Future of engineering alumni engagement begins with a single step

By Matt Murphy | July 10, 2023

For Brian Horsfield, recognition was never a factor when he and his wife, Louanne, created the Once an Aggie Engineer, Always an Aggie Engineer Alumni Engagement Fund at UC Davis. Sitting in downtown Davis in April, Brian says it’s about showing what’s possible when someone makes the decision to give back.

“It has to start somewhere,” Brian said. “There’s all sorts of people who wish things or want something. But it has to start with somebody sponsoring something that’s concrete. My hope is that with this seed money, others will be attracted to that.”

The Once an Aggie Engineer, Always an Aggie Engineer Alumni Engagement Fund is a first-of-its-kind fund that will help usher in a new era of alumni relations for the College of Engineering. By providing a stable source of income annually, college staff will be able to execute a sophisticated engagement plan designed to grow and impact various programs.

The impetus for endowing the fund came to Brian in 2018 when he gave his acceptance speech as the 2017 Distinguished Engineering Alumni Medal recipient. He’d been thinking of the loyalty other groups build and the Marines with their “once a Marine, always a Marine” slogan came to mind. That lifelong enthusiasm and loyalty struck a chord with him as an environment to replicate with College of Engineering alumni.

“We finally created an opportunity to put my money where my mouth is,” Brian joked. “There’s a possibility that it sets an example for someone else.”

Brian attended Santa Rosa Junior College and transferred to UC Davis, graduating with his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 1966, the same year he and Louanne met. He later earned his master’s of engineering in 1968 and a doctorate in agricultural engineering in 1971.

Following his first faculty appointment at Purdue University, he joined the UC Davis Department of Agricultural Engineering in 1974, where he led research into alternative fuels using agricultural byproducts. Brian was later hired by the Weyerhaeuser Company, where he became a vital member of the company’s research and development team in Tacoma, Washington. Several of his 11 patents involved the development of recyclable produce boxes to replace the traditional, non-recyclable wax-saturated boxes used for transporting certain produces. He retired from Weyerhaeuser as a senior R&D project engineer in 2008 and he and Louanne returned to Davis.

The Horsfields were also driven after noticing how the experiences of students in the College of Engineering had changed in the years since Brian was a student and faculty member.

In those days, he recalled professors deriving equations on a blackboard and racing as fast as possible to copy one down before the next one was written.

“You could kind of look in the door of the shop but don’t touch anything,” he recalled.

Today, students aren’t just leaving with the knowledge of their coursework and a piece of paper. They leave with practical experience on real-world projects with an emphasis on doing research as much as learning about it.

That approach was something Brian wanted to support.

“I was really inspired by that,” Brian said. “That step of going from idea to making it something is very, very educational because sometimes you find out how hard it is. So, I thought this is really the right way to go.”

Though the fund does not bear their name to keep the focus on its mission, the Horsfields will always be known as those who took the first step in securing the future of the college’s alumni engagement. Their passion for giving comes in part from Andrew Carnegie, who famously donated 90% of his fortune and believed in giving wealth away during one’s lifetime.

“I’m not out here for that,” Brian says of recognition. “But if it inspires somebody else to do something similar, I think that’s worth it. You can’t take [money] with you, so what are you going to do with it? That’s a big part of it.”