News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

April 21, 2012

Rose-Hulman mourns president’s death

‘Visionary’ Branam dies after collapsing in campus office

TERRE HAUTE — Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology is mourning the loss of its 14th president, Matt Branam, who died Friday after a sudden medical emergency in his office.

He was transported to a local hospital by ambulance and died shortly after his arrival.

William R. Fenoglio, chairman of Rose-Hulman’s board of trustees, stated that the loss “saddens us deeply. Matt Branam was unique and talented; as a graduate of Rose-Hulman, he brought a level of passion for the school that created new energy on our campus.”

He described Branam as a “visionary” who celebrated the college’s achievements and enthusiastically shared them with people throughout Indiana and across the country.

“We all express our deepest condolences to his family,” Fenoglio said.

Details about Rose-Hulman’s interim leadership and memorial services will be forthcoming, he said. The Rose-Hulman board is expected to meet by conference call Monday to make a decision about interim leadership.

Branam, 57, was a Terre Haute native who earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Rose-Hulman in 1979. He was elected Rose-Hulman’s president in late 2009 after serving five months in an interim role.

“I returned to my alma mater to become president because I could not think of a more vital or important place to be at this moment in American history,” Branam stated recently. He was a strong advocate of science, math and engineering education in solving global issues.

Trenton Tabor, a Rose-Hulman senior, worked with Branam on a number of projects. “He was a mentor to me,” Tabor said. “I learned a great deal from him about trying to lead such a diverse organization as Rose-Hulman” and how to reconcile various groups that had different perspectives.

Branam was “so accessible” to students, Tabor said. “I met often with him about decisions he made and the direction he was going. … He was willing to talk with me and explain what he was doing.”

Tabor, Branam and other students worked together on a fun project just Wednesday, when they put together a video announcement for campus to inform them that Dean Kamen — world-famous inventor and science advocate —  would be the commencement speaker on May 26.

Branam rode a Segway, a two-wheeled electric vehicle invented by Kamen, on campus. “He had a great time,” Tabor said. Branam sent it out on campus email late Thursday night and students were watching it Friday morning, although it was removed after he died.

“It will be a lot of students’ last memory of him,” happily riding around campus talking about the commencement speaker, Tabor said.

In another project, Tabor was in charge of a senior class giving campaign and the goal was to raise $10,000 to support a scholarship. He asked for Branam’s help, and Branam pledged to personally match the amount raised up to $10,000.

Friday was a “very sad day for me,” Tabor said. “I will miss him a great deal and the campus will as well.”

Bill Kline, dean of faculty, said the campus reaction “was one of shock, sadness and loss.”

During his tenure as president, Branam “came in and held us all to a very high standard of performance and excellence.”   

The president “had done an outstanding job” of starting a strategic planning process to establish a vision “for the next great chapter at the institution,” Kline said. The campus is committed to continuing that effort, called “The Great Debate.”

During Branam’s tenure, “There was a sense of pride and energy on campus” and anticipation about the future,” Kline said.

Fenoglio said Branam wanted Rose-Hulman known worldwide for its excellence in engineering, science and math. While he was a “superb leader of the present,” Branam’s most important contribution was his work to define the institute’s future, Fenoglio said.

Accomplishments during Branam’s tenure include the launching of a strategic planning process that so far has involved more than 2,000 alumni, corporate and education leaders, faculty, staff, student and parents. He also presided while Rose-Hulman maintained its No. 1 ranking in U.S. News & World Report’s annual college ranking of specialized undergraduate engineering institutions.  

His tenure also was marked by several facility improvements including the creation of a collaborative student working environment, the Student Innovation Center, which opened last fall; the construction of a 240-bed LEED-certified residence hall, to be open this fall; the construction on the William Alfred Cook Laboratory for Bioscience Research, now under way; and the remodeling of five state-of-the-art classrooms, opening this fall. He also expanded global awareness and diversity initiatives.

Before becoming Rose-Hulman’s president, Branam had a 24-year career at United Parcel Service (1972-1996) and rose to the position of vice president of public affairs in Washington, D.C.

He also was the first-ever chief operating officer of the American Red Cross, serving at the request of former Red Cross president Elizabeth Dole. During his tenure, the nonprofit organization’s operating revenue grew by 38 percent to $2.5 billion annually.

Branam is survived by three adult children: Clint, Washington, D.C.; Travis, Terre Haute; and Brooke, Alexandria, Va.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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