A Forward-Looking Donor

By:
Katy Smith and Jill Goetz,

John Somerhalder ’77 and his wife, Rebecca, have made a $1 million gift to the Dean’s Endowed Fund for Excellence in Engineering, a crucial resource for College of Engineering Dean Jeffrey Goldberg and future deans of the college.
 

This year, Goldberg will use the funding to train faculty in collaborative teaching. Instructors of freshman- and sophomore-level courses are learning to maximize students’ active participation using technology, interactive learning and small-group learning cohorts. 

Somerhalder is a shining example not only of a College of Engineering alumnus, says Goldberg, but also of the state university system.

“He was an Arizona kid, and he made great. He got a strong education here, worked really hard, had some good luck and moved up through the energy industry. Now he gives back to his communities,” he says.

Somerhalder continues to serve as an industry and civic leader after retiring as CEO and board chair at Atlanta-based AGL Resources, the nation’s largest natural gas-only distribution utility. 

Somerhalder talked to us about making the most of opportunities to brighten the future and honor the past.

A gift for greatest needs: In this case, my wife and I have simply gained a level of trust with the people that are administering this gift. They know where the most important needs are, and we want to give them the flexibility to take care of what’s most important at the time.
 
Chairing the Atlanta BeltLine project: It’s generally viewed as maybe the highest-impact redevelopment in the nation right now. 
 
Atlanta came about because it was a major rail terminus, and so we had a tremendous infrastructure related to the rail system. And then a 22-mile loop was built around the city center for industrial sites. Most of those industrial facilities and most of the rail corridor were abandoned over time.  
 
The BeltLine project provided an opportunity to take care of environmental remediation, economic development and affordable housing. The BeltLine will ultimately connect all the communities within the loop with public transportation, multiuse trails and parks. 
 
We still have a long way to go, but it’s been remarkably successful. This is where people in Atlanta want to live now, especially the millennial generation. 
 
On being named 2016 Engineering Alumnus of the Year: I’ve been side by side with engineers from universities like MIT and Purdue and Georgia Tech over the past 40 years. I believe the UA provided absolutely the highest level of education, so it was an honor that they recognized me as well.
 
Free time: I spend it with my six grandkids and sometimes my four kids. The grandkids are a lot more fun.