The Burk-Kleinpeter Early Career Professorship

Winter 2011 | Article by Robert M. Morris

George KleinpeterWith the establishment of the Burk-Kleinpeter Inc. Early Career Professorship, the School of Science and Engineering will soon add yet another bright young tenure-track scientist or engineer to its faculty — thanks to the generosity of one of the school's most loyal and longstanding supporters.

More than half of the school's faculty members have been hired in the years since Hurricane Katrina, and many of them are junior-level tenure-track professors. Because the most sought-after doctoral candidates are often being pursued by departments at many universities, the School of Science and Engineering has been using early career professorships to strengthen its recruiting hand, said Dean Nick Altiero.

"We use these early career professorships to attract and retain outstanding junior faculty," Altiero said. "They are prestigious positions that provide annual funding to help support the research activity of faculty members working toward tenure."

The effort has paid off, as young faculty members holding those professorships are making the expected waves with their research into topics as diverse as wetlands ecology and the applications of naturally-occurring adhesives in geckos. The design, says development officer Nicole Graas, "has flourished to help us attract a young, vibrant, research-active faculty that are also engaged educators for undergraduates and graduate students. The school is starting to see the dividends as the number of research proposals have spiked over the last year and the quality of the funded proposals is improving."

"Moving forward, in order to fulfill the school’s strategic vision of adding additional engineering disciplines, having available endowments to recruit and support new faculty will be paramount," she said.

The Burk-Kleinpeter professorship is especially meaningful, Altiero said, because of its donor: George Kleinpeter, president of the 101-year-old Burk-Kleinpeter Inc. engineering company and a Tulane alumnus in civil engineering. Kleinpeter was already an active member of the engineering school's Board of Advisors prior to Hurricane Katrina, and has a long family history with Tulane. All three of his daughters attended the university, and his youngest daughter received a doctorate in civil engineering and one year even taught a second section of the same class as Altiero.

While he was just as upset as many engineers were with the dissolution of some of the university's traditional engineering programs, his support for Tulane never wavered, only growing stronger since then, Altiero said.

Kleinpeter credits his continued investment in the school to Altiero's leadership, especially during the school's reorganization.

"He sat down as a true dean, dedicated to the school, and said, 'This is how this will work. We can make it happen, but we need you guys to stick with us,' " Kleinpeter recalled.

So, when Altiero approached Kleinpeter several years later with the idea for the early career professorship, Kleinpeter and partner William Burk readily agreed.

"I said, 'If that's where you need it, that's where we're going to put it.' We made two decisions: We would do it, and we would do it where Altiero wanted it," Kleinpeter said. "He knows where he wants the school to go, and he makes you feel very comfortable with his vision. If he needs you, you're going to be right there."

That vision may not lead back to the traditional engineering programs, Altiero said, but the new engineering physics program is beginning to show its importance to companies like Burk-Kleinpeter. The engineering physics program is "all about new materials, and many of those applications are structural," Altiero said, such as the development of materials with extraordinary structural properties, "smart" materials, and self-healing materials, that will one day be critical elements of construction and civil infrastructure.

"Our goal is to build a materials science and engineering program that involves the study and development of advanced materials that have a very broad range of engineering applications. New materials have revolutionized many industries and they will continue to be a driving force in engineering innovation."

"Supporters like George understand the future of engineering," Altiero concluded. "The time from discovery to application is getting shorter and whatever we're going to do in engineering must be at the cutting edge of science."

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