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2017 ME Distinguished Engineering Alumni

The Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award is presented to engineering alumni who have distinguished themselves in any field of endeavor that reflects favorably on Purdue University, the engineering profession, or society in general.

In the case of alumni who are engaged in engineering work, their record of accomplishments should indicate a high potential for future growth into positions of increasing responsibility. The College of Engineering has over 85,000 living alumni. The distinction of DEA has been bestowed upon 509 of these outstanding individuals.

In 2017, three of the Distinguished Engineering Alumni were from Mechanical Engineering:

James Greenleaf

MSES '66, Ph.D. '70
Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Associate Professor of Medicine, Mayo Clinic

Were honors granted for impressive numbers alone, James Greenleaf might run out of office space to hold his awards. Certainly, his slew of national awards from professional societies, as well as more than 450 published peer-reviewed articles, multiple books and 17 patents, speak to a prolific research career in biomedical engineering. Yet the far-reaching impact of his work — from lifesaving devices to the education of dozens of graduate students at the Mayo Clinic and Mayo Clinic School of Medicine — can hardly be measured or adequately rewarded.

Greenleaf, who grew up tinkering with electronics in the basement of his family’s Salt Lake City, Utah, home, likely had little idea where his engineering aptitude would take him. After earning his first engineering degree from the University of Utah, he says he was still exploring when he got to Purdue as a graduate student in 1964.  Through a Big Ten consortium agreement, he pursued a PhD granted simultaneously from Purdue and the Mayo Medical School in Minnesota (now the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine), where he has continued along a path of discovery for nearly half a century.

In the mid-1960s at Purdue, Greenleaf learned anatomy from a “wonderful veterinarian” who got him through one of his first dissections. During one Christmas break, he and some buddies traveled to California to watch the Boilermakers win the 1967 Rose Bowl. It was a high point of the years when he found his calling in the physiology and biophysics labs of Purdue — a calling that took him to Mayo.

For decades, Greenleaf has brought an innovative approach to his research into ultrasound-based medicine and therapeutics. He has led teams that developed and licensed modifications in ultrasound imaging instruments — modifications that made fast, inexpensive and noninvasive measurements of the elastic properties of tissues and organs.  These advances, in turn, provided biomarkers for assessing various maladies all over the world.  The Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE), recognized Greenleaf with the Rayleigh Award, one of the organization’s highest honors for pioneering research.

Greenleaf encourages the same deep thinking and relentless curiosity in his students. “One of my favorite things is sitting around a table with students and discussing their projects,” he says. “They’re all excited about their work, and it’s nice to be around creative minds.”

Through cutting-edge collaborations that have led to several worldwide Mayo patents, Greenleaf has adopted a teaching philosophy that reflects his own path. “I give students directions to go and find the trails themselves,” he says. “Should they need to, they can come back and restart a project, but when they leave my lab I like them to be independent enough to be on their own.”

Many of those former students have gone on to start their own companies in the medical field, making myriad impacts of their own. He says that their accomplishments, and the notoriety he often receives from students at international conferences, mean the world to him. “That means students from around the world know our work,” Greenleaf says. “That’s probably the biggest accolade I can get.”


Jennifer Rumsey

BSME '96
Vice President, Chief Technical Officer, Cummins, Inc.

Jennifer Weerts Rumsey is no stranger to remarkable achievement at a relatively young age. In just 20 years since earning a mechanical engineering degree and graduating with highest honors from Purdue, she has blazed a fast track through several technical leadership positions at engine manufacturer Cummins. And in 2015, she was named its chief technical officer (CTO) — a female first for the company founded in 1919.

Early in her post-Purdue path, Rumsey earned a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology through a National Science Foundation research fellowship before being named to the “Purdue 40 Under 40” list of rising alumni. She has stayed particularly focused on clean energy solutions that reduce environmental impacts while improving the performance of diesel engines.

Rumsey grew up in Columbus, Indiana, headquarters to Cummins, and followed in the footsteps of her engineer father. Each summer throughout her college years she worked a different internship at Cummins. The straight shot up Interstate 65 to Purdue for college was an obvious choice. “I think the biggest shock for me as a student was that I actually learned how to study,” Rumsey says. “The classes and the work didn’t come as easily as they did in high school, but I made that adjustment. I made some great friends here, and I found the professors to be really supportive.”

Before pursuing her master’s degree, Rumsey worked for Nuvera Fuel Cells, a research startup, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While there, she conducted research in partnership with the Department of Energy. Yet the call to return home grew loud, and she returned to Columbus and Cummins in 2000.

