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JOSEPH MAYO PETTIT 1916-1986 BY WILLIAM KAYS, OSWALD VILLARD, JR., AND WILLIAM RAMBO jOSEPH MAYO PETTIT, professor emeritus of electrical engi- neering and president of the Georgia Institute of Technol- ogy, (lied on September 15, 1986, in Atlanta after an eleven- month battle with cancer. Pettit was dean of the Stanford School of Engineering from 1958 until 1972, when he went to Georgia Tech as president. Born in Rochester, Minnesota, on July 15, 1916, Joe was the son of Joseph Asahe! and Florence (Anderson) Pettit. His father was a PortIancI, Oregon, surgeon and his mother a registerer! nurse. He was namect in part for the physician who delivered him, Dr. Joseph Mayo, a friend of the Pettits and a member of the Rochester family that founded the Mayo Clinic. He received his B.S. in 1938 from the University of Cali- fornia at Berkeley. Transferring to Stanford that year, he was awarclect an M.S. in electrical engineering in 1940 anct a Ph.D. in 1942. He married Florence Rowell West in 1940; he is survived by her and by a son, Joseph B., of Santa Barbara, California; by two claughters, Mrs. Marjorie Wilbur and Mrs. Marilyn Backlund, both of Palo Alto, California; and by three grancichildren. From 1942 to 1945 Pettit served with the National Defense Research Committee's Radio Research Laboratory at H.ar- vard University. The stab of this laboratory, which was cle- 285
286 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES voted to radar countermeasures, eventually numbered ap- proximately a thousand. Pettit became the assistant executive engineer. In 1944 he was a technical observer with the U.S. Air Force (USAF), serving in Inclochina. In recognition of this service, he received the Presidential Certificate of Merit. In 1945 he served as associate technical director of a USAF branch laboratory in Malvern, England. From 1945 to 1947 Pettit was a supervising engineer at the Airborne Instruments Laboratory in New York City. In 1947 he returned to Stanforc! as an associate professor of electrical engineering; he was namer] a full professor in 1954. He au- thored or coauthored three engineering textbooks published by McGraw-Hill and was a major contributor to a two-volume compendium of the results of the Harvard laboratory's war- time research. In 1958, after a year as associate dean under Fred Terman, Joe succeeded to the post of dean of engineering. This was . at the beginning of the "Sputnik" era, and he was quick to see the opportunities for growth, as well as the opportunity to lead a goo(1 but provincial engineering school into na- tional prominence. Under Terman's leadership, the Electri- cal Engineering Department hac! airea(ly made that move, but the rest of the school had a long way to go. The next thirteen years were, indeecl, an extraordinary pe- riod. The university, with Fred Terman as provost during the first eight years, became a national force, and the School of Engineering under Pettit lee! the way. The departmental structure was expancled from five to ten departments. The departments addec! were Material Science and Engineering, Applied Mechanics, Operations Research, Chemical Engi- neering, and Engineering Economic Systems. Funds for ex- pansion became available, and Pettit was able to secure major grants from both the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation to make this expansion possible. Major new buildings, inclu(ling the McCullough Building for electrical engineering and the newly formed Center for.Materials Re- search, the Duran(1 Builcling for the Aeronautics and Astro- nautics Department and the Space Sciences Program, and
JOSEPH MAYO PETTIT 287 the Skilling Classroom Building, were all built during this period. At the same time, the school's sponsored research program expancled several-fold, and, although the program in electri- cal engineering continued to be the largest, all of the depart- ments participated in an unprecedented expansion. During this period, the School of Engineering emerged as one of the major graduate engineering schools in the country, while the undergraduate program continued to offer an educational experience that encompassed the liberal arts a more wicle- ranging program than could be found at most other en~i- neering schools. How far the school had come uncler Pettit's leadership be- came evident in 1965, when the results of the first national survey of graduate engineering programs were published as the Carter Report. Every department had become one of the leaclers in the country. By the end of the 1960s, Stanford was the leading producer of Ph.D.s in engineering in the United States. All of this expansion required a much larger faculty. As dean, Joe Pettit played a major role in recruiting the fac- ulty that was really the key to the subsequent success of the school. Whole new areas of research were initiated by ap- pointing people with established reputations, while more rig- orous criteria were enforced in the appointment of junior faculty. Pettit was an early member of the newly formed National Academy of Engineering, and by the end of his tenure, Stan- forct was exceedec} only by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the number of National Academy of Engi- neering members on its faculty. Educational innovation was of greatest interest to Joe Pet- tit, and he was un(loubteclly the foremost national pioneer in the development of televisect instruction as an adjunct to the graduate program. He introduced a radically flexible under- graduate academic program, and his use of student ratings of instructors, although not a new Plea, was nevertheless in- troduced anct developed to new levels. His interest in education led him to be very active in the
288 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES American Society for Engineering Education, and his activi- ties culminates! in his being elected president of that institu- tion. From that point on, he was universally recognized as one of the two or three national leaders in engineering eclu- cation. By 1971, however, he was ready for a change, and the call came from Georgia Tech. The move to this institution brought a succession of challenges that Pettit met with enthu- siasm. His basic ideas were firm and clearly enunciated in his inaugural acIdress: recruiting and retaining outstanding fac- ulty, strengthening the graduate program, and upgrading facilities, with quality always the goal. His colleagues have remarked on his overriding insistence on quality. Their consistent support was enlistecl by his ready acknowlecigment of the achievements of individuals and groups, by his leaclership, and by his steady availability for consultation ant! advice. The success that attended his plan- ning was also no doubt contagious. During Pettit's fourteen-year tenure as president of Geor- gia Tech, both undergracluate anct graduate enrollment in- creased by forty percent. The female student enrollment alone increaser! fivefoIc! to more than twenty-three hundred by 1986. The link between an elective graduate program and suitable research opportunities tract been firmly estab- lished in Joe's Stanford experience. With his strong encour- agement, research expenditures increased more than eight hundrec! percent, to more than $100 million in 1985 anc! 1986. The adclitions and improvements in facilities ranged from new student residences and academic buildings to the book- store and athletic areas. They included a research building on the Tech campus, designed to facilitate interactions with Atianta's plans for expansion as a major technology center. The improvements also reached into the state as a whole in accordance with a long-stancting institutional mission. Looking toward the 1986 centennial year observance, Pet- tit initiated a five-year, $100 million centennial campaign in
JOSEPH MAYO PETTIT 289 1983. It was to have been completed in 1988. The goal was in fact met in June 1986, prompting him to remark, "What we have set out to do we have accomplished, like good Geor- gia Tech engineers within budget and ahead of schedule." It is perhaps illustrative of the full range of Joe Pettit's inter- ests and administration that, in its centennial year observ- ance, the institute established in his honor an endowed chair, a graduate fellowship program, and an athletic scholarship. Although he felt secure in his plans and actions in the aca- demic domain, his background was not always as complete as he might have likes] for dealing with some other matters coming before a university president. Joe was apt to remark, not always humorously, about such miscellaneous matters as his involvements with the state government or about the problems of finding a football coach acceptable to all constit- uencies. The Pettits at times expressed the hope of returning to the Stanford community, possibly upon Joe's retirement in 1987. It is fortunate for a great many that the Georgia Tech years, the crowning period in a remarkable career, have left a vis- ible wealth of accomplishments with values that will be ap- preciated for years to come.