Higginbothams answer Messner challenge, endow new professorship

Thursday, March 28, 2019
Elizabeth and Bill Higginbotham at dusk with the Midtown Atlanta skyline in the background. (Photo: Gary Meek)
Elizabeth and Bill Higginbotham, who have made the first commitment for a new endowed professorship as part of a matching challenge from the Messner family. (Photo: Gary Meek)
 

By Jennifer Carlile, Office of Development

For William E. “Bill” Higginbotham, BCE 1976, it was a no-brainer.

The Messners provided a unique opportunity to fully endow a professorship” in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Higginbotham said, “at half the price.”

The Messner CEE Challenge 1.0 is the brainchild of Jenny K. and Michael G. Messner, also a 1976 graduate. The Messners have issued a $5 million challenge grant with a dollar-for-dollar match to fund endowed faculty chairs and professorships within the School. Professorships are fundable at $1 million and faculty chairs at $2 million — both with a one-to-one match.

Higginbotham said the opportunity to participate in the match was too good to ignore.

“A million dollars is daunting, but the fact that it drops to $500,000 [which is then matched] is wonderful,” he said.

As president and CEO of Atlanta-based ET Environmental, Higginbotham is well into his career but not close to retirement.

“It takes a little creativity for someone who is still working to figure it out. Mike Messner has enabled a working stiff like me to be able to do this, and I hope other alumni are doing it too.”

– Bill Higginbotham, BCE 1976, president and CEO of ET Environmental

“It takes a little creativity for someone who is still working to figure it out,” he said, referring to philanthropic giving choices. “Mike Messner has enabled a working stiff like me to be able to do this, and I hope other alumni are doing it too.”

Higginbotham has learned much more about the School’s needs and faculty leaders’ priorities as a member (and now chair) of the School’s External Advisory Board, he said.

“We don’t have nearly the professorship cadre that we need to maintain and recruit outstanding faculty,” he said. “We’ve fallen behind in [the number of] graduate fellowships and endowed professorships compared to our peer institutions.”

The Messner Challenge provides an opportunity to at least double the number of endowed professorships and faculty chairs. Roughly 12 percent of the School’s 48 tenured and tenure-track faculty members hold endowed positions. The nation’s other top-five civil and environmental engineering programs appoint 25 percent to 50 percent of their faculty members to endowed chairs and professorships.

“Increasing the number of endowed professorships will make a real dent” in ensuring that the School both retains and continues to attract top-tier faculty, Higginbotham said. Top-tier faculty also recruit promising graduate students, so the infusion of support generated by the Messner Challenge will have far-reaching benefits.

The pledge from Higginbotham and his wife, Elizabeth, is the first qualifying commitment in the challenge, and it establishes the Higginbotham Faculty Endowment Fund. Higginbotham said the impetus to give wasn’t about “being first, it was about doing it while [the match] lasted.

“An offer like this doesn’t occur often.”

To inquire about making a gift in support of the Messner CEE Challenge, contact Director of Development Ashley Coogan at ashley.coogan@ce.gatech.edu or 404.385.1604.

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