Richard Wayne Skaggs

For his lasting contributions to engineering theory and to the design of soil-water management systems, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Wayne Skaggs.

Distinguished University Professor
and William Neal Reynolds Professor
Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
PhD AgE '70

Skaggs bust

On choosing a career in agricultural engineering

I grew up on a tobacco and livestock farm in eastern Kentucky, doing chores around the farm such as baling hay and working with field crops and livestock. It was a different type of work than I do now-certainly much harder physically. But I don't think that I got as tired then as I do now, and the work was probably not as stressful. So I had a farm background and an aptitude for math and science and an interest in engineering from early elementary school. This led me to thinking that a career in agricultural engineering would be appropriate.

When I began, I had no inkling I would end up in the area of water resources. That was probably the farthest from my mind. It came about in a circuitous fashion. I did a senior project and a master's project on heat transfer in soils. From that I recognized that there were an awful lot of water movement problems in soils, and I thought I could perhaps bring to some of those problems principles that I had been learning in courses in heat and mass transfer in mechanical engineering, agricultural engineering and chemical engineering.

On why he came to Purdue for his PhD

I felt then and I still feel that Purdue was the strongest engineering school that I could attend in my field. Some of my professors at the University of Kentucky had done their graduate work at Purdue. In discussing alternatives with them, Purdue was a known quantity-and they had a full-time graduate instructor position available in agricultural engineering. All I found out about Purdue sounded good-and that turned out to be the case.

Young Skaggs bust

On his Purdue memories

The main thing that affected my attitude and situation was that I was married and I had a daughter when we arrived at Purdue. Both my wife and I were very young with a lot of responsibility on our shoulders. We were 22 and 23 years old. Our daughter was one year old, then we had a son while we were there. So my main interests were my family and my studies. I spent a lot of time developing a background in the field that I wanted to work in, developing basic tools for my career.

One thing that was important to me was the example set by the faculty in agricultural engineering. They were effective at fostering professionalism by including graduate students in departmental activities, social as well as professional. Many of those graduate students have gone on to faculty positions and become very active in national professional societies-in large measure due to the emphasis of the Purdue faculty.

On his career highlights

One highlight has been the opportunity to work with around fifty graduate students, to get to know them and their families, and to follow their careers after they have left my program. Also, I have had the opportunity to work with scientists and engineers in my area in Europe and Asia and all over the world, and that association has been one I never foresaw.

More specifically, I've been satisfied by the response I've had to the concepts I developed regarding water table management systems, addressing both productivity and environmental problems. I have been spouting my philosophy for 20 years or so, and the response by my colleagues has been really gratifying. The most gratifying part is to see the things that we've researched actually put into practice. The ideas have borne some fruit.

On how he's changed

When I was at Purdue I was pretty focused and intense. I still am fairly focused-but there's a lot more gray in issues now than there was then. I think that's a natural process as you get older, but both social issues and technical issues were more black-and-white when I was a student. As I've had experience with people and matured over the years I've found there is just lots more gray area than I was willing to recognize as a student. Some of my colleagues would probably be very happy that I've recognized that.

On challenges in engineering education today

Now more than ever we have to do what Purdue has done fairly well over the years-not only teach people what we know at the present time, but also teach them to learn on a continuing basis. That's going to be a continuing challenge, because things are changing at a rapid rate.

On the research side I also have a concern. As we are trying to balance our federal budget (which I very much believe we need to do) we need to continue to invest in our future through support of science and engineering. We don't put enough emphasis on this kind of investment, in my opinion. Our position as a world leader in science and technology is due to our history of strong support of research. To reduce this support places our leadership position and our competitive advantage at risk.



John Deere Gold Medal Award, American Society of Agricultural Engineers. The award is ASAE's most prestigious honor.
Elected Member of National Academy of Engineering.
Distinguished University Professor, Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, North Carolina State University.
Elected Fellow Member, American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
William Neal Reynolds Professor, Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, North Carolina State University.
Professor, Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, North Carolina State University.
Developed DRAINMOD, a comprehensive soil water simulation model that bridged the existing gap between theory and practice. DRAINMOD is now a nationally accepted program of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and is widely used internationally.
Associate Professor, Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, North Carolina State University.
Assistant Professor, Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, North Carolina State University.

BSAE '64, MSAE '66 University of Kentucky; PhD AgE '70 Purdue