“I love solving tough technical problems, especially complex problems, which is one of the reasons I did system controls early in my career,” Rumsey says. “But I also really enjoy understanding the customer and addressing business needs to solve those technical problems.”

In her current role as CTO, Rumsey sometimes combines three large tasks in one day as she examines business needs, works with customers, and (perhaps her favorite), she says, “where I have time to spend with our technical team, really diving into some of the innovations we’re working on and the problems we’re trying to solve.”

Once involved as a student in the Purdue Society of Women Engineers, Rumsey is now a spokesperson for the field. “I would encourage everyone — certainly women — to look beyond the stereotypical things you think engineers might do,” she says. “There are a variety of opportunities that can have a positive impact. That’s the thing I find so motivating about my job. I’m working on technologies that help the environment, and I’m impacting people’s lives.”

As she continues to impact lives through her industrial role, Rumsey remains equally committed to professional societies and to the community at large. From lending her expertise to robotics competitions for middle-school students to her involvement with various Purdue programs, she is showing others the endless possibilities that engineering offers.


Donald Ufford

MSME '89
Director, Global Vehicle Engineering, Ford Motor Company

The unique experience of a car as iconic as the Ford Mustang, with its world-famous style and matchless engine sound, has inspired poetry — a lot of poetry. One of dozens of poems at begins: “A twist of the key, a mechanical whir, in the blink of an eye, the engine purrs.”

That poem’s author — along with countless other Mustang devotees — would enjoy meeting Donald Ufford, whose behind-the-scenes engineering work has helped create the Mustang, right down to its revered whir and purr.

Ufford’s quest to improve the sensory experience for Ford customers began while he worked toward his master’s degree with Bob Bernhard, who once directed the Acoustics and Noise Control Research Program at Purdue’s Ray W. Herrick Laboratories.

“I understood engine operation and mechanical systems, but Dr. Bernhard offered me the opportunity to study the generation, radiation and measurement of high-frequency sound and vibration,” Ufford recalls. “The experience showed me a lot more about engineering and about human perception. That really opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities on how to improve the customer experience.

“The engine sound of a Ford Mustang as it drives away — both inside and outside of the vehicle — is exciting. You want that signature sound to be true to the history of the Mustang, and you want it to really make you feel good and excited about driving.”

Clearly, Ufford has proven that he understands the science and the art of vehicle engineering. A host of professional accolades and his steady progression toward broader responsibility at Ford testify to his knowledge, ambitious effort and remarkable achievement. “My team and I have responsibility for engineering the customer-perceived attributes for all the Ford products globally,” Ufford says. “I have team members in all of our plant and engineering locations throughout the world who ensure that our products are meeting the needs of our global customer base.”

Ufford has led engineering teams that have produced a long list of award-winning vehicles for Ford. Vehicles for which he and his team have been responsible include the Fusion, Motor Trend’s 2010 Car of the Year, and other award winners including Ford’s Flex, Fusion Hybrid, Explorer, Focus and Transit Connect. The F-Series pickup — the largest selling vehicle in the United States — has earned Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year honors multiple times, including in 2017. Ufford’s teams introduced high fuel economy twin-turbo V6 engines into the F-150 in 2011, and in 2015 introduced a sweeping redesign that replaced the vehicle’s steel with aluminum, saving 750 pounds, and further contributing to the popular vehicle’s fuel economy.

“My teams around the world deal with vehicle engineering for acoustics, vibration and vehicle dynamics, aerodynamics, and human interaction with the vehicle,” Ufford says. “They identify the aspects of a vehicle that customers perceive or sense that give them the feeling for the character of a vehicle — the customer experience.”

As a leader, Ufford says his priority is to set up his teams for success: “I develop my team of engineers so that they have the best capabilities and knowledge available today around the globe. I want them to be inspired to come to work and do a great job of putting passion into our products that customers can see and feel.”

Ufford shares his own passion for his work and for Purdue through his contributions as a member of the Herrick Lab Industrial Advisory Committee. “I love when I get a chance to come for that,” he says. He also has a long history as a leader with the Boy Scouts, and he is a mentor for students involved in FIRST robotics, a STEM-promoting program for high school students that is characterized as “the hardest fun you’ll ever have.”

Ufford also shows his special bond with Purdue when he welcomes Purdue graduates who are beginning careers with Ford. “I meet students here at Ford as we bring them on board. Purdue is second only to the entire state of Michigan as the largest source of engineers for Ford.”