Linda L. Huff

Huff & Huff Inc.
BSChE '70

[Linda L. Huff]

For her outstanding contributions to environmental engineering practice, her service to the engineering profession, and her qualities as a role model for future engineers and entrepreneurs, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumna Award to Linda L. Huff.

On Choosing Engineering

When I was in high school in Columbus, Ohio, I was intrigued with engineering because everyone said it would be difficult. It's funny that a big part of the vocational aptitude test for engineering included putting washers on a stick. Luckily, chemical engineering did not require that skill. I always liked challenges, and I loved math and science, especially chemistry.

I picked Purdue because of its reputation. I was taken aback when I realized I was the only female in my class in chemical engineering. My classmates were a wonderful group of guys, though, and all of us were judged on our ability. The professors were terrific. My husband, Jim [BSChE '70, MSE '71], and I both think that Purdue provided us an excellent education.

On running for political office

In 1978 I went to the Cook County Republican Party and offered to run for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago Board of Commissioners. I can't believe I did that—I pushed myself beyond what I was comfortable with. During the campaign, I had to walk up to strangers, introduce myself, and convince them in about 60 seconds to vote for me. I even had to be in a fashion show! Along the way, I learned a lot about how the political process works and how important communication is, on a mass basis and a person-to-person basis. I lost the race, but the experience strengthened my confidence.

On owning her own company

I didn't expect to found a company. I was working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency while my husband worked as an environmental engineer for Mobil Oil. We found ourselves in meetings on the opposite sides of the table, and we finally decided we should get together as environmental engineers. If we ever wanted to work together, starting our own company was the only way to go!

People thought we were crazy starting our own company—we had just two clients. But it was the best decision we've ever made. Owning our own company allowed us both to actively raise our children, from birth through high school. I was Room Mom, Brownie leader, and soccer coach and yet maintained a career. Without starting our own company, there is no way we both could have been so active in the family while maintaining a career.

On upcoming challenges

Professionally, the environmental market continues in a state of flux, with many consolidations and acquisitions. As a “niche” firm, maintaining a reputation within Illinois as an innovative, top-quality firm has to be balanced against growth. Now we have to decide whether to stay a firm of 20 people or to expand. Where do we want to be ten years from now? How do we continue to evolve and serve our clients' needs?

On service to her profession

I'm involved in various organizations to give back to engineering some of the blessings that I've had. I was the first woman president of the Consulting Engineers Council of Illinois, and I'm one of two female national directors [out of 50] of the American Consulting Engineers Council. My focus also is on improving the image of the engineer. As a member of ACEC's public relations committee, I see how important it is for society in general and students in particular to see the value of the engineering profession. I would also like to see more women business owners, as consulting is a perfect field.

On engineering education

People expect engineers to solve technical problems and be able to communicate what they're doing. Experience in technical writing and public speaking is important—also economics, which is such a powerful underlying force in whatever sector you're working in. Incorporating additional liberal arts subjects makes a person more versatile. You learn a little bit in college, and then you graduate and start learning all over again. The ability to continue to learn is key.

National Director, American Consulting Engineers Council
President, Consulting Engineering Council of Illinois
1995 & '99:
Distinguished Service Award, President of Consulting Engineers Council of Illinois
Outstanding Chemical Engineer, Purdue University
President, Salt Creek Chapter of Illinois Society of Professional Engineers
1979– :
President, Huff & Huff
Candidate, Republican Nominee for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago Board of Commissioners
Consultant, Environmental Consulting
Chemical Engineering Department, IIT Research Institute
Chemical Engineer, Food Products R&D, Procter & Gamble
BSChE '70, Purdue University; MBA '75, University of Chicago