Howard University mechanical engineering alumnus and professor emeritus Lewis Thigpen, Ph.D., PE (BSME ’64) was invited to deliver a lecture as a distinguished alumnus at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering (MMAE) Department’s 2022 MMAE Student Research Competition and Departmental Awards.
Thigpen was the keynote speaker for the awards ceremony at which he delivered a lecture titled “Overcoming Challenges for Success in a Changing World.” In his lecture, he discussed highlights from his memoir, “Born and Raised in Sawdust: My Journey around the World in Eighty Years”.
Having been raised during the Jim Crow era on a small family farm in rural Gadsden County, Florida, Thigpen shared his compelling story. He highlighted his path as a Black man becoming an engineer, scientist, academic and university administrator while navigating the ingrained racism in society and specifically within the power structures of some of the country’s most well-known and respected scientific institutions.
Curiosity, creativity and a desire to put his knowledge into practice are what Thigpen demonstrated as key factors to his path to success. From his own life, Thigpen provided powerful insight on how race, politics, limited resources and developments in technology permeate every aspect of American society in a changing world.
At Howard University, Thigpen served as professor in and chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering for over sixteen years until his retirement in 2008. During his tenure, he mentored numerous students and faculty, recommended faculty for American Society of Mechanical Engineers Fellowship, supporting them in career advancement, made transformative changes in the program and curriculum and in 1995 hired Sonya T. Smith, Ph.D., the first female Howard University mechanical engineering faculty member.
Thigpen received his Master of Science and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1967 and 1970, respectively.