David R. Rea

For his outstanding technical leadership within one of the world's major chemical, materials, and energy corporations, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to David R. Rea.

Vice President, Nylon Technology
DuPont Company
BSChE '62


On his experience at Purdue

I had a great college experience at Purdue, and it's been a really gratifying career and personal life as a result. The education was solid, basic, practical engineering. There were lots of challenging courses and opportunities to explore a variety of interests because the school was so large. I also developed lifelong friendships with people I went to school with. Students were reasonably serious, as I recall, but also people had a lot of fun. There were not as many issues and problems as students must deal with these days.

I do remember that it was the dawn of the space age. The launching of Sputnik heightened the competition between the Cold War superpowers that was already going on. Everything was cast in a "good guys-bad guys" scenario, which sharpened the competitiveness and put a lot of attention on technical skills and the importance of engineering.

I got involved in many activities. I came the year they opened new residence halls, so I was a charter member of the Excalibur Club. I was also into the Reamer Club, and Boilermaker Special, and the Catalyst Club in chemical engineering, which was a great beer-drinking club. And of course basketball was a big deal. We had a couple of chemical engineering students on the team. They were great on the court-Terry Dischinger and Tim McGinley-and both were in my class at Purdue.

On memorable professors

I had three unforgettable professors. Herschel Hunt, the physical chemistry professor, taught a tough, disciplined course, and you had to be on your toes. His exams were the most challenging I have ever taken. Brage Golding, the chairman of the department at the time, taught a polymer course, which got me interested in polymers. I also remember Victor Albjerg in Russian history, who taught a fascinating course.

On personal and professional challenges

I got married in graduate school and now we have three great kids. The family moved around with DuPont to half a dozen locations, and that has been very enriching but also very challenging. The most gratifying part of my career has been to see a team come together, in engineering or technology, to accomplish a challenging task that at the initial phases looked to be beyond what could be accomplished. I've had a number of those kinds of experiences.

On lifelong learning and teamwork

My preparation for my career was excellent. At Purdue the focus was on providing technical skills, but there was also an emphasis on "learning to learn." I think this is still a major challenge today, because change continues to accelerate, and the likelihood is small that at the end of your career you will be doing anything that remotely resembles where you started. Probably you'll be with two or three different employers. So seizing the initiative for yourself-whether you call it self-learning, self-development, continuing education-is critically important.

The aging population makes lifelong learning even more important. For example, when I retire in a few years I'll have in essence another career in terms of length of time to look forward to-20 or 25 years probably-so increasingly the population will be interested in what is available from an educational standpoint.

Most of our education process tends to value individual accomplishments, but increasingly it is team accomplishments that matter most in industry and life. Things are so complicated that it is hard for one individual to have all the knowledge needed to succeed in projects. It takes a group to make it work, so learning to work in teams is vital. Engineering universities including Purdue are finding ways to make that happen in the classroom.


1996- :
Vice President, Nylon Technology, DuPont Co. Provides global technology leadership for nylon, DuPont's largest business segment. 1994-96:
Vice President, Environmental and Leverageable Technologies, Central Research and Development. Provided strategic leadership for environmental science and technology. Led DuPont's collaboration with others on the issue of chlorine.
1991-94:
Vice President, Technology and Operations, Automotive Products. Participated in redirection and reengineering of Automotive Finishes business, which has revenues of $1.5 billion. 1986-91:
Director, Technology and Planning, Automotive Products. Helped shape successful operation with revenues of more than $3 billion. Helped launch innovative "one-stop shopping" arrangement for global automotive market.
1984-86:
Planning Manager, Corporate Plans. After acquisition of Conoco, helped formed new business unit, Automotive Products.
1983-84:
Business Manager, "Nafion" Products. Led business unit to first profitable year.
1982-83:
Technical Director, Polymer Products.
1980-82:
Technical Manager, Films. Launched research to develop simultaneous stretch of polymer film.
1978-80:
Technical Superintendent, Sabine River Works (Texas). Oversaw modernization of ethylene plant.
1974-78:
Research Manager, Engineering Polymers. Led research for scale-up of new family of toughened plastics, including super-tough nylon.
1972-74:
Technical Superintendent, Nylon Intermediates.
1970-72:
Assistant Technical Superintendent, Polyethylene.
1968-70:
Technical Engineer, Butacite.
1966-68:
Technical Engineer, Plastics R&D, DuPont Co.

BSChE '62, Purdue; PhD '77, Princeton.