García Invested as Yeh Chair

2/3/2015 9:12:00 AM

Yeh Center
Yeh Center

From left to right: Morton Weir, Marcelo García and Bob Dodds

Professor Marcelo H. García was invested December 9, 2014, as the second holder of the M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Endowed Chair in Civil Engineering. CEE alumnus Yeh (BS 53) established the chair in 1998. Yeh is a philanthropist and the retired chairman of Hsin Chong International Holdings Ltd.

Special guests at the investiture included García’s wife, Estela, and their daughter, Emma; former University of Illinois Chancellor and Emeritus Professor of Psychology Morton W. Weir and his wife, Cecelia; and Jon Khachaturian (BS 78), president of Versabar Inc., who with his wife, Bobbi, made a gift to name Khachaturian Hall, where the investiture was held, after Jon's father, Narbey Khachaturian (BS 47, MS 48, PhD 52), deceased professor emeritus of CEE.

 “I would like to thank Geoffrey Yeh for his generosity to his alma mater,” García said. ”Becoming the holder of the Geffrey Yeh chair is, for me, just incredible.”

García is a leader in the field of river mechanics, sediment transport, sedimentation engineering and environmental hydraulics. He is best known for his research in sediment entrainment from riverbeds, flow and transport in vegetated channels, the mechanics of oceanic turbidity currents, and the dynamics of mudflows in mountain areas. García joined the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an assistant professor in January 1990, becoming a full professor in 2000. In 2001, he was invested as the first Chester and Helen Siess Endowed Professor of Civil Engineering and as Honorary Professor at his alma mater, Universidad Nacional del Litoral. He teaches an undergraduate course on Water Resources Engineering and Hydraulic Engineering. At the graduate level he teaches Environmental Hydrodynamics, Sediment Transport, River Mechanics, and Open-Channel Hydraulics.  Since 1997, he has served as the Director of the Ven Te Chow Hydrosystems Laboratory. He was Editor-in-Chief of the American Society of Civil Engineers Manual of Engineering Practice 110 "Sedimentation Engineering," published by ASCE in 2008.

Speakers at the investiture included College of Engineering Dean Andreas Cangellaris; Abbas Benmamoun, vice provost for faculty affairs and academic policies; CEE Professor Emeritus and former Head Robert H. Dodds Jr. (MS 75, PhD 78), who in 2000 became the first holder of the Yeh Chair; and CEE Professor Gary Parker, the W.H. Johnson Professor of Geology, who was García’s adviser at the University of Minnesota.

“I extend my most sincere congratulations to you, Marcelo, for this well-deserved honor,” Dodds said. “You’re an extraordinary scholar by every measure, an inspiring classroom teacher and a wonderful colleague. During my tenure as department head you set a very high mark for energy, enthusiasm and passion for our missions and, without question, earned the most frequent flyer miles of any faculty member I ever knew. I greatly enjoyed our 20 years shared together on the CEE faculty.”

Dodds spoke about Geoffrey Yeh and his devotion to the department, demonstrated by his funding of both the Yeh Chair and a significant portion of the M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Student Center, where the investiture was held.

“Geoffrey is a most impressive person,” Dodds said. “Words that immediately come to mind to describe him include charming, kind, warm, exceptionally gracious and humble. He has a quick wit. He loves to discuss international politics … and the hope he has for future generations.”

Yeh has long been a supporter of the University of Illinois, from which he earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1953. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Harvard in 1954. He received an honorary doctorate degree in commercial science from St. John’s University in New York in 1982. In 2011, he founded the Yeh Family Philanthropy, a family foundation. A member of the President’s Council of the University of Illinois Foundation, Yeh was the lead donor for the M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Student Center, a 20,500-square-foot addition to Newmark Civil Engineering Laboratory that provides state-of-the-art classrooms, meeting rooms and informal gathering space for students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Illinois.

In 2012, Yeh was inducted into the Engineering at Illinois Hall of Fame for making “significant and lasting contributions to the construction and financial sectors in Hong Kong, serving as chair of the Hsin Chong Group of Companies, including Hsin Chong Construction Group, Ltd., a publicly listed company, until his retirement in 2002.” The college also cited Yeh’s commitment to community service, his work on the Hong Kong Futures Exchange Ltd., and his positions as founding court member of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and as court member of Hong Kong Baptist University.

Marcelo García and Gary Parker, who served as García's Ph.D. adviser
Marcelo García and Gary Parker, who served as García's Ph.D. adviser

Another speaker at the investiture was Parker, who served as Ph.D. adviser for García at the University of Minnesota.

“I would like to emphasize [García’s] human decency,” Parker said. “The best way to emphasize that is his 50th birthday. Out of nowhere, his students got together and organized his 50th birthday. There must have been at least 60 people there, and at least six or seven of his students came from overseas to be there. That’s an indication of how much people in general—and also I personally—appreciate the outstanding humanity and decency of Marcelo García.”