The Legacy of Robert B. Annis – Introducing the New R.B. Annis School of Engineering

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Each year, Annis (center) played an active role in the Central Indiana Regional Science Fair held at the University of Indianapolis.

To those who knew him, Robert B. Annis was a brilliant scientist with an unwavering desire to discover and learn. He committed his life to inspiring students of all ages to explore the wonders of science through critical thinking and problem solving — foundational concepts that are impacting the new R.B. Annis School of Engineering and programs at the University of Indianapolis.

The R.B. Annis School of Engineering — established through a transformational $5-million gift from the R.B. Annis Educational Foundation last spring — is advancing the University’s strategy to address Indiana’s demand for skilled engineers and STEM-related professions. Employers across the region are consistently challenged to fill these highly skilled roles, which they need in order to grow and compete in the global marketplace.

“Bob Annis was a humble and bright person,” explained Dan Yates, who along with Chuck Angus and Wayne Weber serve as trustees of the R.B. Annis Educational Foundation. “In everything he pursued, he wanted excellence and to find answers. It’s a natural fit to have his legacy here at UIndy.”

As a teenager, Robert B. Annis joined the Indianapolis Radio Club and later the Scientech Club. He impressed others with his knowledge of technology, especially magnets. In the mid-1920s, he opened Annis Electrical Apparatus Company and was in high demand making and selling radio equipment.

The 1940s brought a change to the company, which shifted to creating precision balancing equipment and magnets. Annis stayed involved with the Indianapolis community in many ways, by organizing and judging the Marion County Science Fair, staying involved with the Scientech Club, serving on the Indianapolis Board of Education and even being in the Hoosier Canoe Club. His connection to the University of Indianapolis (then known as Indiana Central College) began when Annis brought the Central Indiana Regional Science Fair to campus, an event that the University hosted for many years.

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The R.B. Annis Educational Foundation, established in his honor after his death, supports a variety of educational and cultural initiatives, including many in the sciences. The Foundation’s inaugural gift to the University was endowing the Miriam F. Annis Memorial in honor of Annis’ late wife.

The Foundation also supported the UIndy Health Pavilion, home to the R.B. Annis Auditorium and UIndy’s healthcare- and wellness-related academic programs as well as industry partners and clinical facilities to serve the community.

“Bob is a model for our students who are coming through the new R.B. Annis School of Engineering,” explained University President Robert Manuel. “He believed that the gifts he had were meant to be shared with others. This connects with the University’s motto of ‘Education for Service’ very well.”

designspineStudents enrolled in the R.B. Annis School of Engineering will be working to address the Midwest’s growing need for STEM talent by fusing creativity, problem solving, collaboration and social responsibility with technical acumen — all qualities held in high regard by Robert Annis. The School offers areas of study in computer science, industrial and systems engineering, software engineering and mechanical engineering. As students work their way through the engineering program, they learn and build on what they learned the previous semester. The “design spine” curriculum emphasizes project-oriented courses with practical, hands-on experience and collaboration on real-world projects. Students begin to learn design and project management in their second semester, and José R. Sánchez, director of the engineering program since its creation in 2016, is making plans for students to begin to work with three professors on collaborative projects.

“When I meet with executives of engineering companies, they are excited that we are teaching our students how to solve challenges and that we are engaging our students from the first semester in innovative ways,” said Sánchez. “We are making industry connections, linking our students to internships and mentoring opportunities. These networks will also impact educational experiences for our R.B. Annis engineers. This puts our students in front of companies and impacts job opportunities.”

Annis valued service and dedication to the community and to young people.

“Bob Annis was an extraordinary man, mentor and friend,” said Yates. “It is a distinct privilege to assure his legacy for generations to come at the University of Indianapolis, an institution he was closely connected to through his many years of mentoring students in the sciences. It is a natural fit to have his legacy here at UIndy.”