What’s in a name?
Supporters create four dozen named chairs, professorships through Campaign ASU 2020, ensuring Arizona State University attracts top talent in research, teaching.
Once Jim Ernzen launched his civil engineering career, he realized something he hadn’t appreciated as a PhD student in the late ’80s at the University of Texas.
“I was taught by giants of the civil engineering industry,” he says. “I can look back now and the number of people I was face-to-face with in the classroom who are now in the national academy … this staggers me.” Ernzen can also look back to the hallways leading to those classrooms, and recall, “Every one of those doors had a name on it” — not only the faculty nameplates of those industry giants, he explains, but the names of alumni and corporate donors.
“All of those professorships were endowed,” Ernzen says. “We need to do that same thing here, and I want to lead the way with the Del Webb school.”
What’s in a name?
Ernzen has one of those nameplates on his office door: “PENTA Building Group Endowed Professor” in the Del E. Webb School of Construction, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.
A faculty member for nearly 25 years, Ernzen now holds a professorship created with a gift from Jeff Ehret (’76, ’79 MBA). Ehret is one of the founding partners of the PENTA Building Group, a general contracting firm with offices in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Palm Springs.
“Jeff has been a very active supporter of the school for the past 10 or 15 years, and he and I go back that far,” Ernzen says. “After the endowment came together, his guidance to me was, ‘I want you to do everything you can to improve the undergraduate experience for our students.’”
Ernzen says Ehret’s directive allows him to play a trump card of the Del Webb school: its ties to the construction industry.
“We invite the industry in the door and ask, ‘What do you need our people to know how to do, and then how can you help us give them that?’” he says. “One of Jeff’s primary goals with this endowment was to ensure that focus in the Del Webb school so students walk out with the same level of experience he had. My mission is to maintain a strong interaction between our program and the industry so we can ensure that students come away feeling that connection and wanting to continue that connection as alumni.”
The PENTA Building Group professorship is one of nearly four dozen chairs and professorships created during Campaign ASU 2020. They are the result of donors supporting one area of the campaign’s priorities: “Elevate the academic enterprise … to ensure that we can bring the most talented professors here and empower them to pursue their ideas for teaching and research without any limitations.”
Anthony Lamanna, the Sundt Construction Professor of Alternative Delivery and Sustainable Development in ASU’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, is also programs chair of the Del E. Webb School of Construction. He says one of the attributes that makes those named positions so attractive to prized faculty candidates is the freedom they provide.
“Endowed positions provide discretionary money for the individual that allows them to do innovative things,” Lamanna says. “This is why endowed professorships and chairs are especially important for ASU. Sometimes it’s hard to get that grant to do very cutting-edge research. So using the built-in funds from that professorship, you can do some initial testing, some initial experiments, and have the data that convince somebody to give you more money to pursue that line of research.”
Susan Beiner, a ceramicist in the ASU School of Art, elaborates: “An endowed professorship allows you to make choices beyond the means of your college, to further engage professionally in opportunities and resources for experimentation and collaboration, both nationally and internationally, which continually filter back to your students and program.”
Beiner is the Joan R. Lincoln Endowed Professor of Art in the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts. “I utilize my funds to help our ceramics program and the students as much as my own research, whether it’s a new piece of equipment or sending a student to a workshop to learn a technique. I consider the needs of our program and students so we can provide our students with the best ceramic education possible.”
Elevating the university
While endowed positions are prestigious for the scholars who hold them, they are also marks of distinction for a college, says Mari Koerner. The former dean of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College became the Alice Wiley Snell Professor of Education in 2015 to 2020.
Now a professor emeritus, she says, “An endowed professorship or chair is an act of trust by an individual that an investment in this enterprise, specifically in faculty, will pay dividends through increased knowledge for and impact on the community.”
Koerner’s professorship was not the first to be funded by Richard and Alice Snell. They previously endowed a professorship in education policy studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ School of Social Transformation, formerly held by Emeritus Professor Teresa McCarty.
Lamanna agrees that endowed posts are important to the image of the Del E. Webb School of Construction.
“Endowed professorships are very high on our list because that’s how you get prestige; that’s how your program becomes very well-known,” Lamanna says. “My goal is one day, when I leave here, I want every position within the school of construction named. There’s very little argument that we’re one of the top programs in the world for construction if everything is endowed.”
Ernzen agrees, recalling his days at UT. “I would love to see every door down the Del Webb hallway having a different company name or person’s name on it. The way we maintain our excellence as a school is to retain or attract good people. And one of the best ways we can do that is to put money on the table to make it harder for that faculty member to say no. We need to rely on our alumni and our manufacturers to help us in that, to find ways we can hold on to our best people, do better research, and have the best teaching so we’re taking care of our students,” Ernzen says.
“Taking care of our students is the end game.”
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