by Greg Scott
CARBONDALE, Ill. — A common trait that successful executives share is the ability to recognize a solid investment. SIU Distinguished Alumnus Dick Blaudow, founder, chairman and CEO of Advanced Technology Services (ATS) Inc., in Peoria, is no different.
In 2006, Blaudow and his wife, Brigitte, donated $250,000 to SIU Carbondale’s College of Engineering to create an engineering leadership development program. Their gift funded 14 scholarships for community college graduates in the state of Illinois who planned on attending Southern. Just more than three years later, the Blaudows are contributing an additional $76,000 to fund five more scholarships. Recipients receive a two-year scholarship covering the cost of tuition, in addition to a paid summer internship at ATS offering hands-on manufacturing and leadership experience.
“I have great interest in the College of Engineering and SIU Carbondale. William Osborne (former engineering dean) motivated me to establish this program,” says Blaudow, a former member of the SIU Foundation Board of Directors. “It goes beyond ATS — I would like to see other corporations willing to support students through a leadership program like this one. Our University would be unique in this respect and stand for something.
“As our students continue to become leaders in supervision and management, it could urge parents to send their child to SIU. Leadership development is something our University could become known for.”
The 1970 electrical engineering graduate says ATS hired five SIU students who were recruited into the program. ATS provides managed services for production equipment maintenance, industrial parts repair and IT infrastructure support for manufacturers. The Peoria-based company employs more than 1,700 people, has five branch offices, and has more than 150 customer-site locations in the United States and Mexico.
“We were fortunate to have jobs for them when they graduated in May. These young people are doing well and we are very impressed,” he says. “I’ve had the privilege of spending time with them, meeting their families, and introducing them to other business and industry leaders. Brigitte and I call them ‘our kids.’
“We look forward to continuing the program.”
Bruce DeRuntz, an associate professor at Southern who directs the program, says Blaudow’s gift is a result of his strong desire to continue and expand the program. Recently, DeRuntz has also been awarded a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to expand the program. The grant will allot the same basic funding for 29 students over the next four years.
“There is really no greater testament or validation of this program’s merit than to have the National Science Foundation exhibit this level of support,” DeRuntz says. “Our plan is for this program to mature into a leadership development institute with major corporate sponsors who have their own cohort of students participating. They will see the value of this early leadership development through high potential students.”
DeRuntz says the program is beneficial to all parties involved.
“Dick’s company is continuing to grow but a limiting factor is identifying and developing future technical leaders. This program provides ATS with an opportunity to develop their own leaders early on,” he says. “It presents Dick with an opportunity to give back to his alma mater which he has always maintained a strong relationship with. In addition, the leadership program provides financial support for students who are willing to work hard. This is what Dick and Brigitte set out to accomplish when they made the initial donation.”
Rickey N. McCurry, vice chancellor for institutional advancement and chief executive officer of the SIU Foundation, says the program supports multiple University objectives.
“This gift further exemplifies Dick and Brigitte Blaudow’s deep devotion to SIU Carbondale, the College of Engineering and its students. Their commitment accentuates the SIU Foundation’s motto of ‘Investing in Saluki Futures,’” he says. “The leadership program not only provides a significant recruitment vehicle for the College of Engineering, but it prepares our students to hit the ground running upon entering the workforce. The Blaudows have been extraordinarily supportive for several years and their vision continues to move this University forward.”
Blaudow’s vision is to develop leaders for the manufacturing industry, which he says has become a rare quality.
“There are fewer young people interested in manufacturing … which is disturbing and a challenge for those of us engaged in the industry,” he says. “In addition, the manufacturing environment is becoming more complex. As a result, we need a more educated, technology-savvy workforce and leadership skills are required.”
SIU’s engineering leadership program is designed to assist in developing and preparing students for leadership roles in manufacturing. DeRuntz says students are required to develop leadership skills via extra-curricular activities in the University and Carbondale communities.
“We meet weekly, invite military and industrial leaders in to speak and offer as much hands-on-experience as possible,” he says. “Our students are required to assume leadership roles in registered student organizations on campus, participate in the Beautify Southern Illinois clean-up project, and lead trail maintenance at Shawnee National Forest. Their leadership and ability to work as an effective team is beginning to gain national attention through their success the last two years in a national robotic competition.
“They nearly swept all of the awards at last year’s ATMAE competition. Other universities have begun to realize that SIU is always a contender for the championship.”
The expectations continue once they join ATS.
“We work these kids hard and have high expectations. They are introduced to industry and business leaders, and exposed to various large industry events,” Blaudow says. “They have to demonstrate leadership, be engaged in teamwork and resourcefulness. As a result, they spend a lot of time working on weekends as opposed to being out having fun.
“This is a good thing for our students who are ready to get a job when they graduate. It’s also good for companies who are making this investment in young people attending SIU. We’ve been very pleased and as a result, decided to step up again and bring in more students. It’s a really good thing for SIU.”