Messner Faculty Challenge Funds 7 New Chairs and Professorships


The School of Civil and Environmental Engineering is ending 2019 on a high note, having doubled its endowed faculty chairs and professorships over the past year, thanks to the Messner Faculty Challenge. 

Through their family foundation, Jenny K. and Michael G. Messner, CE 76, established the challenge within the Georgia Tech Foundation.  The challenge, which started Oct. 10, 2018, and ended June 30, 2019, provided dollar-for-dollar matching gifts up to $5 million for endowed professorships and faculty chairs.

“The overarching goal was to provide up to $10 million in additional permanent endowment for support of the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering,” Michael Messner said.

Prior to the challenge, there were six endowed faculty chairs and professorships available to the School’s 48 tenured and tenure-track faculty — which meant that only 12.5 percent of the faculty had access to the career-building and program-enhancing benefits that these endowed positions offer. 

Thanks to the generosity of the Messners and two dozen other donors, the Messner Challenge has created four new endowed professorships and three new faculty chairs, bringing the total number to 13. These additions “will enable the School to be even more successful in retaining and recruiting exceptional faculty at mid- and senior-career levels,” Messner said.

Endowed faculty chairs and professorships will now be available to 27 percent of the faculty, making Georgia Tech more competitive with peer institutions like U.C. Berkeley, University of Illinois, MIT, and the University of Texas at Austin, which offer between 26 and 51 percent of their faculty endowed positions.

An appointment to a faculty chair is among the highest forms of recognition a faculty member can achieve. Chair holders are considered preeminent teachers and scholars in their fields with the ability to attract top students and talented faculty, conduct innovative research and draw external funding.

Endowed professorships recognize mid-career faculty and attract scholars who stretch the boundaries of their disciplines and prepare them to take their place among future faculty leaders.

In addition to prestige, chairs and professorships provide faculty members with discretionary funding for research, equipment, travel and other professional development to advance their work.

The following endowed professorships and faculty chairs resulted from the Messner Faculty Challenge: 

  • The G. Wayne Clough Chair 
  • The Dwight H. Evans Professorship 
  • The Higginbotham Family Professorship 
  • The Bonnie W. and Charles W. Moorman IV Professorship 
  • The José D. Pérez Chair 
  • The Turnipseed Family Chair 
  • The Williams Family Professorship 

See below for more information about the last three positions to be funded by the Messner Faculty Challenge: The G. Wayne Clough Chair, the José D. Pérez Chair and the Williams Family Professorship.

Teamwork Funds a Chair 

Like true engineers, a group of 18 donors worked together to find a solution by combining their gifts to create a faculty chair in honor of President Emeritus G. Wayne Clough, CE 64, MS CE 65.

Blake V.L. Peck, MS CE 78, was excited about the opportunity offered by the Messner Faculty Challenge. However, with a $500,000–$1 million threshold for professorships and chairs, he needed to think outside the box.

“There were a number of us who wanted to participate in the Messner Challenge, but the threshold was too high individually,” Peck said. He floated the idea of group funding to other members of CEE’s External Advisory Board, and there was immediate interest. “The commitments ranged from $5,000 to $125,000, and every gift was welcome,” Peck said. 

Peck was the initial driving force behind the group’s success but is quick to give credit to all who contributed. Seventeen of the 18 donors are Georgia Tech graduates with civil engineering degrees. One anonymous donor made a meaningful gift “in the 11th hour to get us over the top,” Peck added. 

He also gives credit to Donald Webster, the Karen and John Huff School Chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering, for suggesting that the chair be named in honor of Clough. In addition to serving the Institute as its 10th president, Clough is “one of CEE’s most prominent and recognized alumni,” Peck said. “It was very easy to get the group’s consensus on this.” 

Donors to the G. Wayne Clough Faculty Chair are: 

  • Sharon R. Just and Jim V. Anderson, CE 88 
  • Arcadis 
  • Tina and Bill Calhoun, CE 81 
  • Donna D. and Paul H. Flower, CE 68 
  • Jamie and Jim Hamilton, CE 77 
  • Jane Houlihan, CE 1987, and Mike Houlihan, CE 85 
  • John U. Huffman, CE 81 
  • Judy and Ray Lawing, CE 77 
  • Carmen Suarez and Silvio Lopez, CE 81 
  • Geraldine and Orlando Mendez, CE 91 
  • Rebecca Nease, CE 79 
  • Dottie D. and Charles W. Nelson, CE 70 
  • Rixey Jones and Donald W. Paul, CE 80 
  • Blake V. Peck, CE 78 
  • Barbara A. and Andrew K. Phelps, CE 76 (In recognition of: Amanda Brooks, IA 06, and Edward A. Phelps, BME 06, MS BioE 11; Sofia Conseulo Lazaro Phelps, IAML 13, and Michael P. Phelps, EE 12)
  • Rhonda and Ike J. Scott, CE 74 
  • Mariana and Emilio M. Venegas, CE 77 
  • Anonymous 

