William Elmhirst Duckering

Engineering Building Named for Duckering

Reprinted from Alaska Alumnus, July 1963

William Elmhirst Duckering, and Engineering Building Named for Duckering Building.
William Elmhirst Duckering, and Engineering Building Named for Duckering Building.

A highlight of the Governor's Day activities on May 9, 1963 was the dedication of the William Elmhirst Duckering Building, the newest academic structure on campus, which was completed in January.

The program was held in the Schaible Lecture Hall at 11:15 a.m. and was attended by many civilian and military dignitaries, among them Governor William A. Egan, the Guest of Honor, and Senator E. L. (Bob) Bartlett.

Of particular interest and significance was the fact that four of the seven platform dignitaries were former students of the late Dean: William R. Cashen '37 was the presiding chairman; Lee S. Linck '40 the building architect who presented the key; Oliver Kola '38, president of the Alaska Section ASCE who assisted at the unveiling of the name plate; and H. W. (Woody) Johansen '40 Dean Duckering's successor as head of the CE Department, and the District Engineer Alaska Department of Highways who delivered the dedication address.

Mr. Johansen's address is here printed in its entirety:

"I consider it a privilege and an honor to be here today to tell you something of the man known to all of his students as Dean. Not Professor nor Doctor, but Dean Duckering the educator and the engineer. I first met him in the fall of 1933 when I arrived on the campus to enroll as a freshman in the Department of Civil Engineering. Word of his arrival on campus in the fall of 1932 had spread to my home in Cordova and impressions of him, gained from returning students who had met him during his first year on campus, were firmly fixed in my mind. He was a rugged man of large stature wearing a beard and glasses; he was a martinet who exercised strict discipline in class and who permitted no deviation from established procedure; it was said that you earned your grades from him; he was an experienced engineer who had acted as railroad location engineer in pushing a railroad through northwestern Wyoming. That area to later to become Yellowstone National Park. These and other ill-conceived ideas were uppermost in my mind when I first walked into his office.

"Contrary to these impressions, when I first entered his office on registration day, I saw seated behind an executive-type desk, a man of medium height and slight, you may say, frail stature. He wore heavy steel-rimmed glasses and a neat Van Dyke beard. His eyes seemed to look right through you and understand your innermost thoughts. His voice was his most dominant characteristic. It was forceful, carried authority and yet it expressed the unlimited understanding necessary for that rare college professor who is able to encourage his students to extend themselves to the utmost and become a credit to themselves, their university and their country—this Dean Duckering was always able to do.

"Dean Duckering, together with the first President of the University, Dr. Charles E. Bunnell, strongly believed in the concept that the university, the faculty and the staff had but one purpose—one reason for being—that to help the young students overcome their problems and guide them on their path to becoming useful members of society. This concept is too often lacking in many of our institutions of higher learning in the world of today.

"Prior to coming to the University of Alaska, Dean Duckering's experience was both practical and academic. For eleven years as a railroad engineer for the Oregon Short Line Railroad, he designed bridges and worked in construction and maintenance. During this period, he formulated many ideas and principles which were to influence his later thoughts on engineering education.

"In 1914, ill health forced his retirement from the railroad and he accepted a teaching position with the University of Washington. While at Washington he, together with Professor C. E. Moore, was among the pioneers in the problem-type method of instruction. He was also instrumental in revising and unifying instructions in the five-year engineering curriculum.

"His outstanding work at Washington became known to the War Department and in 1918, he was among those selected to develop a course of instruction for the training of war-time engineering officers. The method of instruction was so effective that he was highly commended for his work.

"Leaving the Army in 1919, he went to Iowa State College as Head of the Department of Engineering Problems. There he further refined the techniques and procedures for teaching the engineering approach to the solutions of problems encountered in the engineering profession.

"In 1923, after declining an offer to become the first Head of the Department of Civil Engineering at the infant Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines then beginning under the guidance of Judge Charles E. Bunnell at Fairbanks, Alaska, Professor Duckering became the Head of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of British Columbia. He remained there until forced to retire because of ill health in 1930. After two years convalescence, when Dr. Bunnell again sought him out, he accepted the appointment to head the Department of Civil Engineering and Mathematics at the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines."

