our goal is to give money where it will do the most good in the long term. This gift ensures Purdue will help lead the way in nuclear engineering.”

A Global Leader

James and Cheryl are especially pleased that a Purdue alumnus will be guiding the School of Nuclear Engineering into the future.

“In Nuclear Engineering, our goal is to cultivate leaders in a global society,” Kim says. “We need to prepare nuclear engineers who can champion innovation and lead the way in emerging areas of nuclear power and non-power areas such as nuclear materials, medicine, science and security.”

“This type of gift is invaluable because it enables us to address specific needs as they arise,” Kim says. “The McCarthys’ generosity will help us prepare graduates to thrive in a global society.”

To support programs in the School of Nuclear Engineering, contact Hilary Butler, director of development, at 765-494-6383 or habutler@prf.org.