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Home » Discover Rackham » Alumni Spotlight: Hugh Kendrick

Hugh Kendrick was chased by a lion twice when on foot, found a home away from home via a ship from England, and spent his career hiring and being hired by U-M alumni.

Rackham alum Hugh Kendrick is preparing for a reunion trip with a group he and his wife Wendy met on a four-wheeling vacation in the Sahara Desert 10 years ago. This is the next adventure for Hugh, a 1968 doctoral recipient in Nuclear Engineering, whose life and career has been a journey of connecting with the Michigan community from the day he set sail for America.

Incentive to Come

Discouraged by a poor job market upon return to his native England after earning his Master’s at Caltech, Hugh explored doctoral programs recommended by faculty at Caltech, one of which was U-M. He recalls, “I was offered a generous fellowship but after deciding to accept, my wife and I discovered she was pregnant! When I said we couldn’t come for the fall semester but would come in spring, U-M increased my stipend significantly, an offer too good to refuse. This was incredibly brave on my wife’s part. She was six months pregnant when we emigrated and we knew no one here. Our families, however, were so supportive; neither set of parents uttered one word of discouragement. The only way we could communicate with our families was by letter (telephone calls cost way too much). Now that I’m a grandparent, I can’t imagine that I could have remained silent like they did!”

The generosity of Americans

Opening the next chapter in their lives, Hugh and Wendy, a registered nurse, sailed across the Atlantic. On their voyage, they found themselves at a dinner table with an American whose uncle was faculty in Ann Arbor and they left with promises to call him, as outside of their cultural comfort zone as that was. Glad they did, they found themselves adopted by the family, spending holidays together and getting much appreciated support.

“We lived on North Campus, and that was a godsend. We learned how generous Americans are. There is this tremendous well of generosity in the U.S., and we certainly benefited from it. We lived amongst a great variety of people, students from all over the world. It was a great environment to live in. There were lots of different cultures on our doorstep. We were greeted by a group called International Neighbors, a student group whose mission was to help new foreign students adapt to their new surroundings. In time, Wendy joined to welcome others and teach conversational English, often to spouses who had little or no English.”

The right mentor can make all the difference

When Hugh arrived at U-M, he needed to take most of his master’s degree courses again. On top of that, he had no idea what thesis research he wanted to pursue, except that it should be experimental. His advisor, Professor John King, asked if he’d be willing to work for another grad student, suggesting that it was a good way to get started. “So I went to work for Sam Werner (now Curator’s Emeritus Professor at University of Missouri) and spent about 24/7 doing that. My wife took all the burden of raising our two children. I spent most of my time working on the beam hole floor of the Ford Nuclear Reactor (donated by the Ford Motor Company) in what was then The Phoenix Memorial Project. Sam became one of my Ph.D. mentors, along with Tony Arrott (now a retired Emeritus Professor of Physics at Simon Fraser University), both of the Ford Motor Company’s Scientific Lab., and with both of whom I’ve stayed in touch.”

The road wasn’t always easy. He explains, “I failed prelims the first time, the first and only exam I failed in my life. Afterwards, my department chair, Professor William Kerr, encouraged me to continue. I was determined to prove they had made a mistake. I don’t regret any of it. I had outstanding mentors in Sam and Tony who taught me all the physics I know, and inculcated in me the importance of a total commitment to the scientific method that stood me in good stead throughout my career. We did really good research, some of which is still referenced today. That it took an extra year or two to graduate was not counterproductive at all.”

Hugh kept his sanity by becoming one of the early members of the U-M Rugby Club. He recalls, “We were mostly expats with a sprinkling of Americans in our midst and we would play other universities who had teams, like Purdue and Indiana. I was a rugby player back home, and it was great to continue to play. We even had a cricket team as well, nothing formal, just a game amongst friends.” He looks back at that experience as one that stands out as a highlight during graduate school.

Employed by the U-M network

Not wanting to pursue a postdoc, Hugh searched for a position in industry. This is where the U-M alumni network stepped in. Hugh was hired by fellow alum Dr. Larry Harris from the Nuclear Energy Department at U-M into the Linear Accelerator Division of Gulf General Atomic in San Diego that was run by Dr. J.R. (Bob) Beyster, a U-M Physics Rackham alum. “My first job was totally due to Michigan. Very little of my research was directly related to that at U-M, but I was hired by people who knew what a good grounding I received there. I owe a big debt of gratitude for that start. ” he states.

Soon Bob Beyster left to start Science Applications Inc (SAI) and later Hugh was asked to join by yet another Nuclear Engineering U-M alum, Dr. Sandy Cohen. There he soon found himself in the company of more U-M alums, Drs. Ed Straker, Bob Ginaven, and Marty Fricke. He describes, “I worked with a lot of good people on very interesting projects and I had a wonderful career. It seemed U-M was almost a “farm club” for SAI. Another student whom Professor King recommended to me was Dr. Hadi Bozorgmanesh who joined along with other Nuclear Engineering alums Drs. Don Steinman and Norm Lurie. SAI (later SAIC) was an employee-owned company from the start, and Beyster proved the employee-owned concept by taking a company valued early on at $10 million to $8 billion.” Hugh admits that his eyes glaze over when it comes to money, but he realized that this was an investment he could directly affect by his own hard work. Hugh took a 5-year “sabbatical” from SAIC to work exclusively on nuclear non- and counter-proliferation in the U.S. Government, a problem of great importance to him that he followed for the rest of his career. Shortly after becoming the Director of Plans and Analysis in the Department of Energy’s Office of Reactor Research Programs, he returned to SAIC. “I wasn’t cut out to be a bureaucrat!” Hugh says. Back at SAIC, he directed electric utility marketing efforts, ran the company’s internal research and development program, developed management training programs, and was a founding member of its Ethics Committee where he developed and ran the training program, “amongst other assignments,” he said. He retired from SAIC in 2001. After U-M closed the Ford Nuclear Reactor, a decision, Hugh observes, that deprived nuclear engineering students of a wonderful research facility, Dr. Beyster donated the money to refurbish the Phoenix Memorial Project building. He passed away early in 2015.

Chased by a lion

Though retired, Hugh wanted to keep those connections with his colleagues strong. He helped found an SAIC “Old Boys Club.” He says, “This group of people essentially started a company together, were around each other for 30 years, and didn’t want to lose track of each other, so we planned a group to get together 3 or 4 times a year. When we retired, we faced a whole new set of challenges: navigating health insurance, investments to live off, and the like. We wanted a forum to learn together and to continue conversations around science and engineering. Some of the wives were also at SAIC. All of us partnered up with outstanding people, and our spouses are an important part of it as well.”

Antarctica, the Arctic, Europe and the Middle East, Japan, Central and South East Asia, South America, African safaris, trekking in the Alps and Pyrenees, in the Himalayas in Bhutan, India, Nepal and Tibet, in the Karakoram in Pakistan, and the Andes of Patagonia, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro – Hugh and Wendy have been all over the globe. He says, “Our interests are in wild places and wild animals, that’s what we look for in choosing a destination.” On being charged by the lion, Hugh says; “I just did what the guide had trained me to do and stood stock still. I’m good at taking orders. I’ve been doing this for the 52 years of my marriage!” On the longevity of his marriage, he says, “It just gets better as it goes along.”

Alumni Advice

Make sure you have some outside interest of a physical nature. Get outside, breath fresh air, and keep moving!