GT-AE salutes Don P. Giddens, former director and college dean

GT-AE salutes Don P. Giddens, former director and college dean
Atlanta, GA

A standing-room-only crowd assembled in the Montgomery Knight conference room January 20 to celebrate one of GT-AE's most memorable leaders, Dr. Don P. Giddens.

From left, GT-AE Chair Dr. Vigor Yang, former GT director Dr. Don P. Giddens, Nancy Giddens, CoE Dean Dr. Gary May. Check out the slideshow.

A standing-room-only crowd assembled in the Montgomery Knight conference room January 20 to celebrate one of GT-AE's most memorable leaders, Dr. Don P. Giddens.

The gathering served as an unveiling ceremony for GIddens' official portrait, rendered by Georgia artist Damon Carter, which now hangs alongside those of four former GT-AE directors:  Montgomery Knight, Donnell W. Dutton, Arnold Ducoffe, and Robert Loewy.

A graduate of GT-AE's undergraduate and graduate programs in aerospace engineering, Giddens served as the director of the School from 1988 until 1992 and established the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, a joint department between Georgia Tech and Emory University, in 1997.

Don P. Giddens and his wife, Nancy in front of the official Giddens portrait, rendered by Georgia artist Damon Carter

He also served as the dean of Georgia Tech's College of Engineering where he granted almost 13,000 undergraduate, 7,700 masters, and 2,500 doctoral degrees. Under his leadership, research dollars coming into the College more than doubled, from $77 million in 2002 to $204 million in 2010.

"The portraits in this room recognize these individuals' unique contributions to our School," said current CoE Dean Gary May, who was originally hired by then Dean Giddens to serve as the chair of ECE.

"We could just as easily claim this portrait up in Tech Tower, too. He is one of the reasons our College is recognized as one of the top 5 engineering schools in the nation."

But it wasn't his fund raising prowess or ground-breaking leadership that brought people out on Tuesday. People took to the podium Tuesday to talk about their friend.

A family affair. Joining Dr. Giddens for the official portrait unveiling were his daughter, Karen Kelly, and her husband Paul Kelly

Regents Professor Ben T. Zinn recalled meeting Giddens when the Augusta, Georgia native was a promising young doctoral student, in 1965. A few years later, when Giddens joined the faculty, Zinn said they "spent countless hour talking about technical problems and tennis...we were colleagues, confidants, and psychiatrists for each other."

Professor Emeritus Ward O. Winer said the 46 years he'd known Giddens had lots of twists and turns.

"I remember him when he was a faculty and I was a chair," he said. "I also remember him as a chair when I was faculty."

Professor Suresh Menon was the last faculty hire that Giddens made as the GT-AE director.

"He interviewed me by phone and he convinced me to come here," said Menon. "But by the time I got here he was gone to Johns Hopkins [where Giddens served as the head of the engineering school]."

When it was GIddens' turn to speak, he had nothing but praise for the leaders who'd preceded and succeeded him.

"If you don't know your history, you can't chart your future," he said, gesturing to the paintings of former GT-AE leaders that now surround his portrait.

Regents Professor Ben T. Zinn was only too happy to praise his former colleague and student.

"I am humbled to be included among such leaders."

One by one, he lauded his predecessors as visionaries, scholars, and innovators.

"Success is inevitable when you hire good people and then get out of their way," he said.

"Now, I didn't hire Bob Loewy [his successor at GT-AE] but I will take credit for Vigor Yang. And he is a scholar and a leader."

Ultimately, AE's emphasis on hiring the best will help it withstand economic downturns and other whims, he predicted. Good faculty attract good students. And good students do great things.

"Going forward, there's no limit on what the School can do," he said.

"We've often had to swim upstream, against the feeling that aerospace engineers would always face cyclical unemployment. But every time, AE has defied this. AE has been on the cutting edge because we always attract the visionaries, the people who dream big."

Noting that "this is probably the last time I will speak at a podium" as a part of Georgia Tech, a visibly moved Giddens let the audience know how important they were to this chapter of his life.

Gesturing to his former colleagues and many friends he said:

"What you eventually remember, when you look back at your career are the people -- your friends and family."

This collection of photos, provided by GT-AE Professor Jim Craig,  chronicles a good piece of Don Giddens's tenure at Georgia Tech.

 

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