Alumnus cites top 2 traits that fueled lifetime of success as a Milwaukee Engineer

Dennis Webb at Global Water Center
Dan Weber at the Global Water Center

With 50 years of engineering work behind him, Dennis Webb (‘71 BS Materials Engineering)—a major donor to UWM and its College of Engineering & Applied Science—is clear about the two traits most responsible for his success in Milwaukee’s engineering community.

The Milwaukee native has no intention of easing up on a career begun during a tumultuous era, when the nation was consumed by the Vietnam War. As a UWM student, Webb was both socially conscious and committed to his classwork, drawn to the field of materials science in what was then called the UWM School of Applied Science.

He graduated in the college’s first class to complete all four years on campus (prior to 1971, UWM engineering students completed their freshman and sophomore years at UWM and their junior and senior years at another university), then went on to enjoy a career that included positions at Koehring Company, A.O. Smith Corporation, Eaton Corporation, Gould-Gettys Electronics, Inc., Lockheed-Martin Corporation and Badger Meter, Inc., where he was an executive and engineer for 28 years.

“The thought of not being an engineer never occurred to me,” Webb said, noting that his father and grandfather were both engineers. “I received a Lionel train set as a gift at age 4 and by sixth grade, I was certain I wanted to be an engineer.”

Today, Webb is founder and president of Sage Water, where he partners with Real Time Purity, located in Livermore, Cal., to develop and market instruments that measure water quality in near real time. At age 70, he was voted Water Warrior of the Year by the Water Council.

Two traits that fueled 50 years of success on the job

Back to those two traits Webb credits with his professional success as an engineer.

First, he says, is an ability to interpret complex, engineering concepts to various audiences.

“The ability to explain things is the number one trait that got me to where I am,” Webb says.  It’s critical for engineers to be able to explain their work—and the potential it holds—to both fellow engineers and non-engineers, including superiors and members on boards of directors, as they have a hand in allocating resources, he says. He credits this trait with helping him secure corporate funding for his work.

The second trait is curiosity.

“Curiosity is what keeps an engineer up the challenge every day,” Webb says. “I’m innately curious and this has been essential. Even today, if something isn’t working on the TV, I want to know why, even if the fix itself is easy.”

Several ways to help College of Engineering & Applied Science students

Webb says that UWM, its College of Engineering & Applied Science, and the college’s industry contacts—afforded to students today as they were in the 1970s—were all pivotal to his fortunate life and career. Because of this, he and his wife Susan (’74 BA Art History) are ensuring that other students have similar opportunities for an excellent education.

The Webbs are major donors to the Chancellor’s Student Success Fund, which helps student in need stay on their paths to graduation.

They also have made provisions in their estate plans to establish an endowment, to be used at the discretion of the College of Engineering & Applied Science to assist students with their educational needs. Webb’s belief in future students and his desire to make sure the college has the resources it needs inspired the couple to make this decision.

Meanwhile, Dennis Webb continues to roll up his sleeves and donate his time and skills to help UWM students.

He serves on the UWM Foundation Board, where he chairs the Panther Fund Council—a new group focused on elevating the value of UWM’s athletics programs—and remains active with the College of Engineering & Applied Science in ways that connect him to students and new ideas. He is, for example, always one of the first to volunteer as a judge for the annual Student Research Poster Competition, and through Sage is a regular sponsor of the competition and the annual Milwaukee Engineering Research Conference.  From 2015-19, he served on the college’s cabinet for the university-wide fundraising effort: Made in Milwaukee, Shaping the World: the Campaign for UWM.

Webb maintains an office in UWM’s Water Technology Accelerator, housed within the Global Water Center in Walker’s Point.

Thanks to the support of our generous donors such as Dennis Webb, today’s UWM College of Engineering & Applied Science students graduate not only work-ready, but knowing they have the unflagging support of an alumni community that stretches back to the first graduating class.