UW–Madison engineering alumni receive top college honor

Oct. 14, 2011

by Renee Meiller

On Friday, Oct. 14, the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Engineering will recognize 10 alumni who have made key contributions to their profession and to society.

During the 64th annual Engineers' Day banquet, nine of these high-level engineers will receive the college Distinguished Achievement Award and one recent alumna will receive the Early-Career Achievement Award.

Distinguished Achievement Award recipients:

  • Vincent Sik-Hung Chan, San Diego: For more than a decade, Chan has led the General Atomics theory and computational science division of the energy and electromagnetic systems group. He has contributed to a broad spectrum of plasma physics research and spearheaded the advanced tokamak concept for economical fusion energy. He is a champion for using high-performance computing in magnetic fusion research and has produced more than 100 broadly cited journal articles. Chan is a fellow of the American Physical Society and has participated on several fusion-related governmental and international committees. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical and computer engineering from UW–Madison in 1972 and 1973 and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1975.
  • Michael R. Duckett, Brookfield, Wis.: It's been a good year for baseball for Duckett, who is president of the Duckett Group Inc. of Brookfield and executive director for the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District. In his role, Duckett managed the planning, design and construction of Miller Park, the state-of-the-art Milwaukee Brewers baseball stadium. Now, he represents the public's interest in the ballpark and oversees its operation, capital repairs and improvements. Additionally, the Duckett Group has provided engineering and management services for numerous projects, including the Lambeau Field renovation and the Milwaukee Marquette Interchange reconstruction. Duckett earned his bachelor's degree and master's degrees in civil and environmental engineering from UW–Madison in 1974 and 1975 and is a licensed professional engineer and registered land surveyor.
  • David U. Furrer, East Hartford, Conn.: As senior fellow and discipline lead for Pratt & Whitney, Furrer fills the company's highest technical position and has become a leading international authority on materials for aerospace applications, including turbine engines, airframes and rockets. Furrer's is a career that has come full circle: He began at the company as a materials engineer 25 years ago, then left to take positions at SSI Technologies, Ladish Co. Inc. and, until 2010, Rolls-Royce. In his role at Pratt & Whitney, Furrer leads all the materials discipline chiefs and materials fellows in developing technical strategy and improving all materials engineering work. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in metallurgical engineering at UW–Madison in 1986 and 1988.
  • J. Michael Jensen, Cincinnati: In a 34-year career with Procter and Gamble, Jensen coupled his love of technology with his passion for innovation. After holding several positions in research and development, Jensen retired in 2008 as global vice president of research and development for Procter and Gamble. Throughout his career, Jensen was especially adept at creating new or reinventing existing Procter and Gamble businesses whose products had major effects on the lives of consumers worldwide. Jensen also devoted energy as a recruiter to developing the company research and development organization itself and has been a champion — both inside and out of Procter and Gamble — for building a diverse, inclusive culture. He earned his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from UW–Madison in 1973.
  • Appu Kuttan, Alexandria, Va.: Pioneer of an influential management by systems concept that has been applied around the world, Kuttan is an expert in global systems and has advised government leaders on topics ranging from traffic safety to the economy. In 1989, he founded the National Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization that bridges academic, digital and employment divides to make high-quality education accessible to everyone around the world, and in particular, in the United States and India. Kuttan also is author of several books, including "From Digital Divide to Digital Opportunity and Happy Executive — Nurturing Mind, Body and Soul." He earned his Ph.D. in industrial engineering from UW–Madison in 1968.
  • Richard M. Lynch, Madison, Wis.: In a distinguished career that spans nearly 30 years with Madison construction firm J.H. Findorff and Son, Lynch has overseen projects ranging from the American Family Children's Hospital and Epic Systems campus to the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center and the Overture Center for the Arts. Lynch started his career with the company in 1984 as a project manager and became an owner and vice president in 1992. He was named executive vice president in 1997 and president in 2002. Under Lynch's leadership, Findorff has remained at the forefront of cutting-edge construction processes, equipment and technology and is committed to using green building practices. Lynch earned his bachelor's degree in construction administration from UW–Madison in 1974.
  • James R. Meister, Warrenville, Ill.: As Exelon vice president for operations support, Meister played a key role on the executive leadership team that transformed Commonwealth Edison from the worst nuclear operator in the United States into Exelon, a company that now is the best U.S. operator. With 17 nuclear reactors in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Exelon Nuclear is the largest operator of nuclear power plants in the United States and serves 5.4 million customers. Meister joined the company in 1994 and has served as station manager for several generating stations, as well as engineering vice president for Exelon Nuclear. He is a graduate of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators senior nuclear plant manager course and of the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security Executive Leadership Program. Meister earned his bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering from UW–Madison in 1978.
  • Brian J. Rauch, Dubuque, Iowa: Vice president of engineering for the John Deere Dubuque Works Worldwide Construction and Forestry Division, Rauch leads 600 engineers in a global organization that develops construction and forestry equipment, such as backhoes, bulldozers, skidders and forestry harvesters. Among its recent innovations, the division has introduced an industry-first high-speed dozer and two hybrid-electric loaders. Rauch is known for his intense focus on Deere customers and enjoys developing innovations that increase Deere customers' profits and productivity and enhance the company reputation as an industry leader. He also is committed to diversifying the Deere workforce and played an integral role in assembling a multicultural, multinational team in the U.S. engineering center and building new talent in locations such as India and China. Rauch earned his master's and Ph.D. degrees in engineering mechanics from UW–Madison in 1990 and 1993.
  • James D. Woodburn Jr., Deephaven, Minn.: President of Woodburn Health Consulting and chief medical officer and director of Applied Pathways, Woodburn transformed his experiences as a practicing physician into expertise in health care management. Rather than serving one patient at a time, he has developed systems that help millions nationwide.

He has advised high-tech companies and agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, on occupational and environmental health issues and spearheaded the growth of MinuteClinic, a system of clinics in grocery and department stores that provides basic care in 30-minute appointments. Woodburn helped the system expand from just a handful of clinics to 250 clinics staffed by more than 2,000 nurse practitioners. He earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from UW–Madison in 1977 and his master's degree in biomedical engineering in 1981.

Early Career Award recipient

  • Jennifer A. Topinka, Houston: In only seven years, Topinka has established herself as a rising star at General Electric (GE). As the senior finance manager for GE Oil and Gas, Topinka is responsible for $200 million in research and development investment and engineering finances. Topinka's work stems from a passion for fuel efficiency and is listed as an inventor on four issued patents for new engine technologies, including a system to control fuel-injection events. At GE, she has championed environmental initiatives that focus on driving environmental responsibility: She co-founded two organizations, including we "c" green at the GE Global Research Center and EcoForum within the GE corporate audit staff. Topinka earned a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from UW–Madison in 2001.