Don Newman Flies High and Bears Down

Dec. 10, 2019

One of Interdisciplinary Capstone’s most dedicated volunteers is honored at Homecoming 2019.


David Hahn, Craig M. Berge Dean of the College of Engineering, presents Don Newman the 2019 Bear Down Award at Homecoming.

For Don Newman, the 2019 recipient of the College of Engineering’s Bear Down Award, studying engineering at the University of Arizona was what he calls “a foregone conclusion.”

His dad was an electrical engineer, and Newman, a third-generation Arizonan, had always been interested in science. He’d even won the Davidson Elementary science fair in fifth grade, for creating a refrigeration cycle in transparent glass.

He came to the university in the late 1960s to pursue engineering math – now called systems engineering – and minored in aerospace engineering, because he planned to go into the Air Force after graduation. In those years, all male students were required to enroll in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Army ROTC was the most popular option, but when enrollment day came for Newman and his friends, fate intervened.

“We went over to Old Main to sign up, and the shortest line was for Air Force ROTC, so we joined that,” recalled Newman, who had earned his pilot’s license when he was 16. “Then they said they’d offer me a scholarship, and after they did a physical, they said I could fly.”

After graduating in 1971, Newman entered the Air Force as a flight test engineer. He didn’t leave until 20 years later, after he’d earned a master’s degree in systems engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, gone to test pilot school and become squadron commander. From there, he took a job at Lockheed Martin as a program manager and then joined Raytheon, where he worked as an engineering fellow and program director.

“I couldn’t have done it without being an engineer,” he said. “The primary requirement as far back as getting into test pilot school was to be an engineer.”

Staying Busy and Giving Back

When he retired in 2011, Newman decided to spend his newfound free time giving back to his alma mater. He started helping professor Ricardo Valerdi with his Science of Sportprogram – then called Science of Baseball – and did some guest lecturing for courses in the Department of Systems and Industrial Engineering and the Eller College of Management.

Then Bob Lepore, director of the engineering management program, asked Newman if he’d be willing to help organize Engineering Design Day 2014. It was the start of a partnership that has made the college and program both stronger, as Newman has been a driving force behind the organization and execution of Design Day ever since.

“Participation in Design Day has doubled during Don’s tenure – in April, 600 students on 120 teams showed their projects to more than 1,000 visitors,” said Craig M. Berge Dean David W. Hahn at Homecoming 2019, where he presented Newman with a plaque in recognition of extraordinary service.

“For his dedication to supporting the college and its students, the University of Arizona Alumni Association and the College of Engineering are very proud to honor Don Newman with this award.”

When Newman accepted his award, he took the microphone for a brief moment. Had he prepared a speech? No, just the quintessential Don Newman reminder:

“I want to make sure we thank all of the volunteers out there, because we couldn’t do it without you,” he said. “And there’s only 184 days until Design Day!”

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