Aztec Spirit Personified
When William E. Leonhard, Jr. came to San Diego to earn an engineering degree in 1959, he did not know much about San Diego State University or where his degree would take him. What he graduated with, however, was more than a bachelor's degree. He left with the skills and abilities to influence future generations of engineering students, and the momentum to build SDSU's engineering presence in the national arena.
A 1964 engineering graduate, Leonhard maintains close ties with San Diego State despite living across the country in Florida. He is a member of the National Campaign for SDSU Leadership Council and serves on the College of Engineering advisory board.
Leonhard feels strongly about giving back to SDSU for providing him the education and tools to succeed as an engineer. Now is the time, he says, for alumni to help current and future students secure a college degree.
"You don't have to be a billionaire to give money back to the university. It doesn't take a lot of money over a long period of time to endow a scholarship."
The William E. Leonhard Chair in Civil and Envivironmental Engineering is funded by an endowment created with gifts from Leonhard and his parents, William E. and Wyllis M. Leonhard. It will enable SDSU to attract and retain the most accomplished faculty in these fields.
Another gift, the William E. Leonhard Jr. Scholarship Endowment, will support scholarships for graduate and undergraduate engineering students.
"This country needs more highly-educated technical personnel," said Leonhard. "Universities can't do this work by themselves anymore, especially state universities where the legislatures are [financially] cutting back. Individual alumni need to pick up the slack. We need to show that providing access to quality education is important."
After retiring from the Air Force as a colonel, Leonhard became senior program manager for The Parsons Corporation, where he managed the design of themed rides for Disney Parks. He was also site manager for a 5-millionsquare-foot computer manufacturing and development site and he consulted on the construction of a computer chip manufacturing plant in Oregon.
Today, Leonhard reflects that his years at SDSU gave him the knowledge and skills to succeed in his career. Not until he left San Diego to work on a master's degree at another university did he realize the value of his undergraduate education.
"Interestingly enough [when I went to Arizona State University], I got better grades than I expected," said Leonard. "It made me realize that the education at SDSU was of a much higher quality than I had thought. I am still grateful for that."
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