Roger Eichhorn, former dean of the Cullen College, passed away on Monday, May 4, 2015 in Houston, Texas. He was 84 years old.
Eichhorn became the dean of the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering in 1982 – a position he held for 14 years. He continued to serve as a faculty member in the mechanical engineering department until his retirement from the college in 2002, leaving behind a legacy of academic and administrative achievement as well as many devoted friends and colleagues.
Under Eichhorn's leadership, the college raised student admissions standards, elevated the quality of the faculty and greatly expanded the college's public identity and community presence.
“Roger’s tenure as dean of engineering at UH marks a turning point in the Cullen College’s history. He paved the way for the future success of the college and made a mark on the University of Houston that will never be forgotten,” said Joseph W. Tedesco, dean of the UH Cullen College of Engineering. “Our hearts go out to Roger’s family and loved ones during this very difficult time.”
While serving as dean, Eichhorn launched two new administrative offices – external relations and development – and infused the college's administration with outstanding new personnel.
Vita Como, director of the Engineering Career Center, was hired by Eichhorn in 1990 as a development officer for the college. Como worked closely with Eichhorn over the years to cultivate relationships with local industries in order to raise funds for the college and provide more professional opportunities for engineering students.
“He was a mentor to me,” Como said. “He taught me how the University worked and always encouraged me to do my own thing and to be successful.”
Como added that Eichhorn had an innate understanding of the importance of forming a tightknit engineering community of students, faculty, staff, alumni and local leaders in government and industry. “All of the major events at the college were started in one way or another because of Roger,” Como said.
Eichhorn worked closely with the Engineering Alumni Association to initiate several annual events that are still successful today, such as the Engineering Alumni Awards Gala, the Offshore Industry Crawfish Boil and the Engineering Golf Tournament. To this day, these activities draw thousands of participants every year, place the college in the public spotlight and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for scholarships and research.
"He was very influential in getting the engineering alumni organization up and running, enhancing the college's role with its industry partners," said Como.
Charles Dalton, a professor emeritus of mechanical engineering who served as associate dean for undergraduate programs early in Eichhorn's term as dean, credits Eichhorn with prompting an increase in the admissions standards for first-year students and transfer students.
Despite facing budget restraints and a national downward trend in enrollments, Eichhorn spurred efforts to continue to recruit highly credentialed faculty. "The quality of the people we looked for as potential faculty continued to improve," said Dalton. "As a result we kept getting people who had more and better potential to be successful faculty members."
Larry Witte, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at the Cullen College, recalled Eichhorn’s time as dean as pivotal in establishing the college as a top tier research institution. “He led the College during a period of declining State support but very ably moved us toward the top tier status that we enjoy today,” Witte said.
After stepping down as dean in 1996, Eichhorn taught several core undergraduate courses in mechanical engineering and made an impact on the curriculum, particularly on a junior year undergraduate lab, MECE 3360 Experimental Methods. He restructured the course so that other faculty members could teach it more easily.
Eichhorn earned a reputation among the students as a tough, but fair, professor. In 1998, the UH ASME Student Chapter named him Professor of the Year.
A former faculty member at Princeton, Eichhorn came to UH from the University of Kentucky, where he had also served as dean. John Lienhard, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and host of the popular “Engines of our Ingenuity” radio program produced by Houston Public Media, first met Eichhorn at the University of Kentucky when they were both being interviewed for the position of chair of the mechanical engineering department.
“We both had our hats in the ring and when Roger was given the job he turned right around and offered me a full professorship there,” Lienhard said. It was the beginning of a long-term professional and personal relationship, and when Lienhard was later recruited to the University of Houston, he was quick to mention Eichhorn as a possible candidate for the open dean position in the Cullen College of Engineering.
As dean of the Cullen College, Lienhard said that Eichhorn’s technical expertise and fairness as an administrator quickly set him apart. “Roger was a very authentic engineer. He was hellishly smart,” Lienhard said. “As dean of the college, I knew he was always at work for the good of the college.”
Eichhorn was also widely praised by his colleagues for his insistence on holding to high standards, especially when faced with difficult decisions.
"I think Roger fostered an attitude of quality in the college," says Dalton. "He had high standards and I think he expected others to have high standards."
Stuart Long, who served as chair of the electrical and computer engineering department during Eichhorn’s tenure as dean, echoed these sentiments by emphasizing the high ethical standards that Eichhorn held fast to as dean. “He was very fair, a real gentleman,” Long said. “He was great for the college. He built up a lot of the strengths we have today, and his tenure as dean was a very positive transitional period for the college.”
Before shifting his career focus to administrative positions, Eichhorn was a productive and renowned researcher whose work earned him the distinction of the 1982 Memorial Award for Heat Transfer Science from the ASME. He also earned the rank of Life Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The Cullen College honored the numerous contributions that Eichhorn made to the college over the years by naming one of the Engineering Alumni Association Gala awards after him – the Roger Eichhorn Leadership Service Award – in order to recognize other individuals who have consistently and voluntarily given extraordinary support to the Cullen College.
Outside of his professional life, Eichhorn enjoyed playing poker with fellow Cullen College faculty members, including Dalton, Witte, Stan Kleis and Lewis Wheeler, both of whom are retired mechanical engineering professors.
“The camaraderie was always great, and you would never had known that he was the dean,” Witte said. “We will miss him.”
Some other key facts about Eichhorn's term as dean:
• John Lienhard, M.D. Anderson Professor of Technology and Culture and professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, develops the nationally syndicated radio program, the Engines of Our Ingenuity, in response to Eichhorn's request for a radio program to promote the college.
• College hits historical peak in student enrollment at 3,835 in 1983.
• College's highly regarded Program for Mastery in Engineering Studies (PROMES, formerly known as the Program for Minority Engineering Students) expands from 85 students in 1982 to 311 students in 1996.
• Student body becomes more diverse as percentages double for Asian American, Hispanic, international and female students.
• College hits historic peak of more than $10 million in research awards in 1994, a level the college has only now begun to approach again.
A reception for Roger Eichhorn will be held at two o'clock in the afternoon on Saturday, May 16, at the Bayou Bend's Education Center, 6003 Memorial Drive.