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Blake R Van Leer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Blake R. Van Leer
Blake Ragsdale Van Leer.gif
5th President of the Georgia Institute of Technology
In office
Preceded byMarion L. Brittain
Succeeded byEdwin D. Harrison
Dean of Engineering University of Florida
In office
Dean of Engineering North Carolina State University
In office
Personal details
BornAugust 16, 1893
Mangum, Oklahoma
DiedJanuary 23, 1956(1956-01-23) (aged 62)
Atlanta, Georgia
Spouse(s)Ella Lillian Wall Van Leer
ChildrenBlake Van Leer, Maryly Van Leer Peck, Samuel Van Leer
Alma materPurdue University
University of Caen Normandy
University of California, Berkeley
OccupationUniversity president and Colonel
AwardsCroix de Guerre
Military service
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1917-1953
US-O6 insignia.svg
Corps of Engineers (United States)
Corps of Engineers
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II

Blake Ragsdale Van Leer (a.k.a. Blake Van Leer) (August 16, 1893 – January 23, 1956) was the fifth president of Georgia Institute of Technology, founder of Southern Polytechnic State University, former dean of University of Florida and North Carolina State University. He was also a United States Army officer. During his 12-year tenure at Georgia Tech, women were admitted for the first time, steps were made towards integration, Tech changed its name from Georgia School of Technology to the Georgia Institute of Technology and went through a dramatic change.

Early life and education

Van Leer was born in Mangum, Oklahoma. After his father's death in 1897 he became an orphan without family and lived in a Masonic Orphanage in Galveston, Texas. He graduated with honours from Purdue University in 1915 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. After World War I, he studied at University of Caen in France and returned to Berkeley where he received an M.S. in mechanical engineering. He later received a second master's degree from Purdue. Van Leer would also receive two honorary doctorates from Washington and Jefferson College and Purdue. In 1924 he married Ella Lillian Wall in Berkeley, California. He was awarded a traveling scholarship from American Society of Mechanical Engineers to study at University of Munich. In the 1920's he worked as an engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company and invented the California pipe method for measuring water. [1]

His daughter Maryly Van Leer Peck also became an engineer[2] and college president.


From 1932 to 1937 he was a Dean at the University of Florida.[3] During his tenure at Florida, he also worked with the Florida State Planning Board and directed a number of engineering institutes in the state. In 1937 he became the Dean of the School of Engineering at NC State University. While there he started the graduate program for engineering. Later, he was initiated as an honorary of the NCSU chapter of Theta Tau Professional Engineering Fraternity. Around 1940, with the permission of Dean Harrelson, Van Leer gave half his time towards the North Carolina Office for Defense orders. He resigned his post as Dean in 1942 to take a military leave.[4]


Van Leer's military career started with his appointment as second Lieutenant Engineer in the Officers Reserve Corps for the U.S. Army in July 1917. He was promoted after World War I and became a Captain. Van Leer was awarded the French Croix de Guerre. [5]He was reappointed in 1925 as a Major for the Corps of Engineers and later became Lieutenant Colonel in October 1942 for the Army Specialized Training Division. He was promoted to Colonel the following year and remained active during several periods of his life, until he retired in 1953.[6]

Georgia Tech

Main entrance to the Van Leer Building on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology
Main entrance to the Van Leer Building on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology

After World War II he returned to become the President of Georgia Tech. During his tenure the school admitted women for the first time[7] and began steps toward integration.[8] He stood up to Georgia governor Marvin Griffin's demand to bar Bobby Grier from participating in the 1956 Sugar Bowl game between Georgia Tech and Grier's University of Pittsburgh. In anticipation of Grier's presence against Georgia Tech, Georgia governor Marvin Griffin, in December 1955, publicly sent a telegram to his state's Board Of Regents imploring that teams from Georgia not engage in racially integrated events which had blacks either as participants or in the stands. Georgia Tech's president Blake Ragsdale Van Leer rejected this request, which would not serve him well in the 1950s. Van Leer also threaten to resign as a show of support. Griffin would later request that President Van Leer and Georgia Tech's players be punished, Van Leer stuck to his statements and later received a standing ovation from the faculty senate.[9] He was also instrumental in making the school and Atlanta the first major research center in the American South. The building that houses Tech's school of Electrical and Computer Engineering bears his name.[10][11]

