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Five Syracuse University civil engineering alumni establish prize to honor their mentor, James Mandel
Five Syracuse University civil engineering alumni establish prize to honor their mentor, James MandelFebruary 07, 2007Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
During her sophomore year in Syracuse University’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS), Priscilla Tyree ’86 lost her father to cancer. In his sophomore year, John Ricks ’75 felt like giving up on his studies.
During these challenging times, they found support in civil engineering professor James Mandel, who helped them get their feet on the ground. Mandel worked to provide the students with the academic support they needed, from registering them for the right classes to working with their professors to ensure the students would be successful and graduate. Several times, he and his late wife, Rita, opened their home to students, helping to nourish them with both good food and a sense of home away from home.
The impact that Mandel has had on the world at large, through the hundreds of students that he mentored over his 30-year career at SU, is tremendous. To honor his remarkable legacy, Tyree and Ricks, together with fellow alumni Colin Danville ’80, Clyde Forbes ’76 and Winfred Battle ’81, have made an initial pledge of $10,000 to establish the Dr. James A. Mandel Prize for Academic Achievement. The prize, up to $1,000, will be awarded annually to a graduating senior in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CIE) who is an active member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). The CIE chair, in consultation with faculty and the NSBE advisor, will choose award recipients. It is anticipated that the first award will be presented at the undergraduate convocation in May 2007.
“Dr. Mandel is one of a kind: He is the unique combination of academic excellence and human compassion,” says Tyree, now a plant engineer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation. “His caring nature and paternal instincts were invaluable to me as I negotiated the demanding curriculum of the civil engineering program. We can only hope that this tribute enlightens the LCS community to Dr. Mandel’s value — as an academic and a humanitarian.”
Ricks says that Mandel’s support was the key factor in his decision to stay in college. “I was really ready to give up,” says Ricks, now a vice president of engineering at Camp Dresser and McKee (CDM) in Falls Church, Va. Ricks has a son and daughter currently enrolled at SU. “Once I started working with Dr. Mandel, I began to take a proactive approach to my studies. He made all the difference.”
“I remember him as a fair and principled man,” says Danville, who is now a lead engineer in the environment group at Potomac Electric Power Co. in Washington, D.C. “He cared about the profession and he cared about his students. Should you need assistance, he was there. And he stayed with you until you understood what you came to him for.”
Battle vividly remembers the day he met Mandel in 1974, midway through his first semester on the SU campus. Feeling isolated and inadequately prepared for his chosen field, Battle sought out Mandel on the advice of a fellow student. “When I walked into Jim’s office, he greeted me like we had been friends for a while, offered me a chair and then stopped what he was doing to listen to what I had to say.” Mandel took Battle on a tour of engineering labs and then over coffee talked about being a civil engineer, Battle’s course schedule, and how he could make friends in a competitive environment.
“I instantly recognized his enthusiasm for engineering and his love for students,” says Battle, a manager with the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C. “For the very first time being on the SU campus, it appeared that my being there mattered, and I am eternally grateful for that day.”
Forbes describes Mandel as “an academic with a human touch” who always made himself available. “His teaching style allowed me to build a sense of confidence that I have carried throughout my professional career,” he says. “Dr. Mandel gave all students the impression that they were valued individuals — a very reassuring message for me as the only African American student in my class.” Forbes is manager of New York state economic development and regional communications for Rochester Gas & Electric Corp., and has worked for the company for more than 30 years.
Mandel says he is “eternally grateful” to be recognized by his former students. “What greater honor could I have in my career than this?” he says.
Mandel is humble, though, when asked about the extraordinary efforts he made throughout his career in helping students succeed. He says he took lessons from his parents and his own mentors, such as former civil engineering chair Paul Brennan, professor Wen Li, and others, on how to treat people. “If you are teaching and you don’t feel that helping students succeed is important, then you should be doing something else,” Mandel says.
Mandel performed research during his career, but says his primary mission was always centered on students, to help them succeed and thrive in college and to prepare them well for their lives and careers after graduation.
“You can write a technical paper and after a while it isn’t read anymore except for historical purposes,” Mandel says. “But helping students, making sure they succeed, that continually makes the world a better place.”
The Mandel Prize is the first award established by alumni of color in honor of a Syracuse University faculty member, says Dawit Negussey, NSBE advisor. “A special reward for an educator is recognition by former students who are now successful professionals. Jim is an outstanding teacher and an extraordinary mentor. He has helped and encouraged students of color to graduate and excel in professional careers. It is wonderful our alumni established a prize to honor him and to continue his legacy of devotion and commitment to students.”
“It is heart-warming to see that such a wonderful accolade is bestowed upon Dr. Mandel. The fact that this recognition is initiated by a group of his former students makes this award so much more meaningful and valuable,” says Eric Lui, CIE chair. “Jim is not only a caring and solicitous teacher, he is also a wonderful human being. I am extremely delighted to see that the award is established by a group of distinguished alumni in his honor. This is an important tribute to a well-deserving individual.”
LCS Interim Dean Shiu-Kai Chin says, “Through this prize, Jim Mandel will continue to have a tremendous impact upon students in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science. The college is very grateful to the alumni who established this gift to honor Jim in such a meaningful way.”
Mandel received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He then worked as a design engineer in Pittsburgh and a senior stress engineer for the Goodyear Aerospace Corp. in Akron, Ohio. He earned his Ph.D. at LCS in 1967 and was a member of the CIE faculty until his retirement in 1996. He is still an active mentor within the LCS community.
Battle says that he and his fellow alumni want to grow the award into an endowment, and will reach out to other civil engineering alumni who were mentored by Mandel. For more information or to contribute to the Dr. James A. Mandel Prize for Academic Achievement, contact Evelyn Walker in SU’s Office of Program Development at (315) 443-4556 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jenifer Breyer in LCS’s Office of Development at (315) 443-3129 or email@example.com.