"Dr. Bunnell had brought to the campus a man with eleven years experience as a practicing engineer and sixteen years experience as a professor in engineering instruction. What more could he ask in a man expected to build up an infant department into the center of engineering learning it has become today.

"In 1935 when the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines became the University of Alaska, Professor Duckering, in addition to his other duties, was selected as the first Dean of Faculty. His was the task of developing the brand-new university into something more than just "a good mining school" which had been its main purpose and objective in its earlier years.

"To accomplish this objective, his first efforts were concentrated on obtaining general accreditation for the university as a whole and the special accreditation by the E.C.P.O.-Engineering Council for Professional Development for the various engineering curriculum. Under his leadership and driving insistence, the faculty prepared the necessary records and the desired accreditation was acquired - that from the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Education in 1945; that from the Engineering Council for Professional Development in 1941. The University retains that accreditation today and its students benefit from its advantages.

"Many engineers and educators are presently concerned over the trend toward specialization and research prevalent in many of our universities and colleges today. Dean Duckering was concerned over this possibility some thirty years ago. It was his thought that a student, to become a useful member of society, must have a well-rounded education. To accomplish this, he recommended to the Board of Regents the five-year programs in engineering fields. The curriculums so set up that in the first four years a liberal number of courses in the basic sciences and the liberal arts were listed together with many courses in engineering common to the various fields. The fifth year was reserved for specialization in the chosen field. Considerable thought is today being given to the establishment of the five-year engineering curriculums to accomplish a broad education. I am happy to learn that the present administration of this University have seen fit to re-establish the five-year curriculum in engineering after it had been allowed to lapse in the early 1950s.

"In 1944 Dean Duckering was granted the title Dean of the University in recognition of his increased responsibilities and in 1949 the Regents bestowed on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering—a most fitting tribute to a man who had devoted four decades to the practice of engineering and to the furtherance of engineering education.

"I believe it would be most fitting at this time if I were to read to you a portion of the address written and delivered on that occasion by Dr. Charles E. Bunnell, then President of the University of Alaska:

" 'But, Mr. President, my recommendation was based for the most part upon what I personally know of him and his services to this institution. He came to us in 1932 as head of our department of civil engineering and mathematics. Added to his duties were Dean of the Faculty during the period 1935-1944, and from that date as Dean of the University he has been principal assistant to the President in academic matters, coordinating courses of study, faculty and student personnel.

" 'Wherever you turn the pages of the record of this educator and engineer, you find a loyalty of service and devotion to duty outstanding and justly entitling him to the honor about to be conferred upon him. This institution has been fortunate indeed to have the benefit of his services in helping to build a solid foundation. Its high standing among institutions of higher learning tells the kind of material he selects for the structure he is engaged in building, and the long line of students who have been privileged to contact him in the several capacities in which he has served them bear witness to his worth as an educator and engineer. This is the 400th degree to be granted by this institution. I was greatly pleased that the Board of Regents by unanimous vote accepted my recommendation. It is a pleasure and a privilege to present William Elmhirst Duckering to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering.'

"As a graduate of the University of Alaska, and a former associate of Dean Duckering, it gives me great pleasure to witness this further recognition by the Board of Regents in the naming of this beautiful and functional engineering building for William Elmhirst Duckering."

The William Elmhirst Duckering Building was re-dedicated Feb. 23, 2002. The $13 million revitalization to correct code violations and modernize the labs and facilities was completed in the fall of 2002, creating a modern engineering center for the 21st century.


Reprinted from: College Hill Chronicles, by Neil Davis

"One of the few pleasant duties of the board of regents at that October 1950 meeting was to reward Elmhirst Duckering. Duckering, who had served the campus long and well, was now approaching 70, the mandatory retirement age for teachers under territorial law. He knew he faced a difficult future financially because he would draw meager retirement pay, unless the board of regents did something special."

"The board chose to do something special. Just before the noon recess on October 5, the board agreed to name Duckering dean emeritus and to ask the legislature to award him an annuity of $7,200. As the board broke for lunch, it informed Duckering of the action. He was so elated with the news that he ran home to tell his wife. Arriving there, he collapsed on the living room couch and died."


UA Site named after William Elmhirst Duckering

Duckering Building

William Elmhirst Duckering is also mentioned in these articles

UA Honorary Degree Recipient (1949)

Notable People:Druska Carr Schaible