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Christopher B. Burke

For his innovative contributions to water resources engineering, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Christopher B. Burke.

President
Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd.
BSCE '77, MSCE '79, Ph.D. '83
[Christopher B. Burke, current]


On early work experience

In high school I worked for my dad's company on land surveying crews doing grunt work in the field for a buck an hour. That was a great experience. I think when I finally left his employ three summers later I was making a buck seventy-five; he gave me a 25-cent-a-year raise. Now I have about 13 or 14 surveying crews working for my companies. I know the mindset of these people, which is different from engineers'.

On memories from his Purdue years

I was house manager and officer (I think their secrecy policy still prohibits me from disclosing which officer) of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity the Fiji House on Russell Street. For what I do now, managing a company, they were great experiences and very challenging roles. Art Hansen, the Purdue University president, was from that fraternity house. So were Dick Grace and Joe Rudolph, the head of the Alumni Association. Then there was Gene Cernan, who hadn't been off the moon for very long, and Tim Foley, the All-Pro defensive back for the Miami Dolphins. These people would come back to visit the fraternity house. We had a significant number of accomplished young men in the fraternity from the president of the student body to captains of various varsity sports. So I learned management by the school of hard knocks. I learned all the mistakes when I was trying to be involved in the management of that fraternity house. It was probably far more helpful than any class I had as an undergrad.

As a student, the challenge for everyone in civil engineering or any engineering was to get through the program. That was a significant task at Purdue, where you had people from other academic areas who at 8:00 every evening were done with any homework and ready to do something else, whereas the engineering students might have been working all that time but weren't through the homework for even one class yet!

I still have that dream that we all have when you wake up in the middle of the night thinking that you've registered for a class and it's the end of the semester and you haven't gone to the class yet. It's finals week and you realize you've been neglecting whatever class it is, and you know you can't do all the homework and study for the final in time.

[Christopher B. Burke, college days]

On influences at Purdue

I was house manager and officer (I think their secrecy policy still prohibits me from disclosing which officer) of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity the Fiji House on Russell Street. For what I do now, managing a company, they were great experiences and very challenging roles. Art Hansen, the Purdue University president, was from that fraternity house. So were Dick Grace and Joe Rudolph, the head of the Alumni Association. Then there was Gene Cernan, who hadn't been off the moon for very long, and Tim Foley, the All-Pro defensive back for the Miami Dolphins. These people would come back to visit the fraternity house. We had a significant number of accomplished young men in the fraternity from the president of the student body to captains of various varsity sports. So I learned management by the school of hard knocks. I learned all the mistakes when I was trying to be involved in the management of that fraternity house. It was probably far more helpful than any class I had as an undergrad.

As a student, the challenge for everyone in civil engineering or any engineering was to get through the program. That was a significant task at Purdue, where you had people from other academic areas who at 8:00 every evening were done with any homework and ready to do something else, whereas the engineering students might have been working all that time but weren't through the homework for even one class yet!

I still have that dream that we all have when you wake up in the middle of the night thinking that you've registered for a class and it's the end of the semester and you haven't gone to the class yet. It's finals week and you realize you've been neglecting whatever class it is, and you know you can't do all the homework and study for the final in time.

On influences at Purdue

Joe Rudolph and Dick Grace were both very good influences on me as an undergraduate and obviously great assets for Purdue. They were very standup guys. At that time they were involved with the fraternity and they were very good at making sure that you established objectives and met them. Other great influences were Professor Donald Gray, my advisor throughout the master's and Ph.D. programs, and Professor A. R. Rao in the later stages of graduate school. Dr. Rao is at Purdue still and helps keep me very active on the technical and nontechnical sides of the school. I am very grateful for all his help the last 15 or so years.

His hopes for the future of his company

We've gone from 1 to 180 or so people, and we want to continue steady growth. The worst that could happen is wild growth. We saw that in the 1980s with the wild growth in the real estate business-but all those guys that were high-flying are now grounded. So we're looking for steady growth and to maintain a steady customer base. That's really what every business wants to do. Whether you're a drug store or an engineering firm, you want to maintain the people that you currently have and expand the business. That's as complicated as it gets. You do that by doing the best work possible. No one's going to hire people in our business from a brochure or a nice letterhead, but simply by our reputation of doing an excellent job.

On how Purdue helped him

My engineering career really started in graduate school. I had a lot of opportunities within the School of Civil Engineering to write some manuals and get a lot of name recognition. That's certainly the last thing I had in mind when I was grinding away on a drainage manual for HERPICC [the Highway Extension and Research Project for Indiana Counties and Cities]!

My Purdue education was invaluable, and the opportunities associated with that education were invaluable. I had the opportunity to teach classes as a graduate instructor, which certainly prepared me for what I do today. That is, if I have to go to a public meeting where there's a lot of controversy, dealing with a large group of people is no different than teaching engineers. I taught the EIT review course for the graduating engineers. A lot of them already had jobs, so they were pretty cocky, and the last thing they cared about was listening to someone talk about fluid mechanics. Dealing with those attitudes was a fantastic experience and great preparation for what I do now. I might have to deal with an audience of irate people who don't like the project we're doing for a municipality or county, whether it's a flood control project or a roadway project which they for numerous reasons may oppose.

I had a tremendous experience at Purdue, which afforded many opportunities that I don't think I could have had anywhere else.


1998:
Selected President of Illinois Section of American Society of Civil Engineers (IS-ASCE).
1997:
CBBEL won Private Sector Employer Recognition Award (IS-ASCE).
1995:
Selected a Trustee of Purdue's Chi Epsilon Chapter.
1993:
Won Meritorious Service Award of the Chicago Metropolitan Chapter of the American Public Works Association.
1992-98:
CBBEL won awards from the Consulting Engineers Council of Illinois for five projects: the Seven Bridges Stormwater Management project, the Willow Creek Flood Control project, the I-355 Wetland Mitigation Project, the Williams Street SMG Underground Reservoir, and the Westwood Creek Dam and Reservoir Project.
1990:
Selected Chapter Honor Member by the Chi Epsilon Chapter of Purdue.
1986-98:
CBBEL served

as project manager for more than 1,000 projects and grew to 180 employees and annual billings of $13 million. Clients included the City of Indianapolis; Indiana Department of Natural Resources; Allen, Lake, Noble and Tippecanoe Counties in Indiana; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Illinois Department of Transportation; Illinois State Highway Authority;
the City of Chicago; and Dupage County in Illinois.

1986:
Founded Christopher B. Burke Engineering Ltd. (CBBEL), a consulting firm.
1986:
Named National Edmund Friedman Young Engineer Award winner by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
1985:
Chosen Young Civil Engineer of the Year by the Illinois Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
1983-86:
Urban hydrologist, Harza Engineering Company. Managed water resources engineering projects in northwestern Illinois and nationwide.

BSCE '77, MSCE '79, Ph.D. '83