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College of Engineering honors distinguished alumni


Academy of Engineering honorees Academy of Engineering honorees

BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 18, 2007 – Virginia Tech's College of Engineering has honored ten of its most distinguished alumni with induction into its Academy of Engineering, and named its 2007 Outstanding Young Alumnus.

Membership in the academy is reserved in general for individuals holding an engineering degree from Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering and who have made sustained and meritorious engineering and/or leadership contributions during their careers. Only 71 alumni out of more than 45,000 living engineering graduates are members of this select group.

The Academy was created in 1998 by the College of Engineering’s Advisory Board in collaboration with the college administration.

“The Academy gives us the opportunity to recognize our alumni who are outstanding contributors to our profession of engineering, and in some cases, to other professions. Our college is very fortunate to have an abundance of highly successful alumni,” said Richard C. Benson, dean and the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Chair of Engineering.

“Our outstanding young alumnus, Joseph Calkins, was selected from all of our graduates from the past 10 years, so he was competing with more than 10,000 individuals when you include all three degrees,” Benson added.

The ten academy honorees are:

  • William Barker of Colorado Springs, Colo., is a 40-year veteran of the field of applied astrodynamics. He and his team of engineers are responsible for many of the innovations leading to the improvements of the U.S. Space Catalog, a directory of approximately 13,000 known objects that now orbit the earth. Barker is 1964 engineering science and mechanics graduate.
  • Charles P. Blankenship holds a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in metallurgical engineering in 1960 and 1962, respectively. He spent more than three decades with NASA, moving to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in 1980. He received a number of promotions, becoming NASA’s Director of the Advanced Subsonic Technology Program Office with operations at three of the NASA centers –– Lewis in Cleveland, Ohio, Ames at Moffett Field, California, and Langley in Hampton, Virginia in 1996, a year before his retirement. Blankenship lives in Poquoson, Va.
  • Phil Compton, a 1947 aerospace engineering graduate who resides in Front Royal, Va., is also a retired NASA administrator who spent parts of his career at Westinghouse, Douglas Aircraft, Lockheed, the Research Analysis Corporation or RAC, and the National Bureau of Standards. In 1974 he joined NASA where he spent his last 12 working years in Washington, D.C. as a program manager of advanced technology. During this time he was also elected the 1983-84 president of the Virginia Society of Professional Engineers. Afterwards, NASA presented him with its Space-Ship-Earth Award for his VSPE presidency, as well as his work leading up to this time.
  • David D’Antoni who splits his time between Columbus, Ohio and Naples, Fl., is a 1967 chemical engineering graduate. He is a man used to dealing with the “B” word –– billions, that is. From 1988 until his retirement from Ashland Inc., in 2004, each position he managed represented an area that had annual revenues in the billions. In 1988, D’Antoni was named its Senior Vice President and the President of Ashland Chemical Company, with annual revenues of $3 billion. In 1999 Ashland named him its Senior Vice President and Group Officer and a member of its executive committee. From 2001 until his retirement in 2004, D’Antoni also headed Valvoline Oil with revenues exceeding $1 billion annually and Ashland Paving and Construction Co,, the largest highway paver in the U.S. with revenues at $3 billion.
  • John DeBell, a 1968 civil engineering graduate and Vietnam veteran, started his career with Dewberry and Davis, a well-respected consulting firm. After four years, DeBell and his boss at Dewberry, Paul Bengtson, decided to co-found their own company, Bengtson and DeBell. By 1987 they had some 300 employees. In the late-1990s, Burgess and Niple, Inc., assumed 100 percent of the company’s stock. DeBell stayed on as an owner, and remains as the director of the Mid-Atlantic region. He also serves on its board of directors. DeBell, Virginia Society of Professional Engineers’ Engineer of the Year in 1988, resides in Catharpin, Va.
  • Elmer Easton is a World War II veteran and a 1947 mechanical engineering graduate. As his professional reputation grew, Lear Incorporated recruited him to California in 1952. Working directly with William Lear, Easton, 25 at the time, upgraded standard commercial aircraft to corporate jets. Easton’s career took a significant twist in 1968 when he decided to launch his own business, Compucorp, which developed, licensed, and manufactured proprietary microprocessor-based desk-top computers and word processing systems. After 17 years, Easton closed Compucorp and opened his current business, Three D Graphics, a producer of business graphics, financial and predictive analysis software. Easton lives in Pacific Palisades, California.
  • John R. Jones III of Columbus, Ohio, and who retains strong ties to St. Paul, Va., is a retired Senior Vice President of American Electric Power (AEP), He spends about two out of every six weeks at his second home in Wise County, Va., checking on the family dealership. Jones graduated in 1967 with his degree in mechanical engineering. His 36 year AEP career was a whirlwind, never staying in one location more than five years, and never keeping the same position for more then two, until he relocated to AEP’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio in 1983. By the late 1990s, he was in charge of 16 coal-fired and 17 hydro-generating AEP facilities in seven states.
  • William Kilgore, a 1957 mining engineering graduate, started his career with Jewell Ridge Coal Corp., of Tazewell, Va. In 1963, he returned to his family business, and, at 28, became the General Manager and President of Margaret Ann Coal Corp., of Conway, Virginia. After he sold it, Kilgore moved around a number of times for the next 30 years in management at various mining companies. In 1994, Kilgore partnered with his long-time friend, Red Robertson, also a Virginia Tech MinE graduate of Grundy, and James O. Bunn, as the coal mine owners/operating partners of two mining complexes, Kanawha Eagle and Mossy Eagle. Mossy was sold in 1997 and Kilgore remains at Kanawha, as part owner.
  • Charles O’Brien, a Navy veteran and a 1956 industrial engineering graduate, joined Armstrong World Industries after graduation. He worked his way up the corporate ladder, starting as a foreman and ending as the executive vice president of Thomasville Furniture Industries in North Carolina, a company with 6500 employees at 21 plants in four states. He has spent much of the past 12 years since his retirement donating his time and talents. He has traveled to Ghana, Slovakia, Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, Ukraine and Honduras, lending his expertise to help with the privatizing of manufacturing facilities and aiding in disaster relief. O’Brien splits his time between Blacksburg, Va., and Pensacola Beach, Fl.
  • W. Thomas Robertson, Jr., a 1952 agricultural engineering graduate, spent over 39 years with Duke Power Company, a Fortune 500 company traded on the N.Y. Stock Exchange, retiring as its Vice President in 1994. After his retirement, Robertson of Charlotte, N.C., was asked along with some other retirees, working with a consultant, to help establish a unique Duke volunteer retirement organization. The name selected was the DUKE POWER-ful RETIREE VOLUNTEERS. He was the Charlotte Area President during the first two years it was pioneered. Today it is in 22 locations across the Carolinas and the annual total retiree volunteer hours are around 250,000.

The Outstanding Young Alumnus for 2007, Joseph Calkins of Williamsburg, Va., received all three of his degrees, including his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech. While a graduate student, Calkins, his adviser Charles Reinholtz, and Bob Salerno, a Ph.D. graduate, started New River Kinematics in 1994. The company, initially formed to create robot simulation and control software, shifted its focus from robot simulation to the development of SpatialAnalyzer™ (SA) to fit a need for comprehensive software in the measurement industry. NRK’s SpatialAnalyzer™ product has become the industry standard large-scale measurement software for portable metrology devices. Customers include: Boeing, Airbus, Honda, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, NASA, Toyota, United Space Alliance, and Vought Aircraft.