McKelvey receives Search Award at annual Eliot Society celebration

Washington University in St. Louis’ Eliot Society held its annual dinner and ceremony April 23 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The black-tie affair brings together the university’s most dedicated supporters for an evening of celebration.

Two of the event’s hallmarks are the presentation of the Search Award and a keynote address by a distinguished speaker. This year was no exception: former engineering school dean James M. McKelvey, PhD, received the Search Award, given to an outstanding member of the university; and “Flags of Our Fathers” author James Bradley gave the keynote address.

McKelvey received a hand-wrought replica of the sculpture “The Search,” designed by Heikki Seppä, who taught art at WUSTL.

Few individuals have left such a lasting legacy at the university as McKelvey, whose vision, guidance and influence have been felt for more than six decades, three of them as dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science. Under his leadership, the school experienced unprecedented growth and rose to national prominence.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla in 1945 and his master’s and doctoral degrees from WUSTL in 1947 and 1950, respectively, McKelvey joined a team at DuPont celebrated for its breakthroughs in converting polymers into useful products.

In 1954, McKelvey entered academia as an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Three years later, he joined WUSTL as an associate professor of chemical engineering. He soon rose to a full professor, and in 1962 became chair of the chemical engineering department.

That same year, McKelvey’s book, “Polymer Processing,” became the standard text in the field. Today, he is known around the world as one of the early leaders in the field of polymer processing.

In 1964, McKelvey was appointed dean of the School of Engineering & Applied Science. Under his guidance, the school was transformed from a regional engineering school to a nationally prominent research institution. Among his most significant accomplishments as dean were the establishment of the Engineers’ Scholarship Program as well as a fellowship program for graduate students; the Dual Degree Program; and the Cooperative Education Program. The Engineers’ Scholarship Program proved so successful that the model was adopted by the university and still is used today.

During his tenure, the engineering school’s endowment rose from $4 million to $52 million, funding for research and faculty recruitment greatly increased, and the school’s physical space grew with the addition of three new buildings: Bryan, Lopata and Jolley halls.

Although officially retired in 1996, McKelvey continued to teach until 2008.

In addition to the Search Award, McKelvey’s contributions have received recognition throughout the years; these include the school’s Alumni Achievement Award, the Distinguished Faculty Award, and the Dean’s Award. In his honor, WUSTL established the James M. McKelvey Undergraduate Research Award.

Continuing his steadfast commitment to the university, McKelvey serves on the Planned Giving Committee and is a volunteer for the engineering school’s efforts in Leading Together: The Campaign for Washington University.

After dinner and the awards presentation, Bradley discussed his commitment to recording some of the most fascinating personal histories from World War II, including the true story of the six soldiers — one of whom was Bradley’s father — whose act of raising the American flag on Iwo Jima in 1945 has been forever seared into American hearts and minds. His best-selling book “Flags of Our Fathers” was made into a film, “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

Bradley’s other books include “Flyboys,” and “The Asia Mirage,” which chronicles a century of U.S. relations with Asia. Through the James Bradley Peace Foundation, he helps promote United States-Asian understanding by supporting American high school students living with families in Japan and China.

Members of the William Greenleaf Eliot Society play a critically important role in the future of Washington University by providing the main source of unrestricted gifts while also enjoying a wide range of benefits. Eliot Society membership begins at the $1,000 level of giving, and those contributions are used for scholarships, student-assistance programs, educational resources, faculty development and recruitment, and facility improvements.

For more information on the Eliot Society, visit the Eliot Society website or call 314-935-8096.