"This department has a lot of rich history, at least it's rich to me," says Louis "Lou" Edwards as he gazes reminiscently at the conference-room wall that displays the black and white portraits of his former department chairs and colleagues.
And as he and his wife of 56 years, Doris, begin to sift through a pile of snapshots that document his distinguished 50-year career as a chemical engineering professor at the University of Idaho, it's clear that Edwards, who retired last May, is very much a part of that history.
Recruited in 1961 by Mel Jackson, the founding chair of the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, Edwards launched his career at the University as an instructor and as one of the first doctoral students in the department's burgeoning graduate program.
Although a rookie in the classroom, Edwards emerged quickly as a student favorite, earning the 1964 Associated Students of the University of Idaho Outstanding Faculty Award. It was the first of several awards Edwards received for excellence in teaching during his career.
"He was polite, helpful, sympathetic, a hard task-master, and a broad-hearted individual…true qualities of an ideal professor," said Deba Prasad Ghosh, a professor in India who studied as a Ph.D. student under Edwards in 1969.
Edwards earned full professor in 1971 and continued to help build the graduate program as a mentor to many master's and doctoral candidates. He remained a staple in the department's undergraduate program, teaching two required courses to nearly five decades of chemical engineering students. His approach in the classroom left a lasting impression.
"Recently, a man came running up to us downtown and said: ‘I was in your class! You worked the heck out of us, but you were really nice about it," Doris recalls with a chuckle.
"There are a lot of good people that show up at this university. They are motivated, smart and ready to work hard," Edwards explains. "I just tried to give them a few things that were useful, then keep out of their way and let them run…the results were usually outstanding."
Edwards helped produce among the department's most successful alumni. His former students include the president of a thriving process manufacturing software and consulting company, a military officer on a nuclear submarine, high-level executives at global technology companies, and many distinguished researchers and scholars worldwide.
A two-time recipient of the University of Idaho Award for Excellence in Scholarship, Edwards has made many noteworthy contributions to his field. He is an international authority in pulp and paper, authoring nearly 120 publications on the subject and serving as a consultant to more than 30 companies worldwide.
His research and expertise took him across the globe. In 1971, he completed a sabbatical in Sweden and returned repeatedly to the country with students for special research projects. In the 1980s and 1990s, Edwards spent his summers in Italy, where he helped develop a process for turning trash cardboard into new paper rolls.
"The Italians were ahead of the game…they don't have the forests like we have, so they had to be more aggressive about recycling," he says.
In the 1970s, Edwards led the development of a computer software simulation program that became one of the first technologies of its kind in the pulp and paper industry. Today, companies around the world use versions of the program to model and design papermaking processes that are more efficient and environmentally friendly.
"When it came to technology, the paper industry was a little behind," Edwards says. "The people in our department helped bring the industry into the 20th century."
The College of Engineering has created a new endowed chair in honor of Edwards. Named the Lou Edwards Endowed Chair in Chemical Engineering, the fund will support the recruitment and retention of top faculty members who emulate Edwards's excellence in leadership, teaching and research in the field.
"For 50 years, Lou has been inspiring the futures of students and professionals around the world. Our alumni constantly remind me of the positive impact he has made over the years. And in the paper industry, Lou's reputation and that of the University are inseparably linked," said Larry Stauffer, dean of the College of Engineering. "I can think of no better way to recognize his astounding record of service than by creating an endowed chair in his name."