Alumnus built a legacy of generosity

Posted on 24. Jan, 2014 by in Academic Departments, Alumni, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Engineering Physics, Features, Gift Report, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Issues, Materials Science and Engineering, People, Students

Andrew Johnson portraitIn recent years, one of Andrew Johnson’s pleasures in life was to read letters of gratitude from College of Engineering under-graduates who received Great People Scholarships. “Every time he got a letter, he was exuberant about it, and he was happy to do so much good for those students,” says Johnson’s son, Robert.

Andrew passed away in fall 2013, leaving behind a legacy that includes generous need-based scholarships for engineering students. His support of UW-Madison undergraduates reflects the education that helped him move from a farm in central Wisconsin to high-ranking jobs at Caterpillar Inc. “He started out with nothing, and ended up as a chief engineer at Caterpillar,” Robert says. “Basically, his engineering degree served him very well.”

Robert says the metallurgical engineering degree his father earned in 1947 paid off tremendously, but the experience of working his way through college, including a stint in the Army, was tough. That’s why the more than $415,000 Andrew Johnson gave to UW-Madison between 2011 and 2013 has gone toward entirely need-based scholarships. “He wanted to make it easier for students with less means to focus on their education rather than to worry about money,” Robert says.

In just two short years, Andrew’s contribution has yielded scholarship awards of $3,000 each for nine students in fields including biomedical engineering, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, engineering mechanics, and industrial engineering. The fund is set up to run in perpetuity, so it will continue to provide awards and to benefit numerous students well into the future.

Because Andrew spent his entire post-college career at Caterpillar, working there from 1947 to 1982, the company also matched some of his contributions. “One thing he talked about was that when he worked at Caterpillar, he always had very good people who worked for him,” Robert says.

He once asked his father how to handle an employee who responds to a request with, “I can’t do that.” Andrew Johnson told his son, “I never heard that from any of my people.”

Robert, who went into the sciences himself (he now is an adjunct faculty member in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, where he researches ants), portrays his father as a man with a very broad view of his own success and that of others. “Since he grew up in the Depression, he lived very frugally, but was happy to fund this scholarship and be generous to others,” Robert says.

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