Higginbotham family creates new professorship in CEE

Alumnus’ gift is first answer to a call for more named faculty positions in the School
Thursday, January 21, 2016

Elizabeth and Bill Higginbotham have created a new named professorship in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering this spring. The Higginbotham Professorship builds on their previous support of the School, which has included support of the Mason Building renovation, sponsoring Capstone Design projects, and funding other special projects. Here, the Higginbothams pose during the dedication of the renovated Mason Building in October 2013. (Photo: Gary Meek)

A gift from Elizabeth and Bill Higginbotham will create a new named professorship in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering this spring.

The position will go to a mid-career or senior-level professor and enable them to take new risks in their research and teaching agenda, School leaders said.

“I really sat down with them and said, help me do something that solves your biggest problem,” said Bill Higginbotham, who earned his bachelor’s in civil engineering in 1976. “Your biggest problem is not the condition of the building or funding a capstone project or any other small thing. Your real problem is attracting professors or keeping the professors here. Good professors equal good students.”

“This is the absolutely most important thing we can do to continue being a great program,” said Reginald DesRoches, the Karen and John Huff school chair. “It really starts with the quality of the faculty that you have, both making sure you keep existing top faculty as well as attracting new blood here.

“Bill wanted to do whatever would have the most impact in the School, and I told him this would have the most impact, the ability to keep and attract quality faculty.”

The new Elizabeth and Bill Higginbotham Professor will receive $25,000 each year to support their educational and scholarly activities, funding they can use at their discretion to make an impact, DesRoches said.

“It’s much more flexible than the funding you would get from a funding agency, so you can use it to really do creative things, to do things that are much more risky than you would be able to do with funding you have from a funding agency,” he said. “We see it as seed funding to be able to explore some areas that might lead to really big things for your [research] program.”

The School’s leadership and alumni External Advisory Board think such named professorships and faculty chairs are so critical to maintaining a quality program that they’ve set a goal of tripling the number of such positions within the next five years. The Higginbotham Professorship is the first step toward meeting that goal.

“A lot of times undergraduate scholarships or graduate fellowships really resonate with alumni because they were students and they see that direct need, so it was exciting when Bill and Elizabeth decided to do this,” said Christi Tillery, the School’s director of development. “[They] understand that they can help students and help the overall reputation of the School by supporting faculty. We hope that other people will join them.”

“I’m looking at this like the quality of any team,” said Higginbotham, who serves on the School’s alumni board. “There is absolutely an aspect that bleeds over into my professional life that says if you don’t have good people in these jobs, then you’re not going to have the output of [quality graduates], and if you put really good people in the jobs, now you’ve got to keep them.”

The search for a person to fill the new professorship will begin immediately, DesRoches said.

About Bill and Elizabeth Higginbotham:

Bill Higginbotham, BSCE 1976, is president and CEO of ET Environmental, an employee-owned environmental and energy design-build firm with offices throughout the United States and headquarters in Atlanta. He is a registered professional engineer in several states and a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accredited professional. ET Environmental is the eighth entrepreneurial venture for Higginbotham, who previously founded and served as president of Chattahoochee Geotechnical Consultants and later as vice president of EMCON Associates after merging his company with that firm.

Elizabeth Higginbotham earned a bachelor’s in accounting from the University of South Alabama and spent 25 years working in corporate accounting and mortgage banking. She and Bill married in 1999.