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University of Iowa News Release

Jan. 28, 2005

UI Engineering Exhibits At Cedar Rapids African American Museum Feb. 1-Mar. 13

An exhibit honoring two distinguished alumni of the University of Iowa College of Engineering will be highlighted Feb. 1-March 13 at the African American Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa in Cedar Rapids. The exhibit celebrates National Black History Month (February) and National Engineers' Week (Feb. 20-26).

The exhibit features Dr. Lilia A. Abron, who, in 1972, became the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in chemical engineering, and Luther Smith, one of the original members of the Tuskegee Airmen, who earned his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 1950. It features a lighted eight-foot-high by 10-foot-wide display of photographs and historical perspective about the honored alumni.

In the case of Abron, the display tells of a Memphis, Tenn. native who came to Iowa partly because of the state's reputation for having a strong work ethic and its support of the black cause during the Civil War. Following a 12-year teaching career, she devoted her time to raising three sons and founding a successful environmental engineering consulting firm, PEER Consultants. The firm has designed a biosolids management plan in Maryland, studied air emissions in Philadelphia and conducted acid rain risk analysis for the Environmental Protection Agency. Today, PEER has expanded operations to Africa where it is helping to meet a need for good housing by offering a steel-frame home that conserves energy, reduces air pollution and costs just $3,500 beyond government subsidy.

Luther Smith grew up in Des Moines, Iowa and developed a love of flying while being mentored by Archie Alexander, the first African-American to earn a UI engineering degree. Two years into his studies, he left the university to pursue his dream to become a pilot. Between July 1944 and May 1945, Smith and his fellow Tuskegee airmen flew 200 bomber escort missions over nine European countries without losing a single bomber to enemy aircraft. His many military honors included receiving a Prisoner of War (POW) Medal in recognition of the seven months he spent in a Yugoslavian hospital recovering from injuries suffered after being shot down and held in a German POW camp. After the war, he completed his UI degree and served a distinguished 37-year career as an aerospace engineer for General Electric's Missile and Space Operation in Philadelphia, where he was awarded two patents, published numerous technical papers and worked on special assignments for the Air Force, NASA, and the U.S. Navy Submarine Command while earning a master's degree in engineering.

The exhibit complements a unique Ethnic Inclusion Effort for the Iowa Engineering program, initiated by the College of Engineering in 2003. The program is designed to contribute to solving national ethnic diversity issues in the engineering discipline. It provides a model of a welcoming and inclusive environment that drives toward excellence in engineering and promotes cultural awareness and sensitiviy in all UI engineering faculty, students and staff. Victor Rodgers, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, directs the program.

The African American Museum and Cultural Center of Iowa, 55 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., at a cost of $4 for adults and $2.50 for children and students. Additional information is available at 319-862-2101 or

More information about the UI College of Engineering's celebration of Black History Month is available at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,