CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The man who helped transform the University of Illinois into one of the top engineering schools in the country is featured in a new 30-minute documentary airing this month on the Big Ten Network. “William L. Everitt: An Optimist’s Journey” premieres Nov. 11 at 9:30 p.m. CST/10:30 p.m. EST. It tells the story of the inventor, author, visionary and former dean of what is now The Grainger College of Engineering.
During World War II, Everitt worked with British and American scientists to advance radar technology. His research group made radar more portable and improved the signal so that it could function at greater distances, even at night.
The experience taught him the power of team building. “He learned that putting together the greatest minds could make the greatest advancements,” said his grandson, William L. Everitt III.
Professor Grant Fairbanks, left, and Dean William L. Everitt in 1953 with the "time compressor" invented at Illinois.
Photo courtesy University of Illinois Archives
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Everitt brought that philosophy to Illinois when he became dean of the College of Engineering in 1949. The faculty members he hired were some of the greatest minds in engineering and physics, including double Nobel prizewinner John Bardeen and Nick Holonyak Jr., the inventor of the visible spectrum light-emitting diode.
He also opened a new electrical engineering building, including the first-of-its-kind fabrication laboratory, which allowed undergraduate students to make integrated circuits and helped launch the careers of technology industry leaders.
“William Everitt saw greatness in our students and in the accomplished faculty he brought to the University of Illinois,” said documentary producer Kaitlin Southworth. “He had the confidence and optimism to promote an interdisciplinary environment that encouraged greatness to grow. That’s what made him such an inspirational leader of our university.”
Everitt and his wife, Dorothy, raised three children and opened their home to more than 50 international students. Two of those students, Chih-Han and Chih-Tang Sah, fled the communist revolution in China in the late 1940s. As their foster father, Everitt inspired the boys to pursue math and engineering, and both have had tremendous success in those fields.
When Everitt died in 1986, Illinois renamed the electrical engineering building in his honor.
“William L. Everitt: An Optimist’s Journey” was produced by Tim Hartin, Southworth and Alison Davis Wood for the University of Illinois’ Office of Public Affairs and its Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.