Engineers Ready to Lead
Engineers Ready to Lead
Gifts from Rich ’73 and Sharon ’73 Allen bring professional development and mentorship into the classroom
Engineers help contribute to the betterment of nearly every aspect of our lives, through technology advances in artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, virtual reality and more.
“Engineers need to be able to work across a variety of disciplines, and the need to match their ability to design and create solutions for today’s consumer has never been higher,” said Rich Allen ’73. “Their need for leadership will come early and often when working with a broader group. Ethics should be a conscious part of the process equal to cost, safety, functionality and the overall objective.”
“I think the world will always need good critical thinking leadership regardless of your profession. The more those graduating from the University of Idaho have a well-rounded education, the more desirable they will be to the work force and the reputation of U of I will be enhanced. Everyone wins.” Rich Allen, '73
In the University of Idaho College of Engineering, longtime supporters and Vandal alumni Rich and Sharon Allen ’73 are pioneering the Engineering Initiative to Develop Students into Engineering Professionals.
The initiative, bolstered by a $250,000 gift from the Allens, will encourage the development of a variety of curricular and co-curricular improvements to develop engineers who are not only technically capable, but ready for the issues they will encounter in the workforce related to professional culture.
Plans for 2021 include launching a student mentor network, expanded recruiting, integrating professional skills training into courses and improving student leadership experiences.
Through more opportunities and hands-on learning experiences – internships, cooperative education, undergraduate research and competition teams – the initiative purposefully integrates professional skills into the curriculum for all students, so they develop professionally during all four years of their college careers.
“Both Rich and Sharon have been closely tied to our university and our students’ development for years,” said Larry Stauffer, Dean of the College of Engineering. “Their industry knowledge is key to the development of the programs we are building in the classroom and out that will help our engineering students succeed.”
Both Rich and Sharon graduated from U of I in 1973, Sharon with her bachelor’s in accounting from the College of Business and Economics and Rich with a degree in agricultural engineering. Sharon was awarded her honorary doctorate in Administrative Science from U of I in 2004.
Rich is a retired president of engineering firm, the Gellert Company. Sharon spent her entire career at Deloitte, one of the world’s most influential accounting and consulting companies. She was the first woman to lead a national accounting firm, and was the company’s first female chair of the board, appointed in 2003. She retired in 2011.
Rich spent 13 years involved in irrigation delivery, project management, river operations and flood control, dam safety inspections, scheduling, report writing and coordinating with other agencies and personnel.
“My leadership skills were very important in evaluating requirements, understanding the customer and my ability to convince them to spend their money to satisfy my recommendations,” he said, “That started with my product knowledge, my ability to offer reasonable solutions and gain their trust in my recommendations.”
In 1986, Rich bought his own business, the Gellert Company, and remained involved through 1997. The business designed and manufactured equipment focused on both raw product storage as well as an industrial division. The industrial division provided HVAC equipment and industrial burners primarily to the food processing industry. The raw product storage business specialized in potatoes and onions with dealership distribution and support across the northern part of the US as well as Canada.
“It was during this time I encountered my first real test of an ethical dilemma,” Rich said, “I view ethics much the same way I viewed safety as a business owner. They are both about attitude and how you approach your task. Obviously, you need knowledge to begin, but leadership and ethics will guide your knowledge forward to the intended right result.”
The College of Engineering is currently beta testing professional skills instruction and curriculum. Topics include career development, diversity and inclusion, ethics, licensure, communications, and professionalism.
“I think the world will always need good critical thinking leadership regardless of your profession,” Rich said, “The more those graduating from the University of Idaho have a well-rounded education, the more desirable they will be to the work force and the reputation of U of I will be enhanced. Everyone wins.”
The Allens have led a similar initiative in the U of I College of Business and Economics. Speakers work with students around ethics and leadership, and conduct community outreach to engage working professionals.
The College of Business in conjunction with Chris Cook, Director of Career Services, is currently recruiting staff to deliver a no credit Applied Ethics & Professional Leadership certificate.
About the Allens
Sharon served on a U of I Presidential Search Committee and, at President Scott Green’s request, as an advisor on the university’s Sustainable Financial Model for U of I. Sharon received the UI Legacy of Leading Award in 2010
Rich has served as president of the U of I Vandal Scholarship Fund National Board, on the U of I Foundation Board of Directors and two years as chair of the U of I Foundation. He also served as president of his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, while attending U of I, and was inducted into the U of I Academy of Engineers in 2016.
The Allens served as two of the co-chairs in the $260 million-dollar U of I Inspiring Futures Campaign that concluded in 2014. They were awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor for all of their combined efforts in 2016.
Article by Alexiss Turner