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Seagrave, Richard

Published onOct 11, 2021
Seagrave, Richard

(December 31, 1935 - )

Quick Facts

A popular professor, known for encouraging students to pursue a second degree outside of chemical engineering.

Born Dec. 31, 1935 in Westerly, Rhode Island, Richard (Dick) Seagrave had many roles at Iowa State University, including interim president and interim provost. He came to Iowa State in 1957 after earning his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Rhode Island.

At Iowa State, Seagrave met one of the greatest influences on his life: Professor Ray Fahien. Seagrave earned his master’s degree from Iowa State in 1959 and his doctorate in 1961. Fahien urged Seagrave to do postdoctoral work at the California Institute of Technology. Seagrave instead opted for a faculty position at the University of Connecticut. “It took me a year to realize that Ray was right,” said Seagrave. He eventually accepted a postdoctoral research fellowship at the California Institute of Technology and then served on the faculty there from 1963-66. While moving from coast to coast, Seagrave maintained contacts with his Iowa State colleagues, particularly Maurice Larson and George Burnet. In 1966, the three men attended an AIChE conference in Philadelphia, and Burnet, who was department head at the time, subsequently offered Seagrave a position. He joined the faculty as an associate professor in 1966 and in 1982 was named an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor of Engineering.

An opportunity to be chemical engineering’s representative in the Iowa State biomedical engineering program was a large factor in drawing Seagrave back to Iowa State. Biomedical engineering was a growing interest of Seagrave’s. Iowa State’s biomedical engineering program began in 1957 as a collaboration of faculty and graduate students in electrical engineering, veterinary anatomy and veterinary physiology and pharmacology.

While he was primarily a member of the chemical engineering faculty, Seagrave spent most of his time with the biomedical engineering program. Almost half of his 28 doctoral graduates majored in biomedical engineering. In 1971, Seagrave published Biomedical Applications of Heat and Mass Transfer, a textbook that developed from his biomedical engineering teaching. For Seagrave, chemical engineering and biomedical engineering had a lot in common because the modeling and analytical skills that are characteristic of chemical engineers, as well as an understanding of transport phenomena and thermodynamics, have significant applications in biological areas.

Seagrave was a popular professor, known for encouraging students to pursue interests outside of chemical engineering, resulting in many Seagrave advisees pursuing double degrees. For more than two decades, he was a devoted advocate of the Honors Program. During his chairmanship of the program, student participation grew by 57 percent and a research participation program was instituted.

Seagrave held several positions at the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET), including chairman from 1996-97. He remained a member of the ABET Executive Committee after retiring, and served as ABET president in 2006. He also traveled the world as part of accreditation teams for chemical engineering programs in such countries as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Seagrave honed his administrative skills as department chair, but his leadership in chemical engineering led to increasing responsibilities across the university. In January 1999, he was appointed interim provost of Iowa State following the resignation of John Kozak, who had held the position since 1992. The provost is the university’s chief academic officer and oversees the university’s colleges, ISU Extension and several research units. The sheer scope of it makes being a provost “the most difficult job on campus,” Seagrave said.

But Seagrave’s Iowa State career up to this point had prepared him well for provost duties. As professor-in-charge of biomedical engineering and in his research, Seagrave had worked with faculty across the campus. He had served on a number of high-level search committees, including those for department of mathematics chair, dean of veterinary medicine, computation center director and Iowa State Achievement Foundation director. He had another interim position — interim director of the ISU Computation Center — under his belt. He chaired the ISU Faculty Senate judicial and appeals committee, and through that worked with various deans, department chairs and the provost’s office. He also had an established relationship with then-President Martin Jischke, having chaired the Senate’s presidential review committee.

During the presidential review, Seagrave worked closely with Jischke. The two men developed a mutual respect, which no doubt played a role in Seagrave’s appointment as interim provost. Seagrave served as interim provost until September 1999.

His return to the faculty didn’t last long, however. In May 2000, Seagrave had just returned from Italy where he was lining up apartments for the Honors Program’s spring semester program in Florence, when it was announced that Jischke was resigning as president of Iowa State to become president of Purdue University. The next month, the Iowa Board of Regents appointed Seagrave interim president.

Seagrave was an avid runner. Groups of faculty members clad in running clothes and coursing across campus during their lunch hour is a fairly familiar site at Iowa State. During his time on campus, Seagrave was a regular member of the pack, running 50 to 60 miles a week. It was a healthy routine and an opportunity for faculty from other Iowa State colleges to interact. At least it was until interim presidential duties ate into Seagrave’s recreational time. In an Ames Tribune article that marked the conclusion of his interimship, Seagrave joked that he’d “gained 20 pounds over the last year.” He attributed it to not running. Seagrave was a committed long-distance runner and participated in four Boston Marathons, including clocking a time of two hours and 47 minutes and coming in third in his age group in 1987.

Seagrave officially assumed interim presidential duties in August 2000 and served until June 2001, when Gregory Geoffroy became president. During his interim-ship, Seagrave dealt with major issues. The biggest was ongoing budget tightening, which resulted, among other things, in a decision to cut the men’s swimming and diving program and the men’s baseball program. This wasn’t an easy decision for as big a sports fan, and in particular a baseball fan, as Seagrave.

Seagrave also eliminated the requirement that students sign a pledge not to drink during VEISHEA weekend. The unpopular pledge had been put in place by Jischke following a VEISHEA marred by rioting.

But Seagrave could have easily left the pledge in place without damaging his popularity with students. In fact, during both interim periods, Seagrave continued to advise as many as 30 students. Of course, instead of coming to Sweeney Hall to meet with Seagrave, the students met their adviser in the president’s office in Beardshear Hall.

Iowa State alum Mary Jane Hagenson doesn’t mince words when it comes to one of her former Iowa State professors, Richard C. Seagrave. “Dr. Seagrave had a tremendous impact on me as a graduate student,” says Hagenson, who completed her MS in 1976 and PhD in 1980 in biomedical engineering and is now vice president for research and technology for the Chevron Phillips Chemical Company. “He is an inspirational teacher and an exceptional individual. His devotion and service to students and the university are second to none.” In an effort to honor Seagrave’s legacy and impact, Hagenson and her husband Randy (BSEE ’72/MSNucE ’73/ PhDNucE ’78) provided an initial gift to establish the Richard C. Seagrave Professorship in Chemical and Biological Engineering.

Selected Sources

Richard C. Seagrave papers, RS 11/4/19, University Archives, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library.

College of Engineering newsletter, Fall 2010.

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