While still president Blake Ragsdale Van Leer had died of a heart attack on January 24, 1956 at the Atlanta Veterans Hospital.[12]

Southern Polytechnic State University


Van Leer played a crucial role in establishing the Southern Polytechnic State University now known as Kennesaw State University and considered its founder. After World War II, the need for technicians spiked due to a major economic shift in Georgia from being a largely agricultural state to one that is more industry heavy.[13] The new industries required technicians to bridge the growing gap between engineers and craftsmen, effectively the gap between research/development and building/implementing. At the time, most technical institutes in the United States were in the northeastern states; thus the need for a technical institute in the south was great.[14]

In response to the growing demand, the president of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Colonel Blake R. Van Leer, sought to establish a technical institute program in Georgia. In 1945 he was approached by the Associated Industries of Georgia (AIG) who shared their common desire to have such a program and offered Van Leer their support. It took years for Van Leer to convince the Board of Regents to give Georgia Tech authorization to establish a technical institute. On October 8, 1947 the authorization was granted. The location chosen for the fledgling institute was a Naval Air Station in Chamblee, GA, which eventually became the site of DeKalb–Peachtree Airport.[15]:1 The first director was to be Professor Lawrence V. Johnson, and it was going to open under the name of The Technical Institute.[15]:4 On March 24, 1948 The Technical Institute held registration for the spring quarter and 116 students enrolled (all but 10 World War II veterans), including one young woman named Barbara Hudson.[15]:19,23[16] The institute had a staff of 12.[16]


Long after his death, Van Leer continues to be remembered through scholarships awards, a building that bears his name, frequent stories about his tenure featured on various online news channels and his descendants. [17]

Many of Van Leer's descendants would achieve notable careers in engineering, academia and or technology, e.g.:

See also


  1. ^ "NC State Alumni News" (PDF). NC State. 1937. p. 7.
  2. ^ "Mother's an Engineer". Life. 1962. pp. 102–106.
  3. ^ "History of the ECE Department: 1930-1939". UFL. Archived from the original on 2010-06-03. Retrieved 2009-06-11.
  4. ^ "Guide to the North Carolina State University College of Engineering Annual Reports". NCSU. Archived from the original on 2014-04-25. Retrieved 2009-06-11.
  5. ^ "History of the ECE Department: 1930-1939". Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Retrieved 2013-07-09.
  6. ^ "Georgia Tech Library".
  7. ^ "Women: 30 Years at Tech". Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Vol. 58 no. 1. Georgia Tech Alumni Association. 1982. pp. 9–13.
  8. ^ McMath, p.282
  9. ^ Jake Grantl (2019-11-14). "Rearview Revisited: Segregation and the Sugar Bowl". Georgia Tech. Retrieved 2019-11-14.
  10. ^ "Campus Map: Van Leer Building". Retrieved 2007-05-20.
  11. ^ Bobby Dodd (1984-12-30). "Bobby Dodd Interview". New York Times.
  12. ^ "Blake Van Leer, Educator, Dead; Georgia Tech President Was 62--Barred Cancellation of Bowl Game Over Negro Hailed by Faculty Basketball Game Off". The New York Times. January 24, 1956.
  13. ^ The Macon Telegraph, 3 March 1948
  14. ^ W. L. Hughes, "A Brief Chronology of the Technical Institute Movement in America." The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), 1947.
  15. ^ a b c Bennett, Richard A. (1998). Southern Polytechnic State University: The History (PDF). Southern Polytechnic State University Foundation.
  16. ^ a b "KSU | Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology - History". Retrieved 2018-01-09.
  17. ^ "Rearview Mirror: New Institute Order". Retrieved 2019-03-07.
  18. ^ "Navy Civil Engineer, Volumes 11-12". 1970-04-14. Retrieved 2020-02-03.
  19. ^ "Biography of Van Leer Family".

Works cited

External links

This page was last edited on 20 July 2020, at 16:52
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