sealPurdue News

March 10, 2003

L.A.-area couple help endow new Purdue professorship

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University announced on Friday (3/7) that two Los Angeles-area alumni have given $1 million toward establishing a named professorship in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

James R. "Bob" and Anne K. Burnett, of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., made their gift in response to Purdue's call to raise $200 million to attract and retain faculty as part of the university's strategic plan and in conjunction with the $1.3 billion Campaign for Purdue. In recognition of their gift, Purdue President Martin C. Jischke presented the couple with the President's Council's Distinguished Pinnacle Award, the university's highest recognition of support. The announcement and presentation took place during a university alumni event in Los Angeles.

"The establishment of named professorships is a key part of recruiting and retaining the best faculty for our students," Jischke said. "The Bob and Anne Burnett Professorship in Electrical and Computer Engineering will be a major force for excellence in this important and fast-changing academic discipline."

Bob Burnett said he hopes the professorship will benefit Purdue students and faculty for generations to come.

"Purdue has nothing in the long haul unless it has outstanding professors," said Burnett, a retired executive vice president of the space and defense sector of TRW Inc. who also served as an associate professor in the school.

"The real issue is: Does Purdue have the type of professors who can inspire students to learn, and who can do top-level research? The key is outstanding faculty. Money for professorships helps in recruiting the brightest and the best."

The couple's latest gift goes toward an endowment fund that will help create the professorship in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The gift to their alma mater is particularly meaningful for the couple, personally and professionally, Bob Burnett said.

He earned his bachelor's degree in 1946, master's degree in 1947 and a doctoral degree in 1949 from Purdue's School of Electrical Engineering. He served on the Purdue faculty in the school from 1949 to 1956, received an honorary doctorate in 1969 and was honored with the school's Outstanding Electrical Engineer Award in 1992.

Anne Burnett received her bachelor's degree from the School of Consumer and Family Sciences in 1949.

"I have outstanding memories of the electrical engineering faculty," Bob Burnett said. "They were excellent teachers, and there was excellent research being done."

Three of the couple's four children were born in Lafayette, Ind. Son James W. Burnett earned his doctoral degree from Purdue's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 1976.

As a Purdue faculty member, Bob Burnett led research in servomechanisms, digital computers and network theory. At TRW he served as the systems engineer and technical director of the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile system (ICBM). Burnett said he takes pride in the Minuteman program, which he said was delivered on time, is still operational and was a key part of winning the Cold War.

"Based on my Purdue education, I was able to do quite well professionally," he said. "I am able to give back, and I want to. My Purdue education was the key to my professional career."

In 1956, Burnett left Purdue and joined the Guided Missile Research Division of Ramo-Wooldridge Corp. (which became TRW) as manager of the Computers and Controls Department.

In the early 1960s he was named Minuteman program director. In 1969 Burnett became vice president of TRW and served as vice president and general manager of the Defense Systems Group. He was later promoted to oversee the TRW's space and defense sector. Burnett retired from TRW in 1991. He has continued to serve on various government committees and corporate boards.

He has served as a member of the selection board for the National Science Foundation and as a consultant to Argonne National Laboratory, operated by the University of Chicago for the U.S. Department of Energy. He is currently a consultant for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in San Francisco.

Burnett is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1969.

Burnett is the recipient of the Gold Seal Medallion Award from the Central Intelligence Agency, a Distinguished Public Service Award from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and also received the Secretary of Defense's Award for Outstanding Public Service.

The Burnetts said they share Purdue's vision for the 21st century and the university's campaign aimed at preeminence.

"We have listened carefully to our new president," Bob Burnett said. "He has a vision of achieving the next plateau in education at Purdue. Sure, Purdue was great when we attended there and I taught there. But it can be better. Clearly, universities cannot expect state legislatures to finance such a goal. That's why Anne and I decided to support the university's vision of the future."

Writer: Grant A. Flora, (765) 494-2073,

Source: Martin C. Jischke, (765) 494-9708

Linda P.B. Katehi, John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering, (765) 494-5346,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web site:
Schools of Engineering Web site

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