Legacy of Action:
Dr. David Sikarskie
of Engineering Mechanics
Professor David Sikarskie, 61, served as a dean
of engineering and as director of special programs in the ME-EM
Sikarskie came to MTU in 1985 as dean and returned
to the faculty in 1990. He was a leader in his field of research,
including structural mechanics, composite materials, and engineering
mechanics. But he is remembered by his colleagues and friends
for other qualities. "He was a special guy in many ways,"
said Department Chair William Predebon (ME-EM). "Dave had
the ability to see the big picture, to see the forest in the trees.
He was a very objective and ethical person, and at the same time,
he was very concerned about young faculty and students, particularly
Sikarskie viewed engineering as a profession that
contributed to society, and he passed that vision on to his students.
PhD student Scott Miers was inspired by Sikarskie to leave a career
in private industry and return to academia. "
He changed my entire life," Miers said. He
convinced me that I was PhD material. Before that, it was the
job in industry after graduation, but then I saw what he had done
with his life, saw the joy of teaching and connecting with students.
"The idea came from him, and I've been running with it ever
since." Faculty and students got together April 27 to remember
Sikarskie. "Everyone commented on his ability to put the
other person first, to help you out no matter what he was doing,"
Miers said. "You were always number one, always the most
important. For me personally, I felt honored and privileged to
be his graduate student. I had three years of my life planned
with him, and I was never so excited." "And I can't
let him down," Miers said. "He was a wonderful man."
Before coming to MTU, Sikarskie was professor and chairman of
the Department of Metallurgy, Mechanics, and Materials Science
at Michigan State University. Previously, he was a professor of
aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan and on staff
at the Ingersoll-Rand Research Center. He earned MS and ScD degrees
in Applied Mechanics from Columbia University and a BS in Civil
Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.
Associate Professor Madhukar Vable (MEEM), a Distinguished
Teaching Award winner, came to MTU in large part because of Sikarskie,
who was his PhD advisor at the University of Michigan. "He
was one of the most optimistic persons I have ever met,"
Vable said. "He would work within the system all the time,
trying to make it better. He embodied the saying, 'If life gives
you lemons, make lemonade.'" Sikarskie was famous for taking
care of his students. "When I was in grad school, he asked
me, 'Madhu, do you need a car?' and he gave me his old car, a
Pinto, for about a dollar. . . . He was very generous, a friend
all the way. And at the same time, a tremendously professional
person, a man of very high integrity. We are all going to miss
him." An outdoorsman, Sikarskie routinely included his students
and colleagues in his activities. "He loved the outdoors,
fishing, hunting, and canoeing, and he was always trying to get
others to go," Vable said. "He enjoyed life, he lived
it to the hilt, and he stretched himself all the time." Thus,
Vable takes some small comfort from the fact that Sikarskie died
doing something he truly enjoyed. "
Some people might ask why a 61-year-old person would
want to ride a bicycle twenty miles. . . . But he was just being
Dave, enjoying life. Hard as it is, that's the consolation."
"Those of us fortunate enough to be Dave's students became
part of the Sikarskie family, spending many hours visiting and
working on our research projects at their home and at their cabin
and regularly enjoying 'international cuisine' dinners with other
graduate students at the Sikarskie home," remembers another
former PhD student, Nick Altiero, now professor and the chairperson
of the Department of Materials Science and Mechanics in the College
of Engineering at Michigan State. "Dave was not only a wonderful
teacher and mentor, but he also became a very dear friend. Dave
served as a model for me as I pursued my own academic career and
I always felt most flattered when I was compared to him in my
teaching and advising style or my research work. . . . "The
academic community and the engineering profession have lost a
very special man, and I and Dave's other students have lost our
mentor and our friend."