In Memoriam: Raymond R. Hagglund, Professor Emeritus, Mechanical Engineering

December 03, 2010

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Raymond R. Hagglund, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, died on Tuesday, Nov.30, 2010. Hagglund, who retired in 2003, had been a member of the faculty since his graduation from WPI in 1956. He is remembered for his contributions to the creation of the WPI Plan, the university’s innovative, project-based approach to undergraduate education; for his accomplishments as an educator; and for his work as an internationally recognized authority on product liability.

“It is difficult to imagine how someone could be more devoted to his family, his friends, and his academic home than was Ray Hagglund,” said WPI President Dennis Berkey. “One of the many pleasures in becoming a university president is getting to know individuals who have given long and important service to the institution. It is a special gift when such a relationship turns into a true friendship, and our relationship allowed me to see why he was so revered among faculty and staff colleagues as well as former students. What a marvelous gift of inspiration he gave to so many.”

Hagglund grew up in Worcester, within sight of the campus, but never considered attending college until family friends intervened on his behalf and helped him receive a full scholarship to WPI. Upon his graduation with a BS in mechanical engineering, Hagglund was encouraged by Professor Kenneth Scott ’48 to consider a career in teaching. He joined the WPI faculty as an instructor and worked toward an MS at WPI, which he received in 1959.

He left campus for three years to pursue a PhD in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois, and returned with a strong belief in the value of project-based education. “I began giving students problems way beyond what freshmen would be expected to do, but with guidance they could develop some quite remarkable solutions,” he told Quest, a WPI newsletter, in 1995.

In the late 1960s, Hagglund became involved in the development of the WPI Plan. In particular, he drew on his own carpentry and organizational skills to transform a disused space on the upper floor of the Washburn Shops into a home for the Interactive Qualifying Project—the most distinctive element of the Plan—which requires students to address a societal problem outside of their major area of study. The idea for the university’s first off-campus project center, located in Washington, D.C., was born in the IQP center in 1974.

Hagglund became involved in consulting, particularly in the area of product liability, during the 1970s. In an early case, he helped establish a legal precedent on what is known as second-collision theory. The case focused on a rear-end crash involving a car that burst into flames. “The first collision is that between two vehicles.” He told Quest. “In this case, the second event was the fire, for which the manufacturer claimed no responsibility. We successfully argued that poor design and location of the fuel tank made the company responsible.”

Over time, he became an internationally recognized expert on engineering and product liability law who consulted on more than 1,500 cases. In 1997 he was invited to lecturer on safety, technology, and product liability law at Baumer University in Moscow. The experience he gained in the courtroom brought real-world immediacy to his teaching and project advising. For many years he annually advised IQPs teams who explored product liability topics. The projects culminated in a mock trial. A number of the students lucky enough to take part in these projects chose to pursue careers in law.

Hagglund won many honors and awards for his teaching, including the 1974 Board of Trustees Award for Outstanding teaching and the 1976 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Western Electric Award for Excellence in Engineering Education. He was recognized as WPI’s inaugural Kenneth G. Merriam Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and earlier with the Morgan and the Russell M. Searle Distinguished Instructorships in Mechanical Engineering. The Hagglund Room, an octagonal, 46-seat conference room on the upper level of the WPI Campus Center, is named in his honor.

A campus memorial service is planned for Friday, Jan. 21, 2011, at 3 p.m., in Alden Memorial.