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Outstanding Former Faculty

College of Arts and Sciences

Leon Borgman* - 2012 Outstanding Former Faculty

Departments of Geology and Geophysics and Statistics

“Leon Emry Borgman was a true mensch, a very real and vibrant human being, not just an academic,” said Professor Richard Anderson-Sprecher, Department of Statistics. Distinguished Emeritus Professor Borgman worked in the Departments of Statistics and Geology and Geophysics, where he was known as the “father of modern ocean-wave statistical analysis.” In 1999, Borgman was the first UW faculty member to be inducted into the National Academy of Engineering, the highest honor an engineer can receive.

Borgman received a B.S. in geological engineering from the Colorado School of Mines in 1953. After graduation, he worked for Shell Development Company in Houston, Texas, as an oceanographic engineer, where he was on the team that pioneered the use of scuba equipment for underwater inspection. “His incredible breadth and depth as a thinker have led me to regard Leon as a true ‘renaissance man,’” notes consultant E.G. Ward.

Borgman received an M.S. in mathematics from the University of Houston and a Ph.D. in Statistics from the University of California, Berkeley. His extensive teaching career started at the University of California, Berkeley and Davis. Afterward, Borgman came to UW in 1970 as a professor of geology and statistics.

Over the course of his career, Borgman published 40 refereed journal articles, as well as 160 publications. Due to his extensive research and dedicated teaching, the International Association of Hydraulic Research recognized Borgman as a distinguished lecturer. He was awarded the Duke Humphrey Distinguished faculty award from UW in 1991.  In 1994 he received the International Coastal Engineer Award from the ASCE, and was inducted into the Offshore Energy Center Technology Hall of Fame in 1998. “Many students would go so far as to state that he alone enabled them to succeed, that they achieved because he would not let them fail, and that he cared for them in a way that acknowledged them as people and as professionals” said Professor Stephen Bieber, Department of Statistics. 

Borgman’s unending commitment to his colleagues and students allowed him to spread his knowledge by sharing his interest in ocean wave statistics, probabilistic hydrodynamic loading, risk analysis in coastal engineering, statistical simulation for geophysical modeling, and geostatistics of mineral deposits, environmental assessment, and fracture mechanics. Borgman served as an important mentor to his students. “He was energetic and engaging in the classroom and enjoyed working with his students—and they with him,” remembers Anderson-Sprecher.

Borgman, through his appetite for learning and teaching, had a significant influence on the scientific as well as the College of Arts and Sciences community. “Borgman was a renaissance man; a scientist, an artisan in steel, leather and calligraphy, a shaman and a humanist,” notes Professor Paul Heller, department head of Geology and Geophysics.

*In loving memory

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