Celebrating a Family of Civil Engineers 

Frank E. Williams Jr. and his family, donors to the Williams family chair
The Williams Family.

Philanthropy and civil engineering go hand in hand for the Williams family. 

When Frank E. Williams Jr., CE 56, graduated from the Institute, he started a family tradition. Both of his sons, Frank E. Williams III, CE 81, and H. Arthur “Art” Williams, CE 83, followed in his footsteps — academically and professionally.

The tradition grew when both sons married Tech alumni—Susan K. Williams, IM 83, married to Art; and Paula S. Williams, Arch 83, married to Frank III. A third generation of the Williams family proudly carries a Tech degree with the recent graduation of Joshua F. Williams, CS 19.

Now, Frank E. Williams Jr. and his wife, Billie Z. Williams, are deepening their family’s connection to Georgia Tech by endowing a professorship in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering as part of the Messner Faculty Challenge. 

Civil engineering and entrepreneurial pursuits are also part of the fabric of the Williams family, which owns and operates several construction businesses. Frank E. Williams Jr. has founded multiple steel-related construction companies, including Williams Enterprises of Georgia, Virginia-based Williams Industries, and Bosworth Steel Erectors in Dallas, Texas. 

Williams businesses have played a role in the construction of major projects around Atlanta, including Philips Arena (now State Farm Arena), Coca-Cola’s Atlanta headquarters, McCamish Pavilion at Georgia Tech, the College Football Hall of Fame, multiple terminals at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the Bank of America Tower, and the Georgia Aquarium, among others.

The Williams family views their gift as both a tangible means of giving back and an investment in the future of Georgia Tech.

“With dad being an entrepreneur, it was important to him to provide support for future entrepreneurs — specifically around the building trade,” Art Williams said. “We hope one thing that comes from the commitment will be a renewed emphasis on some of the more construction-related aspects of civil engineering.” 

José Domingo Pérez Funds CEE Faculty Chair 

The Perez Family
The Perez Family

When José Domingo Pérez, CE 71, was applying to colleges, his father made him an offer that would change the course of his life. Recognizing that the engineering program at the nearby University of Puerto Rico was excellent, Pérez’s parents told him that they would support study abroad only if it was at one of the “three foremost institutes of technology in the world,” Pérez said. “That was the first Georgia Tech challenge I accepted.” 

This spring, Pérez accepted another one — the Messner Challenge — by making a commitment to fund the José Domingo Pérez Foundation Chair in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The Pérez commitment is the third and final faculty chair made possible under the Messner Faculty Challenge Grant.

Pérez recognizes the enormous role that endowed faculty chairs play in a school’s ability to recruit and retain top-notch faculty and students. 

“Nations, corporations, and higher education institutions throughout the globe are in a fierce competition across international boundaries for the sharpest and keenest minds,” Pérez said. “In such a competitive environment, an endowed chair attracts individuals who have both the genius and the commitment to share their knowledge with students as they pursue research and development in their areas of expertise.” 

Pérez also noted the importance of research directed to “critical emerging challenges for humankind, such as climate change and resilient development — the latter especially relevant to Puerto Rico and the tropics, whether in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, or elsewhere.”

Pérez, who serves as president for Caribe Tecno Inc., a San Juan-based engineering-construction firm, said such research is vital for “life-sustaining infrastructure needed to preserve quality of life for future generations.” An endowed faculty chair recipient can be instrumental in encouraging and making critical research — and its application — a reality. 

The Pérez gift reflects the entire family’s commitment to Georgia Tech. José Domingo’s brother, Raúl Fernando Pérez, CE 75, MS CE 77, and his daughter, Beatriz Margarita Pérez, IE 05, also completed the Georgia Tech “challenge.” Having received a world-class education, “We feel blessed by the opportunity bestowed upon us. The relevance of a Georgia Tech degree can’t be overplayed.”


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