William Elmhirst Duckering developed the University of Alaska’s first-rate engineering program as the institution struggled through its early decades. In later years, he often filled in for Charles Bunnell when the president was afflicted by diabetes.
Duckering, born in England in 1882, earned three degrees from the University of Washington while working as a professional engineer in the Pacific Northwest. After securing an advanced degree in 1916, he held faculty positions at UW, Iowa State and the University of British Columbia. He married Elisabeth Hampton, whose daughters Druska (Carr Schaible) and Lesley (Salisbury) by a previous marriage would eventually follow them to Fairbanks. In 1930, he resigned from UBC because of health problems.
Before coming to Alaska, Duckering invented the soon-to-be ubiquitous “engineering problem paper,” according to Neil Davis ’55,’61, author of “The College Hill Chronicles.” “Students everywhere were soon required to hand in work neatly performed on the background sea of little green squares that covered each sheet of Duckering’s paper,” Davis wrote.
Bunnell lured Duckering north to head the engineering department at the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines in 1932. After arriving, Duckering designed a five-year engineering program because “it was his thought that a student, to become a useful member of society, must have a well-rounded education,” according to a speech delivered by his former student Woodrow Johansen at the 1964 Duckering Building dedication. Adding a year allowed both a broad education and a year of specialization, Johansen said.
Duckering rose to become dean of the university. He planned to retire in 1950 but worried about his income. In recognition of his years of service, the UA Board of Regents on Oct. 5 voted to ask the Legislature to give him a pension of $7,200 per year.
“As the board broke for lunch, it informed Duckering of the action,” Davis wrote. “He was so elated with the news that he ran home to tell his wife. Arriving there, he collapsed on the living room couch and died.”
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