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Dan Pletta, 92

By Liz Crumbley

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 02 - September 5, 1996

Dan H. Pletta, who died August 26 at the age of 92, taught engineering science and mechanics (ESM) at Virginia Tech for 40 years and continued his role as speaker, researcher, and adviser to the faculty, staff, and students at the university up to the time of his death.

Pletta came to Tech in 1932 as an assistant professor and was head of the ESM department from 1948 to 1970, when he was appointed as one of Tech's five original university distinguished professors.

After retiring from teaching in 1972 as a professor emeritus, Pletta kept an office in the ESM department and continued to conduct research and advise students and faculty members.

In 1988, Tech awarded Pletta the William H. Ruffner Medal for notable and distinguished service to the university.

Virginia Tech President Paul E. Torgersen called Pletta "a great human being, one who always gave me good advice."

The College of Engineering and the late Bruce Vorhauer, an ESM alumnus, established the Dan H. Pletta Professorship in his honor in 1992.

"Professor Dan Pletta without a doubt was Mr. ESM," said current Department Head Ed Henneke. "He continued to come to work daily in the department for more than 25 years after his retirement."

"His advice, encouragement, good humor, love of Virginia Tech and the engineering profession have served as an inspiration and model for Virginia Tech faculty and staff for over 64 years," Henneke said. "He will be sorely missed."

Pletta served on the national boards of both the American Society of Civil Engineers and the National Society of Professional Engineers and was a past president of the Virginia Society of Professional Engineers. In 1991, the Virginia Engineering Awards Committee, representing five engineering societies, established the Pletta Medal, which is given annually to Virginia's engineering educator of the year.

Pletta also continued to speak out on important issues after his retirement. He traveled around the United States and abroad to educate colleagues about topics including "The Engineering Profession and Its Purpose" and "Today's Challenge to Engineers: Lead or be Led."

"I've become more active since I've retired because I believe professionalism and ethics is a missing link in engineering education," Pletta said in a 1988 interview. "All students should be introduced to the concept of professional responsibility. The students are very receptive to this message because they are all idealists. They are still young enough to enjoy that luxury."

In 1992, the American Society for Engineering Education named Pletta one of the five outstanding engineering educators of the 20th century.

"Dan Pletta was a remarkable individual who had a profound effect on the education of engineers during his 40 years on our faculty," said College of Engineering Dean F. William Stephenson.

"His influence and insight continued during the 24 years following his retirement, and he remained an active and insightful spokesman on engineering ethics and education to the end of his life.

"I regard it as a great privilege to have known Dan as a friend and advisor during my years at Virginia Tech."

Memorial donations may be made to the Alice and Dan Pletta Scholarship Fund, Office of University Development, Virginia Tech; or the Boy's Home, Boy's Home Road, Covington, Va. 24426.