Former Department Head E. Downey Brill Jr. initiates program to establish named endowed graduate awards

Dr. Downey Brill served as the head of the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering (CCEE) from 1988 to 2005 and retired from the department in 2019. One of his priorities as head was to further develop the department’s program of graduate education and research. Graduate program development continues to require a strong commitment to recruiting students and the ability to offer nationally competitive financial assistance to attract top students.

Current Head Dr. Morton Barlaz has been working with Downey over the past 18 months to create a program that will initiate and incentivize the establishment of endowed graduate awards. These awards will enable CCEE to offer multiyear supplemental awards to graduate students.

The minimum amount for an endowed graduate student award is $50,000. With a goal of establishing $1 million in endowments, CCEE has garnered commitments of $520,000 in just the past two months to establish awards honoring Downey Brill, Harvey Wahls, Jon Liebman and Robert C. Borden.

“As usual, Downey’s plan worked and incentivized Dr. Roy Borden and me to support an award in his name to recognize all that he did for me during my formative years and all that he has done for the department,” Barlaz says.

CCEE hopes to establish additional named endowed awards recognizing other faculty and donors. There is now an opportunity for additional donors to establish such named endowments with a $25,000 or greater contribution payable over as many as five years. Each endowment fund will meet the $50,000 minimum using a one-to-one matching dollar commitment from Downey and Anne Brill. As many as eight such endowments are possible given the Brills’ commitment of up to an additional $200,000 in matching funds. This matching commitment is also available for additional contributions to any of the endowments listed above to increase the number and dollar amount of awards that can be made to students.

“Anne and I are delighted to join Harvey Wahls in supporting an award for him; he served as director of graduate programs for many years and helped enormously in building all aspects of our program,” Brill says. “We are also pleased to join Bob and Ann Borden in supporting an award for Bob, an outstanding faculty member who worked with graduate students on groundwater remediation research that has resulted in the cleanup of thousands of contaminated sites around the world. Finally, we take special pleasure in helping fund the award for Jon Liebman, who was my thesis advisor as well as mentor and colleague for many years at the University of Illinois.”

“This program provides the department with tremendous flexibility in recruiting nationally competitive graduate students and will serve the department well for decades to come,” says Dr. Ranji Ranjithan, director of graduate programs.

Please contact Griffin Lamb ( if you would like more information and are interested in contributing to this initiative.