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The Legacy of “Pops” Steiner

It is hard to imagine that the impact of an individual whose term as dean of the College of Engineering ended more than 50 years before most of the Class of 2007 were born could still be felt. But it’s true.

Before he graduated in 1899 with a degree in civil engineering, Rev. Thomas A. Steiner, C.S.C., was also a member of the University’s first varsity basketball team. He worked for the Illinois Central and Big Four Railroads after graduation and returned to the University in 1911 to teach. Entering the novitiate in 1914, he joined the civil engineering faculty shortly after his ordination in 1918.

During his 10 years as dean, Steiner made a great impact on the course of the College of Engineering and the University. The Cushing Hall of Engineering was built and dedicated during his tenure. (It replaced the original engineering structure that had been severely damaged by a fire during his first year as dean.) He was also instrumental in the development of a new steam and water pumping plant and the plan to solve some of the University’s heating problems by placing conduits in a concrete tunnel system that would carry heat around campus.

An ardent supporter of the inclusion of liberal arts studies in engineering programs, Father Steiner believed this type of two-pronged approach offered students a broader outlook and gave them greater versatility. He was truly concerned about students in the college.

The feeling was mutual: In 1948, former students of “Pops” Steiner established the Rev. Thomas A. Steiner Awards in his memory. This prize is presented annually to seniors who exhibit a dedication to the application of engineering principles, a zeal for learning, outstanding leadership qualities, and a commitment to the values and tenets of the University. Nominated by their individual departments, Steiner recipients are selected on the basis of their cumulative grade-point averages, campus activities, and community service.

The 2007 recipients of the Steiner Prize are Michael Gerardi, electrical engineering; Rebecca Ladewski, chemical and biomechanical engineering; David Lettieri, aerospace and mechanical engineering; Andrew Magee, computer science and engineering; Patrick Murren, civil engineering and geological sciences; and David Rowinski, aerospace and mechanical engineering. They are the current-day examples of the well-rounded individuals “Pops” Steiner hoped to encourage in the pursuit of a career in engineering.