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UW-Madison to honor seven outstanding engineering alumni

October 23, 2012 By Renee Meiller

The Disney-Pixar movie “Toy Story” is part of Patrick Hanrahan’s life story.

Hanrahan, who now is the Cannon Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University, was among the first employees at Pixar Animation Studios, where he is credited with developing the RenderMan software used to create several top animated films.

Long before apps, email and anytime Internet access became the main reasons for carrying a mobile phone, James Thompson arrived at a then-small California startup called Qualcomm to begin work on implementing what would become one of the most common protocols for cellular phone calls in the world.

Hanrahan and Thompson are among seven remarkable University of Wisconsin–Madison engineering alumni-including a young alumna-who will receive College of Engineering distinguished achievement awards at a Friday, Oct. 26, banquet. The banquet caps the annual Engineers’ Day, a daylong alumni celebration that includes seminars, luncheons and tours.

The 2012 honorees include:

Early-Career Achievement Award

Tanya M. Higgins (ME ’06, master of engineering in professional practice), Waterloo, Iowa. Quality deployment manager in the John Deere Agriculture and Turf Division, Higgins focuses on quality in company processes, products and talent and serves as a mentor for women in science and engineering at the company and in the community.

Distinguished Achievement Award 

Donald E. Baldovin (BS ’57, chemical engineering), Denver, Colo., and Austin, Texas. Retired from the Amoco Worldwide Exploration Business Group as its vice president of finance and business support, Baldovin was one of two Amoco delegates to negotiate a financial agreement with Iran when the country nationalized Amoco’s activities in the early 1980s.

Thomas A. Benes (BS ’74, mechanical engineering), Dumfries, Va. A retired major general in U.S. Marine Corps, Benes was director of expeditionary warfare for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Currently, he is vice president for strategic planning and development for the technology firm Alion Science and Technology Corporation.

Gary M. Gigante (BS ’78, metallurgical engineering), Waupaca, Wis. Starting as a metallurgist responsible for quality control, Gigante now is president and CEO of Waupaca Foundry, the largest iron foundry in the world.

Thomas F. Gunkel (BS ’82, construction administration), Minneapolis, Minn. In a 29-year career with Mortenson Construction, CEO Gunkel has played a key role in the company’s emergence as one of the nation’s most respected builders.

Patrick M. Hanrahan (BS ’77, nuclear engineering), Stanford, Calif. Recipient of two Academy Awards for his role in developing the RenderMan software, Hanrahan now is the Cannon Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and co-founder of business analytics company Tableau Software.

James H. Thompson (BS ’85, MS ’87, PhD ’91, electrical engineering), San Diego, Calif. Executive vice president of engineering for Qualcomm Inc., Thompson led technology development that has helped the company into the dominant mobile-industry technology supplier and the largest fabless semiconductor supplier in the world.

Full biographies of the award recipients are available here.


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