Respected Professor Establishes Award In Engineering Education

Phil Wankat gets creative about ‘putting students first’

Professor Phil Wankat is a widely respected figure on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. As the Clifton L. Lovell Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering and Professor Emeritus of Engineering Education, he has made teaching his life’s work.

Wankat’s passion for good pedagogy has driven his career. He won the Shreve Prize for best teacher in Chemical Engineering and the College of Engineering’s Award of Excellence mentoring award, both in 2005. He has been an instrumental member of the School of Engineering Education from its inception in 2004 through his retirement in 2017. In 2016, he won Purdue’s prestigious Morrill Award, a high honor given to faculty who have demonstrated excellence in teaching, research, and engagement, and whose work has benefited society.

An Imaginative Gift

When considering how to make a retirement gift to Purdue, Wankat decided to do something original: He funded an annual cash award for faculty and staff members who make students a special priority. The yet-to-be-named award will be presented to individuals who truly “put students first.” Wankat was equally creative in the way he chose to fund the gift. He took advantage of the IRA charitable rollover rule that enables donors to give to a charity like Purdue, tax-free.

“There’s a tendency to get wrapped up in research and committees and other things, and we forget that the students are our major purpose,” Wankat says, adding, “I think education should be absolutely the No. 1 priority.”

“Professor Wankat has put students first throughout his career,” says Donna Riley, the Kamyar Haghighi Head of the School of Engineering Education.“He was an outstanding mentor and teacher during his 47 years at Purdue, and the endowment he created upon his retirement will add to his legacy by recognizing faculty and staff who ‘put students first.’ We are grateful for his generous contribution to the School of Engineering Education.”

Many Ways To Give

Giving is woven into the fabric of Wankat’s life. “My parents were very generous,” he says. “Much of what they did was tithing to the church; it was giving to a worthy cause. The idea of giving back was embedded in me as a child.”

He knows there are many ways to give back. As a mentor, he has provided valuable advice to students. For instance, after conversations with students who had lower GPAs, Wankat recognized a common thread: Many were working to fund their education. So he advised these students to incorporate in their resumes how they funded their education, confident they would get job offers. And they did.

“Every student I advised to do this — and who did it — got a job. I recommend being blunt on your resume,” he explains. “For example, say, ‘I earned roughly 75 percent of the total cost of my education.’ I’ve seen it work.”

‘Something About Purdue’

When he started his professorship at Purdue in 1970, Wankat thought he would stay only a few years. He soon came to love the community. When he received an unsolicited job offer in the Chicago area, he and his wife considered the move. The appeal of Purdue and the locale was strong, however.

An avid fisherman and boater — as well as a boat builder — Wankat loves West Lafayette’s proximity to nature and solitude. “I drove up to Chicago and decided I didn’t want to live there. West Lafayette is a nice-sized town. It’s not huge; you can get out in the country and do things. So, we’re still here. And we’re going to stay!” he says.

His favorite aspect of Purdue is student clubs. “I was an advisor for Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. I think clubs are useful for learning and practicing leadership in college.”

When it comes down to it, Purdue is his pride and joy. “For an engineering education, this is the place. We inspire students to think about engineering learning. The Purdue School of Engineering Education was the first, we are the largest, and we are widely considered the leader.”

Interested in an IRA charitable rollover?

Individuals 70½ or older can roll over up to $100,000 from their IRA to an eligible charity without recognizing it as income. For details, call the Office of Planned Giving at 800-677-8780.

To support the School of Engineering Education, contact Jeff Anderson, director of development, at 765-494-0023 or