Alumnus, engineering donor awarded distinguished honor by the American Society of Civil Engineers

By Lauren Winton

Published: Jul 29, 2020 10:02:00 AM

Edd and Gail Gibson Edd and Gail Gibson

Auburn Engineering donor George “Edd” Gibson is a proud alumnus. A professor at Arizona State University, Gibson speaks to the ways in which his undergraduate and doctorate degrees in civil engineering prepared him for illustrious career—a career that was recently recognized with one of civil engineering’s most prestigious honors.

In June, Gibson was designated a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers. And it is an honor he has not taken lightly.

“When I first heard about the award, I was thrilled. And then, as I started to research past awardees, I was taken aback by how much this designation really means,” Gibson said. “The American Society of Civil Engineers is the oldest engineering society in the country. Honorary Members—now known as Distinguished Members—were first awarded in the 1850s. Since that time, fewer than 700 individuals have been named as Honorary or Distinguished Members. It is quite an honor.”

Gibson got his start in the engineering world at a very young age. As a kid, he marveled at the bridges and locks and dams on the Tombigbee River, wondering who made them. When he learned they were created by civil engineers, Gibson knew he never wanted to do anything else.

“I felt the same way about Auburn, but perhaps that was because my dad told me he would only pay my tuition if I went to school at Auburn,” Gibson said, laughing. “But I had enjoyed going to Auburn football games, I was an avid fan and Auburn has an excellent engineering school, so it was a really easy decision for me.”

Gibson participated in ROTC and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army when he graduated. He served as an engineer officer in the military, living all across the United States and different places in the world. After he finished his time in the Army, Gibson worked for Texas Instruments. His role at Texas Instruments involved a lot of mentoring and teaching, and it was at that time Gibson realized he perhaps wanted to work in academia.

“I contacted Lance Bell, one of my previous professors at Auburn, and talked to him about my interest in a Ph.D. He offered me a research position, and told me I was welcome to try it out and see if I liked it,” Gibson said.

Enjoying the research, Gibson also had the opportunity to teach at Auburn while he was a doctoral student. And he taught more than most.

“I had the great opportunity to teach four different classes over a number of quarters (Auburn was on the quarter system back then),” Gibson said. “I really enjoyed teaching. Of course, I’d already gotten my MBA which helped, but these were big classes I taught as a graduate student. My wife, who was pursuing her graduate degree at the time was also teaching large human science classes. Between the two of us, we literally taught over one percent of all students at Auburn during one quarter.”

Gibson’s passion for teaching never wavered, and after he and his wife graduated from their doctorate and master’s degrees on the same day, they moved to North Carolina where he took a visiting position at North Carolina State.

“We were at NC State for about a year,” said Gibson. From there, Gibson took a position at the University of Texas at Austin, where he stayed as a member of the faculty for 15 years.

“Having lived out west, we knew we liked the climate and the people, and so when we got a chance to move to Arizona we took it. I was asked to lead several different programs at Arizona State and to merge the construction and civil engineering programs. I helped establish the construction engineering, environmental engineering and sustainable engineering programs, and my school grew to about 1750 students,” Gibson said.

His role as school director was more like a dean’s position, overseeing and hiring a large body of faculty, managing staff, setting strategic direction, planning a new building for the school, and fundraising for their capital campaign. In July 2018, Gibson stepped down from his role, leaving more time for the classroom and research.

“I love working in higher education,” Gibson said. “You feel like you’re really making a difference in people’s lives. You can see the impact when teaching, and it’s a different sort of impact you make as an administrator.”

Throughout his career, Gibson has conducted a large body of research in civil and construction engineering and consulted on a number of high-profile civil engineering projects. In fact, several of the individuals he has worked with through his career are also Distinguished Members of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“Many of my Auburn textbooks, as well, were written by Distinguished Members,” Gibson recalls. He credits his Auburn Engineering education for setting him up for success.

“I owe a lot to Auburn. I received an excellent civil engineering foundation as an undergraduate and had the opportunity to do great research in my doctorate program, and I am proud of my education. It is one of the best engineering colleges in the country.”

Through his dedication to the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, Gibson has given back. He and his wife Gail established an endowed scholarship in civil engineering, as well as a scholarship in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, in honor of his father.

“I would like to think we’re paying it forward,” Gibson said. “I don’t think I could have made it through Auburn without scholarships, and my wife and I want to help students reach their dreams.”

For a man on top of his field, Gibson is paving the way for future civil engineers to follow in his footsteps.

Media Contact: Lauren Winton, lmw0090@auburn.edu, 334.844.5519

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