Hall of Fame
William L. Everitt
William L. Everitt established a reputation as a distinguished engineer, teacher, editor, author, and leader in engineering and science. He held positions as department head and dean at Illinois, leading a time of great expansion of faculty and research and propelling the college to a position of international renown.
Everitt was named head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (then Electrical Engineering) in 1944, but could not take the position until 1945, when he was released from his wartime duties as director of Operational Research, U.S. Signal Corps. Immediately after the war, he made a lecture tour to all the chapters of the Institute of Radio Engineers, of which he was then national president, to describe radar. He was quoted in Time magazine as saying, "I have clearance to talk about radar so long as I spell it backwards."
Before the war, Everitt earned degrees at Cornell University, the University of Michigan, and The Ohio State University in 1933, at a time when few electrical engineers had graduate degrees. While working on his doctoral degree in physics, he wrote Communication Engineering, a book that shifted the emphasis in electrical engineering education from power transmission to communication and electronics and laid the groundwork for subsequent developments in telecommunication. This textbook brought graduate students from all over the world to Ohio State and later to Illinois, and served as a standard source in electrical engineering for more than 35 years.
Everitt taught while earning his degrees, and he obtained real-world engineering experience working summers at the AT&T Department of Research and Development, in New York. He brought those experiences to his students and to Communication Engineering, which was one of the first electrical engineering textbooks to incorporate recent research results in a form suitable for the classroom. He served as editor of Fundamentals of Radio, widely used for training Signal Corps personnel in World War II, and edited more than 100 engineering books for Prentice-Hall, Inc. throughout his time at Illinois and into retirement.
As an engineering department head and later dean at Illinois, he recruited an outstanding faculty. Expansion was supported by growth in research funding that Everitt spearheaded by recognizing the potential of federal government funding for large programs on the cutting edge of science. He recruited a strong research faculty with the abilities and reputations to go after grants that propelled Illinois to the front ranks of engineering education. He was especially proud to be part of bringing the University's first computer, ILLIAC I, online in 1952.
Everitt was president of key professional and engineeing societies, including the Institute of Radio Engineers (later IEEE), American Society for Engineering Educations, and Engineers Council for Professional Development, and he received their top awards. He was a member of the National Academy of Science and a founding member of the National Academy of Engineering. His honors included numerous medals, awards, and 10 honorary degrees.
In a commencement address to University of Illinois graduates the year after he retired, Everitt described himself as an optimist, saying, "I am an optimist rather than a pessimist. The pessimists may be right in the long run, but we optimists have more fun on the trip!"
Doctor of Science Honorary Degree, 1969