UF alumnus, Bill Wadsworth, gifts $1.5 million to endow the Engineering Leadership Institute directorship at the University of Florida, the leadership position currently held by Lt. Gen. (Retired) Franklin “Buster” Hagenbeck.
“If you want to make an impact, you start with a goal and an expert,” says Bill Wadsworth, who graduated with honors from UF in 1976 and has spent nearly 30 years serving in executive roles at the top-ranked global design firm HDR, Inc. “With this directorship, we’re putting a stake in the ground and saying, ‘we have secured our expert, our leader – and we’re growing from here.’”
Wadsworth earned his bachelor’s degree from UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, where he studied civil engineering. He recently retired from his role as executive vice president and deputy director of operations at HDR, and has joined the dean’s advisory board for the college, as well as the leadership advisory board at the institute.
“Bill really gets what we’re trying to do here,” said Cammy Abernathy, dean of the engineering college. “From the stories I’ve heard, he was a New Engineer before anyone was thinking about what that means or the important role that engineers who have leadership training would have on our future.”
By stories, she is referring to occasions like the time Wadsworth approached his advisor, professor Byron Spangler, and tried to convince him that taking business management classes should count towards his technical electives. He knew early on he wanted to take his engineering knowledge and combine it with leadership. That’s exactly what he did do, and for much of his career, he helped his employees to do the same thing.
“In my 40 years as an engineer and business executive, one of my most important jobs was making sure there were people on my team who could someday replace me,” said Wadsworth. “While universities provided us with great technical talent, we spent a lot of time training our engineers to be ready for leadership roles. When I came back to visit UF and met with Dean Abernathy and Lt. Gen. Hagenbeck, and I heard about what the ELI is doing, I said ‘this is excellent, this is exactly what is needed!’ I’m happy to be a strong supporter of the UF Engineering Leadership Institute.”
“We are tremendously grateful to Bill for this gift and for the insight that he brings to our advisory boards – both at the college and at the institute,” Abernathy said.
Prior to his retirement from the Army and taking his role as the inaugural director at the institute, Hagenbeck served as the 57th superintendent at West Point. He began his education there as well, studying engineering as a cadet from 1967 to 1971. In the interim, he served the country in various capacities, including the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel, and as commanding general of the 10th Mountain Division, whose troops he led to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the months immediately following 9/11.
General Hagenbeck is a highly decorated officer who had been recognized with numerous awards and honors for his outstanding contributions, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat related military award, and the Bronze Star, awarded for acts of heroism or merit in a combat zone. His personal stories from the field have been included in several books published on the topic of leadership.
Under his direction, the Engineering Leadership Institute has sent outstanding students to prestigious conferences like the National Conference on Ethics in America and the McDonald Conference for Leaders of Character, both held at West Point. He’s also hosted biannual leadership summits on the UF campus, and welcomed world-class business and public policy leaders visiting by means of the Linda Parker Hudson Engineering Leader in Residence program.
Since its inception in 2010, the institute has enrolled more than 2,600 students in engineering leadership courses.
“Bill Wadsworth’s generous gift to our Engineering Leadership Institute will help lay the foundation for the New Engineer,” Hagenbeck said. “Leadership will be a part of their DNA.”