Remembering Craig Somerton

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May 12, 2015

Memorial service to remember Craig Somerton is set for Sept. 27 

Craig Somerton, who served the College of Engineering for around 30 years as a popular teacher, colleague, and friend in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, died May 9 in Lansing following a three-year struggle with cancer and complications from diabetes. He was 60. 

Update: The memorial service to remember Craig Somerton is planned for 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 27, at River Terrace Church, 1509 River Terrace, East Lansing, MI 48823. All are welcome to attend. A reception will follow the service. Questions can be directed to gunn@egr.msu.edu.

Alex Diaz, professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said Somerton’s passing is a tremendous loss. “Craig was a colleague and a friend, a booming presence in the College of Engineering,” Diaz said. “He cared deeply for our department and for our students. They recognized Craig’s genuine care and commitment, and loved him back.” 

Craig Somerton, associate professor of mechanical engineering, is being remembered as a "colleague, friend and booming presence in the College of Engineering." He died May 9 at age 60.Diaz said Somerton had a “tremendous dedication and unstoppable perseverance. Craig helped shape our program into what it is today. In the process, he helped shape the lives of several generations of mechanical engineering students. He was a force that could not be ignored and his impact on our department was immense.  He will be deeply missed,” Diaz added. 

Leo Kempel, dean of the College of Engineering, said Somerton was particularly known for going out of his way to help students.

“Craig Somerton helped transform the lives of Spartan Engineers as a teacher and well beyond the classroom,” Kempel said. “He was a leader in curriculum development and a proud proponent of engineering education and program evaluation. He was a favorite consultant to universities on accreditation issues because his commitment was so true. We will miss him and his many contributions both personally and professionally.”

Somerton last taught in the college in fall 2014. 

Laura Genik, his former student and now the director of the college’s Applied Engineering Sciences program, said Somerton was a big reason she became a professor and educator. 

“He was an inspiring teacher and one of the kindest people I knew,” Genik said. “We collaborated on several classes together over the years.  Even when I was working on the West Coast, we would develop the curriculum together to enhance the educational experience for all our students. 

“Not many people can count their PhD advisor among their best friends, but I certainly have always placed Craig there,” she added. “He sang at my wedding in 1995 and has always been known as Grandpa Craig to my children.” 

Craig W. Somerton

Somerton was born in Ventura, Calif., a third-generation Californian. He was raised primarily in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and graduated from Thousand Oaks High School. 

He attended the University of California, Los Angeles. While at UCLA, he served as the graduate student body president, and he sang in the Roger Wagner Master Chorale. The entire family went to the Hollywood Bowl to hear him sing with the Chorale one summer night. 

He earned three degrees from UCLA: a bachelor’s degree in engineering (1976); and a master’s degree (1979) and PhD (1982) in heat and mass transfer. 

He began his academic career at Louisiana State University.  In 1986, he joined the MSU faculty in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, where he earned the rank of associate professor and served as associate chair for undergraduate studies in the department for more than a decade. 

Somerton was a multiple winner of the MSU Withrow Award for Teaching. 

He was an accomplished researcher in the field of porous media. In recent years, his area of emphasis had been pedagogical in nature leading to strong activity in ASEE, serving on the board of the Energy Division, and publishing several papers at the annual conference since 1999. 

His interests especially focused on continuous improvement of engineering education. He led curriculum development and supervised undergraduates in independent study research projects and capstone design projects. For 25 years, he served as faculty advisor for the American Society of Mechanical Engineering student section, which won many design competitions at the Midwest Regional Conference.

He had more than 50 scholarly publications in engineering education to his credit. He served as a program evaluator on 10 accreditation visits and also as a consultant to universities on accreditation issues.

Besides his work, he loved singing, theater, cooking, traveling, watching television, sports, and reading.

He is survived by his mother, Gerri Somerton, Las Vegas, Nev., and his sister, Diana Somerton of Henderson, Nev.; and preceded in death by his father, Mel. 

Gifts to remember Somerton may be directed to the College of Engineering Office of Development at (517) 355-8339 or email at egrdevel@egr.msu.edu

The memorial service to remember Craig Somerton is planned for 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 27, at River Terrace Church, 1509 River Terrace, East Lansing, MI 48823. All are welcome to attend. A reception will follow the service. Questions can be directed to gunn@egr.msu.edu