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Three Alumni Awarded School of Engineering’s Top Honor

Thursday, May 7, 2009

J. Robert Benz, right, and Dean Stuart Bell at the 2009 DESA Banquet
The University of Kansas School of Engineering and its Advisory Board honored three of the school’s alumni for careers that exemplify professional achievement.

On Thursday, May 7, J. Robert Benz, Wilson, Wyo.; Harry Gibson, Lawrence; and Kwang-Sun Kim of South Korea, received the Distinguished Engineering Service Award at the Kansas Memorial Union. The award was created by the KU School of Engineering Advisory Board in 1980 to honor engineering alumni, or engineers who’ve maintained a close association with the school, for their outstanding contributions to the theories and practices of engineering research and development in new fields of engineering, or direction of an organization that has made exceptional contributions in design, production and development.

“These three engineers have done amazing things within their sphere of influence,” said Stuart R. Bell, dean of the KU School of Engineering. “Not only have they had highly successful careers in engineering, but they’ve shown resourcefulness and compassion to help others around them. Bob Benz helped Phillips Petroleum not just surivive but thrive over 38 years. Harry Gibson has been a leader of many, and also has taught those in his field to lead. From the other side of the world, Kwang-Sun Kim, has influenced not only the past and present at KU, but his influence will be felt for years to come. The School of Engineering and its Advisory Board are pleased to recognize these outstanding alumni.”

Benz, Gibson and Kim each received a bronze sculpture acknowledging the achievement. Portraits of the honorees and highlights of their professional accomplishments also become part of the permanent DESA display in Eaton Hall, home of the School of Engineering.

“These alumni are outstanding role models of professional and personal integrity that we hope our students will emulate,” Bell said.


J. Robert Benz

Retired, Vice President of International Business Development for Chemicals, Phillips Petroleum Co.

B.S., Civil Engineering, 1964

B.S., Business Administration, 1964

After life at KU, Benz built a legacy in plastics at Phillips Petroleum Co. Until he retired in 1998, Benz continued to expand his reach throughout Phillips, overseeing everything from propane fuel programs to convenience store marketing to his final position, as vice president of International Business Development for Chemicals.

Among his many stellar achievements, in 1982, he became vice president of the Worldwide Rubber Chemicals Division. He realized companies were growing beyond traditional borders and worked to treat such clients as global entities instead of a different entity in each country. By thinking and acting with a world view, he was able to help Phillips’ bottom line at a time when it was in dire need.

Benz calls his final career stop his most rewarding and most interesting, including oversight of a joint venture with Qatar National Petroleum Co. on a $1 billion-plus petrochemical complex.

At KU, he has served on the School of Engineering Advisory Board for more than 20 years and is a member of the School of Business Board of Advisors.

Benz and his wife, Jan, reside in Wilson, Wyo.

Harry Gibson, center, receives the Distinguished Engineering Service Award from Advisory Board Chair Linda Ellis, left, and Dean Stuart R. Bell
Harry Gibson

Retired, USA Refining Technical Manager, ExxonMobil

B.S., Mechanical Engineering, 1964

MBA, 1966

Gibson played forward for KU men’s basketball team in the early 1960s and was named to the Big Eight All-Academic First Team in 1964. He graduated from KU with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s in business administration. And in 34 years at Exxon, he kept the company ahead of the curve and had an effect on lives the world over.

He played a leadership role in launching the Global Energy Management System, which drives energy efficiency improvements in ExxonMobil’s refineries and chemical plants. Through this system, the company identified opportunities to improve energy efficiency by 15 percent to 20 percent at refineries and chemical plants, and has implemented about 60 percent of these. Gibson’s steady, thoughtful management was instrumental in making this initiative effective, and ExxonMobil now is ahead of industry in efficiency efforts.

For many years, Gibson was responsible for the career development of technical and management personnel. His contribution in this role was especially remarkable because of his focus not only on the health of the company but on the needs of the more than 500 people he led. His legacy at ExxonMobil is seen in a generation of capable engineers who are now leading the refining business.

Gibson lives in Lawrence with his wife, Becky.

Kwang-Sun Kim, shown here with his wife, Kyung-Jin Kim, received the 2009 Distinguished Engineering Service Award from the KU School of Engineering.
Kwang-Sun Kim

Professor of Mechatronics Engineering, Korea University of Technology and Education

M.S., Mechanical Engineering, 1983

Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, 1986

After earning his doctorate at the University of Kansas, Kim returned to academia as an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the Korea University of Technology and Education. In 1996, he became dean of Planning Affairs and developed a “Unique Education College System for Creative Practical Engineers,” through which he helped build exchange programs with universities around the world, including KU.

Kim has been a professor of mechatronics at KUT since 2001, and he has twice served as dean of the graduate school at KUT. While dean, he supervised the graduate school, the graduate school for industry and the graduate school for human resource management. He is co-director of the joint graduate degree program with KU, and he is developing a joint degree program in biomechatronics engineering between KU and KUT.

In 2004, he received the Medal of Honor of Recognition for Public Service from the president of the Republic of Korea. He also has received more than $10 million in grants.

Through the years, he has been a mentor for students in South Korea and the United States and a major force of support for KU. He has taken a leadership role for the Korean chapter of the KU Alumni Association. He was instrumental in raising funds for the Korean War Memorial on the KU campus and is raising money so more Korean faculty can visit KU.

Kim lives in South Korea with his wife, Kyung-Jin Kim

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