By Tina Hilding, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture
PULLMAN, Wash. – When Gene Voiland graduated from Washington State University in 1969, he wanted to get out of Pullman and leave a history of parking tickets behind.
He never dreamed that he would come back one day to join a joyous celebration that included about 800 students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends for the naming of the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.
The education and mentoring that he received at WSU from professors like George Austin left an indelible mark on him and allowed him and his wife Linda to thrive, Voiland told the large crowd at Thursday’s celebration on the Pullman campus.
“It’s a great thing to be in a position to give back,’’ he said.
The Washington State University’s Board of Regents approved renaming the college earlier this year to honor the Voilands’ lifetime contributions to the college, the university and society.
Student projects on display
Gene and Linda Voiland and their family members were on hand for the festivities. As the new name was unveiled, the Cougar marching band played the Cougar fight song while mascot Butch waved to the crowd.
Wearing crimson Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture T-shirts, hundreds of students from the college’s 40 student clubs eagerly displayed and explained their hands-on work to alumni and friends – from architectural models, a student-built unmanned aerial vehicle and the first part of a concrete canoe to a robotic submarine and a car powered by chemical reactions.
A group of mechanical engineering students from the fledgling program at WSU North Puget Sound at Everett made the trip to Pullman. Students shook hands with the Voilands, thanked them and even asked for photos.
Visionary name, innovative college
“We are honored beyond measure to have the Voiland name grace our college,’’ Dean Candis Claiborn told the crowd. “The name is synonymous with excellence, vision, accountability and integrity. These are also values that are core to the Voiland College’s mission.
“As we celebrate the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, we are grateful, energized and committed to being strategic, collaborative, forward thinking and innovative,’’ she said.
The Voilands are an unassuming couple, WSU President Elson S. Floyd told the crowd, and would generally shy away from such a celebration. Yet their generosity goes beyond words, and they are committed to making a difference, he added.
He called the naming of the college “a historic moment’’ and a “moment when you think about uncompromising excellence.’’ He thanked the Voilands and told the crowd, “now it is up to us’’ to strive for the excellence that the Voilands exemplify.
Oil industry executive
Gene Voiland, who received a B.S. in chemical engineering from WSU, worked for Shell Oil Company for nearly 30 years in a variety of positions. There he met his wife, Linda, a graduate of the University of Houston. He later became president and CEO of CalResources LLC and Aera Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil. He retired in 2008.
He serves as principal of Voiland Enterprises, LLC, is chair of the board of Valley Republic Bank in Bakersfield, Calif., and continues to be a sought-after consultant to the oil industry.
The Voilands have been active supporters of WSU and the college for many years. Gene Voiland led the investment committee for the WSU Foundation and is a member of the foundation’s board of governors. He serves on advisory boards for the college as well as for the Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering. Linda Voiland is a loyal, adopted Cougar.
Generosity spurs college growth, impact
The Gene and Linda Voiland Endowment Fund has provided support for laboratories and greatest needs in the Voiland School. They support a scholarship for chemical engineering students in the Honors College. They also helped with upgrade and renovation of the unit operations laboratory, leading the charge for matching funds, helping to get the effort organized and making it a success.
In 2008, the couple made a significant gift to transform the Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering into one of the nation’s best programs and to attract top faculty. The school has since focused its program in the area of catalysis and has hired top researchers in the field.
The Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture has seen significant growth in the past five years both in research support and enrollment numbers. Increased understanding by state and national industry and policy leaders of the college’s direct economic impacts has meant dramatic growth.
In recent years, WSU engineering programs have gotten under way and are expanding in Bremerton and Everett as well as through WSU’s online programs. On the Pullman campus, the college is expanding with the new PACCAR Environmental Technology Building, which is under construction.