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Bob Bird investiture group photo
April 24, 2019

Historic endowed chair supports CBE excellence

Written By: Sam Million-Weaver

The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering has a long tradition of supporting faculty through endowed faculty positions.

Endowed professorships help the department recruit top talent while keeping student-to-professor ratios small—and those are among the reasons why UW-Madison CBE has consistently been among the world’s best chemical engineering programs.

An endowed chair position, however, is a historic first. And CBE is the first of three departments in the College of Engineering to establish an endowed support fund for its leadership.

“It is a real luxury to know that you have a steady source of income, so you can plan for future investments in the department,” says Regina Murphy, the first person to hold the Robert Byron Bird Department Chair in Chemical and Biological Engineering.

Bob Bird and Regina Murphy
Bob Bird (seated) and Regina Murphy, the first person to hold the Robert Byron Bird Department Chair in Chemical and Biological Engineering.

College of Engineering Dean Ian Robertson awarded Regina Murphy the named chair position at a ceremony in February 2019. That event was doubly festive, as the endowed chair’s eponymous honoree, Bob Bird, celebrated his 95th birthday just three days prior on Feb. 5.

In the next few years, Murphy plans to use the support to assist in pulling together startup packages for new professors. The department is in a highly active recruiting phase, and funds from the endowment can go toward new research instrumentation and graduate student support for the first few years of an assistant professor’s time at UW-Madison as he or she begins to establish a research program.

Moving forward, the named chair position could help augment the department’s computational resources or support textbook writing. Because the endowment will generate almost $200,000 in flexible funding per year, Murphy, as well as department chairs far into the future, will have reliable funding to keep CBE among the best departments in the nation.

It’s fitting that the department’s ongoing source of support bears Bird’s name; an educator and researcher whose legendary scholarly contributions helped lay the foundations for modern chemical engineering, Bird also established CBE as the powerhouse that it is today.

Outside of the lab and the classroom, he is also a linguist, a musician, a composer, a historian, a limerick writer and a puzzle creator.

During his time on campus, Bird shaped generations of chemical engineers.

“As a proud student of Professor Bird, I understand firsthand the transformational impact of his role in my education and career,” says alumnus Richard Antoine (BS ’69), who enjoyed a distinguished 39-year career with Procter & Gamble.

Bird’s legacy will continue through the Robert Byron Bird Department Chair.

“We are inspired by Bob’s legacy and we aspire to carry on his values and traditions long into the future,” says Murphy. “This belongs not to me, but the entire department and the entire community of students, faculty and alumni.”

Now, the department has achieved its ambitious goal of a minimum of $4 million for the Robert Byron Bird Department Chair endowment.

The effort had a head start thanks to generous initial gifts from Antoine and his wife Dorothy O’Brien (BS SOHE ’70), John Kuetemeyer (BSChE ‘61), Bill Monfre (BSChE ’85) and Karen Monfre (BBA ’86), as well as Todd Pulvino (BSME ’84) and Katie (Grogan) Pulvino. The department is still seeking additional support to further enhance the endowment.

To be a part of this special opportunity to honor Bird, contact Kyle Buchmann,