Friends, family, faculty and students gathered November 19 to honor the legacy of John Toups, a towering figure in civil engineering who passed away in June at the age of 92.
The naming of the John Toups Instructional Laboratory for Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering at George Mason University honors a lifetime of service and recognizes a $1.5 million gift made by Toups and his wife, Nina, earlier this year.
Located on the first floor of the Nguyen Engineering Building, the Toups Instructional Lab is where civil engineering students gain hands-on experience by testing, building, experimenting, and working in teams. The value of that experience to an engineer’s education was conveyed by Charles Toups, John’s son, who lent perspective on his father’s life.
“My father was very passionate about building communities, and about enabling future generations to get a top-notch college education,” said Charles Toups, who is a senior executive in engineering with Boeing. Toups recounted how his father grew up in poverty, lost his own father at the age of 12, and helped to raise his brothers and sisters. He moved to California in high school, and joined an Army officer training program targeted for engineers. “They sent him to Stanford for two quarters, and the deal was that when you turned 18 you were off to basic training, and then off to the front. In Germany my father received a Silver Star for his heroism there, and also a Purple Heart,” said Toups.
After recuperating from his injuries, John Toups returned to college, studying at UCLA. “At that time UCLA did not have the teaching labs for the students to finish their curriculum,” continued Charles Toups. “So he transferred to UC Berkeley, and ultimately graduated from there. As he and Nina talked about making this donation, and where should they place it, he recalled this story. So they decided to support the engineering teaching labs here at George Mason.”
“The impact that John’s gift is having on our program will be profound,” said Ken Ball, dean of the Volgenau School of Engineering. “Not just supporting the labs, but supporting our faculty and our graduate students. This gift will allow us to do wonderful things here at the Volgenau School and throughout Mason.”
President Ángel Cabrera, addressing members of the Toups family in attendance, said “The Toups name means the world to this university. John was a giant of this community and of this university.” Toups received Mason’s highest honor, the George Mason Medal for outstanding service, in 2006.
Noting the recent announcement by Amazon that it would locate a major facility in Northern Virginia, Cabrera observed: “There is only one reason why Amazon chose [us]: because this is an awesome place to live, to work, to learn, to do great things. … People like John Toups made it that way. They are the unspoken heroes of the story. … It’s going to be a huge honor to now have the Toups name on this magnificent facility and associated with the civil engineering program.”
Addressing the engineering students, Charles Toups concluded: “My Dad would love to be there [in the lab] with you. He loved hands-on learning. He would love to see everything you’re doing in there, and more importantly, how it’s going to prepare future generations and create the opportunity for them to make a great impact on the world.”