The humanitarian engineer

Dr. Becker BASc ’67 posing in CEI.Although Dr. Becker BASc ’67, PhD ’70, has worked all over the globe, he always maintained a close relationship with the university. He even brought and sometimes paid out of his own pocket for engineering students to join him on his pro bono projects across the country and in rural China.

Norm Becker’s contribution to the engineering profession is incomparable. Dr. Nihar Biswas, UWindsor environmental engineering professor, says that not only did Becker mentor him, he’s inspired hundreds of UWindsor engineering students.

“Norm is a true role model who instills confidence and integrity in our students and, while succeeding in the engineering profession, has given back so much to the community,” Dr. Biswas says about the University of Windsor alumnus who’s spent his 51-year career working on complex engineering projects across North America, the Middle East, Africa, South America, the Caribbean and China.

Although Dr. Becker P.Eng. BASc ’67, PhD ’70 has worked all over the globe, he always maintained a close relationship with UWindsor. He even brought — and sometimes paid the cost out of his own pocket — engineering students with him on his pro bono projects across the country and in rural China.

For more than three years, Becker recruited engineers, students and trades people to design and plan water filtration systems for villages in the Chinese province of Shandong. While there, Becker and his team of volunteers took time to rebuild a fire-damaged medical clinic that sat unused for more than a year.

“Every school-aged child in the village inspected our work daily and charmed us with their smiles,” says Becker. “I think a few of them may aspire to become engineers themselves.”

Over the last 18 years, he has mentored more than 50 UWindsor undergraduate students. The UWindsor adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering and founder and president of The Becker Engineering Group of consulting companies has hired Windsor undergraduate and graduate students since 1970.

“It hasn’t been a one-way street,” says Becker. “They have been generous in sharing their experiences with me, as well.”

Becker even funded the Faculty of Engineering’s annual Cameron MacInnis Memorial Award, the annual Tom Akeley Memorial Award and, most recently after visiting campus in 2017, the Class of 1967 Civil Engineering Scholarship in partnership with his classmates. He was recognized as an Outstanding Philanthropist in 2010 by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and in 2011 received UWindsor’s Clark Award, which recognizes individuals who have increased the profile and reputation of the university.

Although he often traveled the globe to help the less fortunate, much of his pro bono work has taken place in the city he’s called home since he and his parents landed here in 1951 as refugee immigrants from East Germany. Becker and the member companies of his engineering group have sponsored more than 25 local pro bono projects, including restoration of the All Saints’ Anglican Church and an historic Harrow cemetery; construction of the Turkey Creek Pedestrian Bridge and the Const. John Atkinson Memorial Bridge; design and installation of the Underground Railroad National Historic Site monument, a Field of Dreams monument for the Windsor and Essex County Cancer Centre Foundation, and a monument in tribute to members of the community who provide moral and financial support to the victims of Alzheimer’s Disease and their families.

Dr. Paul Henshaw, head of the university’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, says he has always admired Becker’s versatility as an engineer.

“From water treatment systems in China, to accident investigation in North America, to designing — and building without the use of heavy machinery — a pedestrian bridge in LaSalle, he has shown how the engineering process can be successfully applied in a number of situations,” says Dr. Henshaw. “His pro bono work also demonstrates the often unseen work of engineers in benefiting the public. He exemplifies the two pillars upon which successful engineering is based: skill and ethics.”

Using his profession to help others is paramount to the engineering professor. During Becker’s time as a councillor with Professional Engineers Ontario, he developed a comprehensive pro bono action plan focused on mobilizing licensed Professional Engineers in Ontario to become more pro-active in donating their professional services to help charities, service clubs and non-profit organizations implement community projects.

In addition, Becker has completed more than 1,000 forensic engineer investigations into major building, infrastructure and industrial losses resulting from explosions, fires, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and other disasters. He has even given expert evidence at more than 50 trials, inquests, tribunals, and hearings.

But Becker says he isn’t a “self-made man.”

“I have been married to Mary Ellen for 51 blissful years. Both she and our two children rolled up their own sleeves and worked on many of my pro bono projects, including those we completed in rural China, which enriched our lives and reduced our waistlines. My personal and professional life have been closely intertwined.”