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A Tribute to Richard T Jacobsen

In honor of a past U of I College of Engineering alumnus, professor, chair and dean

“I have truly never had a job I didn’t like. The changing atmosphere in the engineering profession has provided challenges and opportunities over these many years. The most significant reward of my academic career has been helping young people prepare for professional careers in engineering practice.” Jake

Richard Jacobsen (affectionately known as ‘Jake’), former dean of the University of Idaho College of Engineering, passed away Tuesday, Aug. 20. He earned a Bachelor of Science from the U of I in 1963 and a Master of Science in 1965. After completing his doctorate, he joined the U of I faculty and climbed through the academic ranks to professor, chair of the mechanical engineering department, associate dean of research, and later, dean of the College of Engineering from 1990-99.

While at the U of I, he was responsible for more than $12 million in grants and contracts. Most of the awards were for research on thermophysical properties for a wide range of fluids and mixtures. Having enjoyed a distinguished career, his most important priority was his role as a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, and friend.

Memories from Friends and Colleagues

Richard T Jacobsen was a mentor, certainly of extraordinary character, and a good man in all senses. My first interactions with “Jake” were during his tenure as department chair of Mechanical Engineering. Jake was an influential member of the college’s Engineering Executive Committee member and provided valuable advice and input to the various Deans that he served. Jake had an especially strong relationship with Associate Dean George Russell and it remains a found memory for me to think of Jake and George walking the halls of the Jansen Engineering Building sharing aspirations for the College.

Patty Houle, COE Administrative Staff 1981-1995, Human Resources Staff 1995-1998, Provost’s Office 1998-2010


Richard Jacobsen in center of second row.

I first worked with Jake when I first transferred to Boise and then he appointed me to be the director of our program. We continued to work together while he was at the INL and later ISU. Despite these later career assignments, his heart was always with the U of I. The biggest impression Jake made on me was his passion for cooperation. Whether we were strategizing how to deliver a program with BSU, establish a research project with the INL, or co-teach a class with ISU he was always about cooperation.

Larry Stauffer, U of I ME faculty member 1987-present, COE Dean 2011-present


During our senior year one of the capstone projects available to our group was to design for installation an earth coupled heat pump system for a home. At the time this was a pretty new and unusual concept. Richard had the idea that his house in Moscow would be the perfect experiment/implementation site. To me, the idea that ME Department Chair would entrust his precious home for this conversion spoke volumes to me about his faith in his students and their ability to deliver on a critical project.

Todd Swanstrom, BSME 1985, ME Advisory Board 2009-present, Director of Engineering at Western Trailer


Richard Jacobsen (left) poses with Dean Larry Stauffer after being inducted into the 2012 U of I Academy of Engineers.
Richard Jacobsen (left) poses with Dean Larry Stauffer after being inducted into the 2012 U of I Academy of Engineers.

I knew Jake as an outstanding researcher for many years before he hired me in 1989. We worked together until he stepped down as dean of the college. Jake was an excellent mentor and was committed to helping others. Not only was he my boss, but he also became a good friend and much of what I am today is because of him. As an example of his willingness to help, Jake served on the doctoral committee for my husband Gregg. Gregg has often commented on how much Jake’s input meant to him and that his dissertation was better because of Jake’s commitment.

Jean Teasdale, BS Accounting 1978, MS Computer Science 1986, PhD Educational Administration 1990, U of I Employee 1978-2009, COE Director/Assistant Dean of Administrative Services 1990-2009, Idaho SpaceGrant Consortium Assistant Director/Director 1994-2009


Jake was ME department chair when I was hired and I remember him and George Simmons taking me to a fancy restaurant in downtown Moscow. I remember asking about the applicant pool and the competition. Jake jokingly said it was mostly “truck drivers from Boise.” At any rate, Jake pretty much offered me the job on the spot while I was in Moscow. Clark Lemmon was hired as the new ME chair before I began at the University and Jake moved on to become the Associate Dean. I distinctly remember Jake’s leadership in launching a branch engineering program at BSU and later as the education director at INL.

Ralph Budwig, U of I Faculty member 1986-present, ME Department Chair 1999-2005


I worked with Dick Jacobsen for most of his time as Dean of Engineering. I was Department Chair of Chemical Engineering, which allowed me to frequently meet and occasionally travel with Jake. I greatly admire Jake for his constant and effective promotion of our College. Also, I greatly admire him for maintaining a high quality thermodynamics research program even while dean of engineering.

Jake had good intuition about what was best for the University of Idaho and for our college. He was the most successful Dean during my forty years at the University of Idaho.

