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College of Engineering inducts new academy members, honors outstanding young alumna


   

2011 Academy of Engineering Excellence Inductees Pictured are the new members of the Academy of Engineering Excellence and the Outstanding Young Alumna. From left to right, are: Laurie McNeill, outstanding young alumna; Richard Benson, dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, who presented the awards; Don Powers, of Lynchburg, Va.; Don Pemberton, of Hague, Va.; Charles Harris of Poquoson, Va.; Art McKinney, of Beaverdam, Va.; Paul Barbery, of Bluefield, Va.; Warner Robins, of Yorktown, Va.; John White, of Fayetteville, Ark.; and Charles Gordon, of Johnson City, Tenn.


BLACKSBURG, Va., May 26, 2011 – Virginia Tech's College of Engineering inducted eight new members into its Academy of Engineering Excellence, an elite group that now consists of only 105 people out of its more than fifty-five thousand living alumni. 

The Academy of Engineering Excellence was founded in 1999 by F. William Stephenson, past dean of the college of engineering, and by the college's Alumni Advisory Board. This year marked the 12th anniversary of the first induction. In 2009, the college produced a book on the first 90 inductees, called "In the Land Grant Tradition: Reaching the Pinnacles," that is available at the University Bookstore.

This academy and the college's published book "represents another way the College of Engineering has selected to showcase our loyal ambassadors. These alumni all represent people who have lived their lives representing the spirit of Ut Prosim, Virginia Tech's motto, meaning that I may serve," said Richard C. Benson, dean of the College of Engineering and the holder of the Paul and Dorothea Torgersen Chair of Engineering.

The 2011 academy inductees are:  Paul Barbery, of Bluefield, Va., and formerly of Mooresville, N.C., Class of 1959, mining engineering; Charles O. Gordon, Jr., of Johnson City, Tenn., Class of 1969, industrial engineering; Charles E. Harris, of Poquoson, Va., Class of 1972, aerospace engineering, and Class of 1972 and 1983, master's and doctorate, respectively, in engineering science and mechanics; Art McKinney of Beaverdam, Va., Class of 1966, architectural engineering; Don Pemberton of Hague, Va., Class of 1956, electrical engineering; Don M. Powers of Lynchburg, Va., Class of 1959, electrical engineering; A. Warner Robins of Yorktown, Va., Class of 1949, aeronautical engineering; and John A. White, Jr., of Fayetteville, Ariz., Class of 1966, industrial engineering.

Also honored at the event was Laurie McNeill of Logan, Utah, who received the College of Engineering's Outstanding Young Alumna Award for 2011.

Barbery was employed with A.T. Massey for 18 successful years and also served as chairman of Elk Run Coal Co., a subsidiary of Massey, and served as an officer on several other subsidiaries. From 1994 to present, Barbery continued to hold several top positions within many well-known companies. He served as president of National King in Colorado, vice president and senior vice president and general counsel of Asian American Coal Co. LLC., in which he aided in securing the first joint coal operation between a U.S.-based company and China. When American sold its affiliates in 2003, Barbery retired, but only for a short period of time. He soon returned to work for the law firm of Bowles Rice in Charleston, W.Va., and served as vice president and general counsel of the Cline Resources Co. of Beckley, W.Va., where he concentrated on coal and energy legal matters.

Gordon, after graduating from Virginia Tech, joined the family business, Gordon's Inc., a furniture manufacturer, helping to double the size of the family company within about 15 years, from less than 200 to more than 400 employees. In the early 1970s, as the company's vice-president, he added some business courses to his skills, enrolling at the Executive Institute at the University of North Carolina, and later at Harvard. By the early 1980s, his two brothers were also working at the family business, and along with their father, they also owned the Tri-City Beverage Corp., and a few other entities, so they formed a holding company, Bydand Corp. Gordon became Bydand's vice-president in 1984, and president in 2002. The family eventually left the furniture business, and in the past four years, Gordon has tripled the output of Tri-City Beverage, and the business has more than doubled.

Harris has spent most of his career at NASA Langley. He started by heading the mechanics of materials branch, and beginning in 1991, he simultaneously managed NASA's Aging Aircraft Program. In 1997 he was named NASA's Chief Technologist for the Structures and Materials Center of Excellence. That same year he received the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal for his work on the NASA Aging Aircraft Program. He was part of the team that helped create the National Institute of Aerospace. In 2000 Harris was promoted to the deputy directorship of NASA's Structures and Materials Competency. From 2003 until 2006 he was a principal engineer in NASA's Engineering and Safety Center (NESC), leading part of the space shuttle return-to-flight investigation after the Columbia accident. Harris also earned the Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive in 2005 and Distinguished Executive in 2008 in the Senior Executive Service.

