New Mexico State University engineering alum Michael Gittings credits a former professor for changing the trajectory of his life. The experience inspired him to establish the Michael and June Gittings Endowed Chair in the College of Engineering.
The professor was Milan Cobble, who taught mechanical engineering at NMSU for 22 years. Gittings, who was not a graduate student or an engineering student, took a graduate course in numerical analysis in 1965. This course inspired Gittings, the self-described “terrible student,” to change his major from math to mechanical engineering.
In 1968 he had a summer job at the Nuclear Rocket Development Station at the Nevada Test Site. Using numerical methods learned in Cobble’s class, Gittings developed a superior method to solve a problem of interest. His boss was so impressed that he offered Gittings a job when he graduated the following year. This resulted in a job at Systems, Science and Software (S-Cubed) from 1969-1974 where he began working on and then developing computational fluid dynamics (CFD) computer codes. In 1974 he left S-Cubed with two senior scientists to form Pacifica Technology (PacTech). In 1987, PacTech was acquired by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) where he started developing the RAGE (Radiation Adaptive Grid Eulerian) family of Adaptive Mesh Refinement CFD codes, and in 1994 he was awarded a contract to bring his work to the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
In 1995, Gittings was awarded the SAIC Achievement Award for Science and Technology for his work developing RAGE. During the following years, he received several Distinguished Performance Awards from LANL and in 2004, he, along with a LANL colleague, were nominated for the first Los Alamos National Laboratory Medal for “their exceptional distinguished contributions. … By implementing a calculational method different from typically used, they have changed the direction of the scientific tools used to solve problems of interest to Los Alamos National Laboratory.”
“Dr. Cobble’s class was a pivot point for my life,” Gittings said. “It got me thinking in different ways. I can link the success of my career back to that class.”
Gittings and his late wife, June, a former head librarian for the Salk Institute of Biological Sciences in La Jolla, California, had already included NMSU in their estate planning. In 2019, they began the process to establish the endowed chair, which will soon be awarded to a faculty member in the College of Engineering.
“I was in a position to do more and I wanted to make a difference,” Gittings said. “It would be great if we could get undergraduate students in engineering to begin thinking differently.”
“We are extremely grateful to the Gittings for their generosity,” said College of Engineering Dean Lakshmi N. Reddi. “Michael recognizes through his own experience how important it is for us to support our senior faculty members. Our hope is that his gift will enable a deserving professor to change lives the same way that Dr. Cobble did.”