Duncan Fraser

In 2015, the annual IFEES award became the IFEES Duncan Fraser Global Award for Excellence in Engineering Education. Fraser, who passed away on July 19, 2014, would have been IFEES’ 5th President. Fraser as an extraordinary person, educator and leader. The impact of his work and passion inspired IFEES to rename its annual award in his honor.

At the time of his passing, he was serving as Emeritus Professor of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in South Africa. His impact on UCT continues to resonate in the years following his passing. He also served as the founding Secretary General of the then-fledgling African Engineering Education Association (AEEA).

The latter days of apartheid were the backdrop for the beginning of Fraser’s career. In an increasingly diverse classroom, Fraser was devoted to the success of all students–particularly those from poor educational backgrounds. After a series of trial and error early in his career, Fraser successfully adapted methods that he learned through the literature on minority engineering programs in the USA to develop collaborative study groups, which led to a breakthrough with his students.

Soon after, Fraser was invited to design the UCT’s engineering programs and helped overhaul the curriculum. He became a mentor to many academic staff members and spearheaded the UCT’s Centre for Research in Engineering Education.

Fraser’s work expanded beyond South Africa’s borders following a fortuitous meeting with FUnso Falade at the Global Congress on Engineering Education in Poland in 1998. Together, they began the formation of the AEEA, which was formally established in 2006.

Two years later, the UCT became the first institution to hold an IFEES Summit in Africa, which deepened the relationship between IFEES and the AEEA. Fraser would have been proud to see the progress in engineering education in Africa.

Those who knew Fraser often commented on his humility, which was inspired by his spiritually-driven character. For Fraser, any glory achieved goes to God; he felt that his passion for Africa, for students and for engineering education were gifts from God. This is what made Duncan Fraser an excellent educator, who cared more for the empowerment of students than his own position of power.