Lester A. Gerhardt, Ph.D. 69 and M.S. '64, of Clinton Park, N.Y., Distinguished Alumni Award

By Barbara A. Byers

Release Date: March 3, 2009

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Lester Gerhardt

Lester Gerhardt came to Western New York for a position with the then-flourishing Bell Aerospace Corporation. During his 10 years at Bell, Gerhardt earned both his UB degrees in electrical engineering, rose to director of avionics research and received the Bell Outstanding Management award in the process.

He left Bell for a teaching position at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., where he remains, receiving global accolades for RPI and, especially, its engineering programs.

A year after being promoted to full professor, Gerhardt was named chairman of RPI's newly merged electrical, computer and systems engineering department, the youngest department chair in its history. Under his chairmanship the department was recognized by the National Academy of Engineering in a report citing it as the "most improved" engineering department.

While serving as department chair, Gerhardt was named founding director of the Center for Manufacturing Productivity, only the second such center in the U.S. Following his tenure as department chair, he was named director of computer integrated manufacturing, an area that grew to be the largest interdisciplinary research program on campus at the time, and which captured a major national award for excellence.

Gerhardt has served as RPI's associate dean of engineering since 1991 and is responsible for the school's research and graduate programs. He was the inaugural recipient of the American Society of Engineering Education's Research Administration Award.

Over the past 18 years Gerhardt has served as RPI's director of the Center for Industrial Innovation; as vice president of research administration and finance; and most recently as vice provost and dean of graduate education. His passion for exposing students to international experiences resulted in his co-founding and chairing the Global Engineering Education Exchange Program, which currently involves more than 80 universities in 17 countries. He was instrumental in establishing RPI's REACH exchange program, which requires an international experience of each engineering undergraduate student. Gerhardt was one of only nine faculty members in the U.S. recently designated an "agent of change" for efforts to internationalize engineering education.

He is a fellow of both the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Society of Engineering Education, holds several patents, was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Technical University of Denmark and served as a delegate to NATO. In addition, he participates on the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences' Dean's Council and along with his wife, Karen, is a member of its Delta Society, signifying the highest level of financial support.