Roger Korus, U of I faculty member 1978-2009, CHE chair 1982-1983, 1985-1998, and 2005-2009


Jake invited me to become part of the Center for Thermodynamic Studies (CATS) when I joined the university in 1987. Personally, it provided excellent professional preparation and personal growth reflected in memories shared by others. What I found most intriguing was the fellowship of a small army of graduate students and undergraduate research assistants that we employed to help us with our equation of state work. This was an essential part of Jake’s vision for CATS and is a source of my beliefs about the significance of learning environment design in engineering education.

Jake’s enthusiasm for faculty/student as well as student/student mentoring encouraged many CATS members to successfully pursue graduate degrees. It is heartening that the Jacobsen family has initiated an endowment to support an undergraduate research assistantship award.

Steve Beyerlein, U of I faculty member 1987-present, ME Department chair 2015-present


I had the honor of knowing Dick (Jake) Jacobsen in several roles. He was one of my professors during my doctoral studies at the U of I, he was a mentor during my career in academia, a colleague in research and university administration, and perhaps most importantly, a good friend. Jake taught me many things including what needs to be done to achieve tenure and promotion at a major university, what role we play in service to our professional societies, and what it means to be a servant leader.

From a professional perspective, the thing I always admired about Jake was his ability to be an effective administrator. He navigated us through two difficult issues during my tenure as ME Department chair; the role that the U of I College of Engineering would play in Boise, and getting the Engineering-Physics Building built. I spent a lot of time with Jake during these difficult times, and I never saw him get mad or upset.

On a more personal note, the man had an infectious Snidley Whiplash laugh. When we would get to laughing, it just kept getting harder and harder to stop because of his laugh. So many times, I remember him finally getting rid of the giggles, and wiping his eyes. I ended up holding my stomach because it hurt from laughing so hard.

Steve Penoncello, PhD Mechanical Engineering 1986, ME Faculty Member 1990-2015, ME Department Chair 1995-1999, COE Associate Dean for Research 1999-2004, CATS Director 2000-2015


Jake knew how to find the good restaurants, and all business trips with him were great. I remember hauling along “laptop” computers that were as big as a suitcase and weighed more. When we were not engaged in formal meetings and dinner get-togethers, we sat in the hotel room and fitted equations of state. There was no idleness to Jake.

Particularly memorable were my experiences writing papers with Jake. I was lousy at it, but he was so patient and taught me to write well. We would go in his office with a manuscript, divide the paper into fourths, Jake would take the first quarter, Steve P. the second, Steve B. the third, and I the fourth. We would then all read our section and pass each page to the next person until everyone had read every page. My edits would be small, but his usually covered the page with red ink! I’d make the changes and we’d do this again and again until he was satisfied that the paper was finished. Since then, the methods he taught me have been passed down from me to dozens of students that I have advised.

One of his comical traits was the wad of 20 dollars bills he always kept in his pocket with a nice retainer clip. Whenever someone would come into the office and he realized they needed a little bit of help, he would whip out that wad of cash, pull out a couple of 20’s, and pass them along. There was never any hesitation; he was very generous with his money.

Eric Lemmon, MSME 1991, PhD 1996, NIST Mechanical Engineer 1996-present


Richard Jacobsen was the Dean of the College of Engineering when I was hired as an Assistant Professor in Idaho Falls in 1994. Even though I was not on the main campus, Jake made sure that I felt like I was part of the College. A large portion of my doctoral dissertation involved concepts from thermodynamics, and it was great talking shop with him and discussing research ideas. We stayed in contact after he moved to Idaho Falls and became the Chief Scientist at the Idaho National Laboratory. Every so often he popped his head into my office and asked if there was a graduate committee he could serve on.

John Crepeau, U of I faculty member 1994-present, ME Chair 2009-2015, COE Associate Dean for Undergraduates 2017-present

Richard T and Bonnie L. Jacobsen Scholars in Engineering Endowment

Bonnie and Richard Jacobsen

The Richard T and Bonnie L. Jacobsen Scholars in Engineering Endowment is established by Bonnie Jacobsen, family, friends and colleagues in honor of the significant contributions to engineering achievement, leadership, engineering education and service to the profession and society by Professor Richard Jacobsen. One or more Jacobsen Scholars shall be selected each year. Funds will provide full-time undergraduate engineering students with the opportunity to work with a faculty mentor as a paid research assistant. Research projects will be supported in all engineering disciplines and must offer learning opportunities not available through conventional classroom instruction.0

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Engineering Physics Building Rm. 324K

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Mechanical Engineering
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS 0902
Moscow, ID 83844-0902

Phone: 208-885-6579

Fax: 208-885-9031

Email: medept@uidaho.edu