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Photo of Thomas Lipo
March 11, 2021

ECE graduates set up fund to honor the legacy of Professor Thomas Lipo

Written By: Niki Denison

When University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus and electrical and computer engineering Professor Emeritus Thomas Lipo (PhDEE ’68) lay on his deathbed at his home in Middleton in May, 2020, he learned that some of his former students had set up a UW–Madison fund in his honor to support electrical engineering faculty.

Lipo teared up at the news, according to his daughter, Emily Pink. “He was so touched.” Lipo, she says, “loved his work and worked every day of the year, including holidays.” Pink says that none of his four children had followed his path into engineering, and “it kind of bothered him. It certainly comforted him, as someone who had given so much to his profession, to know that the fund would empower other teachers to carry on his work. Knowing that his legacy would continue was part of his accepting his death. You could see him relax when he heard that.”

Lipo supervised more than 120 graduate students, wrote 700 papers and five books, earned upwards of 50 patents, and amassed more than 50,000 professional citations. An expert in solid-state AC motor drives, he cofounded WEMPEC (the Wisconsin Electric Machines and Power Electronics Consortium) along with Professor Emeritus Don Novotny.

Alumni couple Dan (Dinyu) Qin (MSEE ’96, PhDEE ’00) and Lian Zhao Qin (MSME ’98), gave the lead gift for the fund. When Dan shared the fund idea with fellow members of the WEMPEC China Alumni and Friends group, more than 20 of them contributed to the fund, including five who made major gifts. Qin now wishes they had told Lipo about the initiative earlier. But he’s happy that “at least he knew we were very grateful” for all the professor had done for them.

“He was a great person from a professional perspective,” says Qin, “and another reason to honor him is that he was such a good human being. He was fair to his students, and he treated them very well in terms of really caring about their careers and prospects.”

Qin says that Lipo was a pioneer in accepting students from China at a time when the country was less advanced in technology than it is now, and that “really made a huge difference in the lives of those students.” Almost all of them had research assistantships that included free tuition and living expenses or teaching assistant positions.

“We greatly benefited from this system,” says Qin. “By giving back, we are making some contribution to help the UW and the students. We were very happy to do this. In my mind, it could be the most meaningful thing I did in my life.”

Donations can be made to the Thomas A. Lipo Fund via the University of Wisconsin Foundation.

A version of this story was originally published by OnWisconsin magazine.