“Clearing the air” is much more than an expression to Pat Atkins. Clearing the air – and the water, and the environment in general – has been an important part of his distinguished career in engineering, both in education and industry.
As director of environmental affairs for Alcoa, he is moving the company toward an ambitious target – its “2020 Vision,” in which the company has specific goals for measuring progress toward achieving the 2020 strategic plan for cleaner air, better use of land and water, and the protection of human health.
Given Dr. Atkins’ track record, Alcoa has an excellent chance of turning its vision into reality. In December of 2005, Alcoa was recognized as a Top Green company by BusinessWeek magazine and the Climate Group. The designation is in recognition of Alcoa’s performance in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Alcoa has been recognized by BusinessWeek as a top company of the decade and for best management practices for its leadership on environmental issues while delivering strong financial performance.
That level of success and recognition will surprise no one who knows Dr. Atkins. Plans and goals have always been important in his life.
At UK , Dr. Atkins was actively involved in student organizations while meeting the challenge of engineering studies. He was a member of Chi Epsilon, Tau Beta Pi, Phi Eta Sigma, served as a counselor for two years in Haggin and Donovan Halls, and then graduated second in his class in the Department of Civil Engineering. He began to focus on environmental issues during his junior year while studying with Professor Bob Lauderdale, and selected the environmental option.
He graduated from UK with a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering in 1964, and continued his academic work at Stanford, earning a master’s degree in chemical engineering in 1966 and a Ph.D. in environmental engineering in 1968.
With the advanced degrees, he could stay on schedule with his life plan: Teach at a major university for five years; work for a large company for five years; work for a government agency for five years; and then start his own company, one that would be dedicated to solving and eliminating environmental problems.
He joined the faculty in the Department of Environmental Health Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin , where he taught and conducted research in air pollution control, wastewater treatment, water resource management and industrial hygiene. In four years, he compiled an impressive list of accomplishments. He supervised 20 master’s students and 10 Ph.D. candidates, published numerous papers and co-authored two books on industrial environmental health. He was named young professor of the year in the School of Engineering in 1969. He won a best paper award from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1973. He also consulted with several companies, including Alcoa. That relationship led to a career move.
He was approached by Alcoa to spend a year assisting the company in developing permits for a revolutionary new aluminum production process. Still one year short of the planned five-year teaching career, he took a sabbatical and moved to Pittsburgh for what he thought would be a “one-year adventure.” But Alcoa had other plans for him, and offered him a full-time position as the general manager of the company’s worldwide environmental program. Dr. Atkins has turned the one-year adventure into a distinguished 33-year career that is far from over.
But he didn’t lose interest in teaching. While in Pittsburgh , he joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and taught one course per year in industrial wastewater treatment. That relationship continued until 2000, when he transferred to New York City as Alcoa established a Global Center there.
Dr. Atkins is still making his mark with research. His paper on bauxite mine rehabilitation presented at the February 2005 Conference of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers was selected as one of the top five papers at the conference. Dr. Atkins is an active citizen as well, and has held leadership positions in many organizations. He was a key figure in the establishment of the Make-A-Wish foundation of Western Pennsylvania and served on the board of directors for 10 years. In 1995 he established the Atkins Family Foundation, through which he and his family contribute to environmental and children’s causes.
Dr. Atkins and his wife Michele reside in Pittsburgh , Pennsylvania . They are the parents of two children: Lee Anne Mangone and John Atkins.