Friends, faculty remember McCormick Prof. Edwin Rossow

Prof. emeritus Edwin Rossow

Photo provided by Amanda Morris

Prof. emeritus Edwin Rossow

Catherine Kim, Reporter

Civil and environmental engineering Prof. emeritus Edwin Rossow died earlier this month at the age of 80. He had taught at the McCormick School of Engineering since 1965.  

Rossow died unexpectedly Feb. 5 after more than 40 years at Northwestern. Throughout his career, he was known for his personal dedication to his students, said Prof. Raymond Krizek, who worked with Rossow in the civil and environmental engineering department. Though he was a successful researcher, Rossow’s true passion was in teaching, Krizek said.

Much of Rossow’s support for his students came from outside of the classroom, he said. Students would often come to Rossow with personal problems, and he was always willing to listen and give advice, Krizek said.

“There’s more to student interactions than just the classrooms and homework,” he said. “Sometimes students need somebody to talk to. He was always there for that kind of stuff as well, beyond just school and classes.”

His teaching and research specialized in computer methods for analyzing and designing structures, which are used in designing steel and assessing the behavior of reinforced concrete.

Prof. Karen Chou, who was one of Rossow’s students for her graduate and doctoral studies before becoming one of his fellow professors, described Rossow as a friend, mentor and father figure. Having lost her father when she was 14, Chou said Rossow provided her the guidance and care that she had been missing. At the beginning of her teaching career, she said he advised her to be vigilant against external pressure and never give up on her standards, which is advice she still carries today.

“He always had high standards and high expectations when I was a student,” Chou said. “He was always available outside the class even though he didn’t have official office hours. (Since then) we had kept in touch, and I visited him very frequently. We were friends.”

As proof of his kindness and passion for teaching, Chou recalled asking Rossow to teach one of her courses because she was facing an overwhelming workload. Although he was retired at the time, he took on the job, which is not common for those who have left academia, she said.

To express her gratitude for Rossow’s friendship and dedication to his students, Chou raised money to endow the “Edwin C. Rossow Prize for Structural Engineering,” a scholarship reserved for seniors who show excellence in structural engineering, for Rossow’s 60th birthday.

It is rare for students to independently campaign for an endowed scholarship without any encouragement from the University, which shows how much Rossow was appreciated by his students, Krizek said.

Beyond the classroom, Prof. Zdeněk Bažant remembered Rossow as a good friend. Bažant said the two worked together at Sargent & Lundy, a power generation and power transmission company located in Chicago, in the 1970s. They continued to teach together at Northwestern and worked together for more than 30 years, he said.

“We both bicycled to school everyday summer and winter, for about 20 years,” Bažant said. “He surely kept me fit.”

Krizek, too, remembered Rossow as a close friend whom he could always trust. He always admired Rossow’s integrity and self-respect, he said. Rossow gave back to his community by serving on Wilmette’s school board and zoning board and volunteering for the Boy Scouts of America, Krizek said.

“If you had to do a DNA of the ideal person, he was as close to ideal (as) you could get,” he said. “He did all things you’re supposed to do to take care of yourself.”

A memorial service will be held at Alice Millar Chapel on May 13.

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