McKinney started his own company 30 years ago, a full-service design and construction firm, McKinney & Company. After 15 years of mostly big box manufacturing, he turned his attention to complex cleaning facilities, clean room manufacturing, data centers, and life science centers. McKinney & Company quickly grew and with international expansion in Panama, McKinney continued his work combining manufacturing with life sciences. His efforts include controlling insects and eliminating parasites. McKinney's company recently completed a $63 million, Bio-Safety, Level 3 (BSL-3) project in Prince Edward County, Va. The BSL-3 laboratory was designed to contain agents that may cause serious or lethal disease as a result of contact or inhalation. Currently, McKinney's firm has started work on their first Level 4 facility, one of five in the entire country.

Pemberton spent his entire career at Reynolds Metals, starting as a maintenance foreman in its Petersburg, Va., office. After two years, he transferred to the company's main headquarters in Richmond and traveled throughout the U.S. to design the electrical components of new manufacturing facilities. After four years, a job opened at Reynolds Metals in sales engineering where he would be able to work with customers to develop products. He says he liked the creativity that came with this position, working on new concepts and novel alloys. From 1981 until 1992 he worked with Reynolds Metals research division to test concepts. Among the novel ideas that went through his group was an outer aluminum housing for electric motors that dissipated heat better than the heavy cast iron one that was then in use. Another problem his group tackled was a replacement for copper as an electrical conductor.

Powers spent his career at IBM, helping to grow the firm into one of the world's technology giants during a 28-year career. His resume reads as a near-history of IBM's powerful run in large mainframe computing. His first assignment was for the National Security Agency, on a mainframe that was powered by thousands of transistors and employed magnetic core memory. During his career, he was involved in the design and development of System 360 and System 370. Later he served as product manager for the Model 308X series. He was the manager of the IBM Kingston Development Laboratory, developing software and hardware for large computer mainframes when he decided to retire in 1987. He then went to work for Control Data Corp. as vice-president of development and research. After a few years of redirecting the computer group, Powers was tasked with running another unit, Empros Systems International, which built transmission control systems for power companies. There, Powers increased new orders from $40 million to $100 million in 1991, and increased profit margins fivefold. Two years later, the firm sold to Siemens, and Powers retired for good.

Robins joined NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as an aeronautical engineer. The lack of any adequate computers in the 1950s at NACA posed a real challenge to Robins, one of the researchers attempting to implement the analytical processes of the supersonic flows. But by 1961, Robins was leading a group of some 20 research professionals as the supervising aeronautical research scientist. NACA had morphed into NASA, and in the two decades that he led this group, Robins held a leadership role in the understanding of the nature of supersonic flows and the engineering of supersonic aircraft. "Much of what we consider to be standard knowledge regarding supersonic aircraft configurations was developed during the 20 years Warner Robins led that group," says Christopher Hall, professor and head of the aerospace and ocean engineering department at Virginia Tech. In fact, Robins was the lead author on a NASA paper on supersonic mechanics that Hall credits as "the Bible on supersonics."

White began at Georgia Tech as a faculty member in 1975 where his research thrived. While there, he started a logistics consulting company, SysteCon, in 1977, and was able to enlist many of his clients to support Georgia Tech’s Materials Handling Research Center. He later sold his company in 1984. Meanwhile, in 1982, he had become the director of the Materials Handling Research Center, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Industry/University Cooperative Research Center. Considered the most successful start-up center at the time, White met his five-year goal for attracting industry partners within six months of the NSF designation. White returned to Georgia Tech in 1991 as its new dean of engineering. When the University of Arkansas first asked White to apply for the position of chancellor in 1997, he first declined, and said his job as dean of engineering at Georgia Tech suited him just fine, but latter accepted. There, White launched a billion dollar capital campaign, and in 2005 it concluded with a $300 million gift from the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, thelargest single gift to a public university in the history of American philanthropy at the time.

McNeill, who graduated in 2000 from Virginia Tech with a doctoral degree, is now an associate professor at Utah State University. Advised by Marc Edwards while at Virginia Tech, McNeill continues to collaborate with her former mentor. By 2006, she gained tenure and was named associate professor at Utah State. Locally in Utah, she is heavily involved in research to determine the desert environmental effects of solid rocket motor testing by aerospace and defense company ATK. She was a visiting professor at An-Najah National University, Palestine for some 12 months in 2007-08. Back at Utah, she started advising the student chapter of Engineers Without Borders, and led an effort to improve a water system for a Peruvian village of 300 people in the rural mountains. Her strong involvement has resulted in thrilled, encouraged students and accolades from her peers. In fall 2010, she was named the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching – Utah Professor of the Year, the first time a professor from engineering won the honor. In 2007, she was named the Utah State University Eldon J. Gardner Teacher of the Year. In 2006, McNeill was named Utah State University College of Engineering Outstanding Teacher.

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college's 6,000 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a "hands-on, minds-on" approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 2,000 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.