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Arthur Hansen: Purdue President, Masterful Mathematician

The campus of Purdue University wouldn’t be the same without the contributions of Arthur G. Hansen. Hansen was the president of the Indiana college from 1971 to 1982, but his legacy at the university goes deeper than that: the Arthur G. Hansen Life Sciences Research Building bears Hansen’s name, and a 300 seat theater in the university’s Pao Hall was financed by Hansen. This engineer, reserve Marine, administrator, and researcher was the president of both Georgia Tech and Purdue University, the chancellor of the Texas A&M University system, and the director of research at the Hudson Institute. One of the most learned members on the notable residents of Zionsville list, Arthur Hansen left behind a legacy of comprehensive education and compassion for his students.

Born in February of 1925 in Sturgeon, Wisconsin, Hansen expressed an interest in engineering from an early age. It’s not surprising then, that he chose to attend Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, one of the most well known engineering schools in the United States. Hansen attended Purdue in 1942, graduating with a degree in electrical engineering in 1946. Two years later, in 1948, Hansen earned his masters degree in mathematics from Purdue. Academics wasn’t all Hansen was focused on during his years at Purdue University; he had been a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve before going to Purdue and was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house during his tenure there. Hansen would continue his focus on mathematics when he attended the Case Institute of Technology, earning his Ph.D. in 1959 with his dissertation, “Similarity Solutions Of The Laminar, Incompressible, Three-Dimensional Boundary-Layer Equations.”

2008 Purdue Newsreel video featuring former Purdue president and Zionsville, Indiana resident Arthur Hansen presenting the school’s Presidential Medallion (Hansen enters around 1:32)

 

Though Hansen was a skilled engineer and mathematician, his real passion lay in academic administration. After an eleven year career with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a term as head of the Nucleonics Research Division of the Cornell Aeronautics Laboratory, and the chairman of the University of Michigan’s Mechanical Engineering Department, Arthur Hansen became the dean of engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1966. He would become president of the university three years later, in 1969.

Hansen, the seventh president of Georgia Tech, served the university as president for two years. During this time, Hansen did a lot of work to broaden the engineering curriculum already in place. During his appointment day speech, Hansen said “If you do not have the freedom to explore, you will not learn, grow, and will not be an educated person.” Exploring is exactly what Hansen did with the engineering program, adding humanities courses to the curriculum and making it easier for students to graduate with diversified experiences. Under Hansen’s leadership, Georgia Tech saw its enrollment numbers increase drastically.

Video of the memorial service for Arthur G. Hansen, former Purdue University president and former resident of Zionsville, Indiana

 

In 1971, Arthur Hansen saw the need to return to his alma mater. He became Purdue’s eighth president in 1971, the first and only Boilermaker alumnus to ever become president. Hansen founded the President’s Council, a fund raising organization that is still active today, and the university built a plethora of new buildings under Hansen’s leadership, including agriculture, life sciences, and psychology buildings; Hansen was also instrumental in creating the university’s first Black Cultural Center. He also bought  Purdue’s first super computer, one of only a few in the United States at the time. The computer (along with professor Michael Rossman) would later map out the structure of the common cold. Like at Georgia Tech, enrollment at Purdue also jumped under Hansen’s leadership, skyrocketing from 26,000 to over 32,000.

In 1982, Arthur Hansen left Purdue and became the chancellor of the sprawling Texas A&M education system, a system that included four universities and five state agencies. Eventually he would become the Director of Research at the Hudson Institute. Arthur Hansen passed away on July 5, 2010 in Fort Myers, Florida, leaving behind countless achievements in multiple fields. The author of two books and over 60 scientific articles, Hansen has been named Engineer of the Year both in Atlanta and Indiana, earned honorary degrees from Purdue and Indiana University, and won the Distinguished Service Medal from the Department of Defense. In Indiana, Hansen accomplished much more than being president of Purdue; he was also the president of the Indiana Conference on Higher Education, the chairman of the board for the Indianapolis Symphony Orcestra, and he served on the Governor’s Roundtable for K-12 Education. A venerable figure in Purdue and Indiana history, Arthur G. Hansen has been a boon to post secondary education, both in the Hoosier state and the rest of the world.


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