UIC College of Engineering’s first professorship empowers talented faculty

UIC donor Christopher Burke with professorship recipient, Dr. Farhad Ansari

Donor, volunteer, mentor, advisor, instructor, friend: Christopher Burke has for more than a decade shared his time, resources, and business acumen with UIC’s College of Engineering. Recently, the College celebrated the investiture of Farhad Ansari, PhD, as the inaugural recipient of The Christopher B. and Susan S. Burke Professorship, the first endowed professorship in the UIC Department of Civil and Materials Engineering.

Dr. Ansari (PhD ’83), UIC Distinguished Professor, currently serves as Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and as a faculty member in the Department of Civil and Materials Engineering. Acknowledged as the pioneer in applying optical fiber sensors for structural health monitoring, he has consulted on and designed structural monitoring systems for bridges around the world, including New York’s Brooklyn Bridge; Italy’s Lingotto Bridge; one of the cable-stayed Twin River bridges in China; and numerous other bridges in the United States.

Peter Nelson, dean of the College, said of the Burkes’ gift, “We’re profoundly grateful for this latest example of Chris’s generosity. His leadership and support have advanced the department’s educational and research impact over the years, and this gift will strengthen it far into the future.”

Burke holds his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in civil engineering from Purdue University. He is the founder of Christopher B. Burke Engineering, Ltd., a full-service civil engineering design and construction firm based in Rosemont, Illinois that includes three additional offices in the state and employs some 400 people.

Burke, who considered a university career, teaches three water-related courses at UIC and foregoes his teaching salary, which is used for scholarships in his mother Rosemary’s name. With feet in both the classroom and the boardroom, he seems to exemplify the adage “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”—his mother was a math teacher and his father was a civil engineer. “There’s not a day I don’t like being a civil engineer,” he said, noting that solving problems and providing services that improve lives is deeply satisfying.

His teaching also provides him enormous satisfaction and he values the chance to emphasize critical connections between civil engineering and contemporary issues. “At the start of every class, for example, I write on the board as many water-related news items as I can,” he said, and I ask students “How can you as an engineer benefit society 100 years from now?” His answer: well-considered solutions. “I tell them not to attend what I call UTW—the University of Wishful Thinking.”

The professorship is the latest in Burke’s support of the College. Over the years, he has funded lab upgrades, student organizations, graduate student awards, and scholarships for undergraduate students. He also mentors students; provides funding and equipment for the American Society of Civil Engineers UIC student chapter; and serves on both UIC’s Civil Engineering Professional Advisory Council and its College of Engineering Advisory Board.

Speaking of the endowed professorship, Burke said, “I think this gift is a way to raise the department’s profile and emphasize the significant impact UIC-trained civil engineers have in the state—and especially in Chicago.”