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Claud Erickson Distinguished Alumni Award

2019 - Penny Wirsing, PE

Photo of Penny WirsingReceiving this year’s Claud R. Erickson Distinguished Alumni Award is Penny Wirsing, PE, an environmental manager at Torrance Refining Company LLC in Southern California and the 2019 president of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). The award is the highest honor presented to an alumnus by the college. It recognizes professional accomplishment, volunteer service, and distinguished service to the college and the engineering profession.

Wirsing graduated Mason High School in 1974, and found herself a divorced mother at the age of 18. She began taking classes at Lansing Community College and received an associate’s degree in business management in 1979. She transferred to MSU and earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1983. She later earned an MBA from the University of Washington.

She has been working in the environmental science and engineering fields for more than 30 years. In her current position, she is responsible for ensuring Torrance Refining’s compliance with local, state and federal regulations. She has worked in similar roles for Mobil and ExxonMobil.

Throughout her career, she has mentored young women within her company, in the local community, and at colleges and universities. She was one of five founding members of a networking organization formed in the early 1990s to promote the personal and professional growth of women at Mobil Corporation. She has also volunteered with a broad range of programs to encourage girls to engage in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities.

She is current national president of the Society of Women Engineers, a 40,000-member professional organization dedicated to encouraging women to achieve their full potential in careers as engineers and leaders. She has been an engaged member of SWE since she was a student at MSU, serving in numerous leadership roles.

About the Award

Dean Lawrence Wayne Von Tersch established the Claud R. Erickson Distinguished Alumni Award in 1982. Claud Erickson, for whom the award was named, was the first recipient. Since then, it has been given annually to a College of Engineering graduate with a minimum of 15 years’ professional experience who has attained the highest level of professional accomplishment; provided distinguished and meritorious service to the College of Engineering and the engineering profession; and engaged in voluntary service at the local, state, national, and/or international level.

Nomination Form (.doc)

Past Recipients

Claud Erickson, born in Manistee, Michigan, lived from 1900 to 1993. He had to help support his family during high school and took a full-time job immediately after graduation. At the urging of work associates who recognized his talents, Claud began college, but it was a constant financial struggle. At times, faculty members chipped in to keep him in school.

Claud ultimately received four engineering degrees from MSU, beginning with a bachelor of science in 1922. He later earned degrees in mechanical (1927), electrical (1933), and civil engineering (1934) and held a consulting professional engineer's license. He also studied law and was qualified to practice before the United States Supreme Court.

Claud was the first member of Lambda Chi Alpha, chartered in 1922 as the second fraternity at MSU; it now has well over 2,200 members.

He became the director and general manager of the Lansing Board of Water and Light and spent more than 50 years making the utility a strong, progressive force in the Lansing area. He was a nationally respected figure in public works, and in 1971 the Board named a new power plant in Delta Township after him.

Community activism was a way of life for Claud. He was the Ingham County chairman of the U.S. Treasury Savings Bond Drive for 50 years, beginning in 1941. He was honored in 1991 at the age of 91 by the U.S. Treasury Department for his 50 years of patriotic volunteer service. He was the only person in the United States known to have directed a local drive continuously since the program began during World War II.

He was a delegate to the Michigan Constitutional Convention, chairman of the Ingham County American Red Cross, and a trustee of St. Lawrence Hospital. He served at various times as president of the Lansing Rotary Club, the City Club of Lansing, the American Public Power Association, the Michigan Engineering Society, and the Greater Lansing Area Safety Council.

He was an avid stamp collector and was considered one of the nation's top authorities on electric-powered vehicles. He admired the simplicity of an electric car. He said, "It has only eight moving parts, and four of those are wheels."

Always maintaining close ties with MSU, Claud served on the MSU Foundation's first board of directors. He was asked by President John A. Hannah to oversee the construction of the Alumni Chapel. He also supervised the completion of 7,000 married-student housing units in just five months to accommodate U.S. servicemen returning to campus after World War II.

Claud always attended the spring commencement exercises of MSU's College of Engineering and the initiation ceremonies of the Chi Epsilon civil engineering honor society, and he kept close tabs on each alumnus who won the Claud R. Erickson Award.

When asked by President Hannah at one point, "Why do MSU alumni come back to campus year after year?" he responded, "Because they love the university that offered them the hand of friendship and the open door of opportunity."