Charles H. Thornton

Charles H. Thornton, 2002 Hoover Medal Recipient

For contributions to the design of major structures worldwide, and for outreach to disadvantaged youths through education, which has created a legacy that will ensure the future development of talented engineers.

Charles H. Thornton is Chairman of The Thornton-Tomasetti Group, Inc., a 500-person organization providing engineering and architectural services, failure analysis, hazard mitigation, and disaster response services. Dr. Thornton holds a B.S. degree from Manhattan College, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from New York University. Dr. Thornton has received a number of distinguished honors in his profession, including election to the National Academy of Engineering in 1997, being named Honorary Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1999, and Engineering News-Record's Award of Excellence in 2001.

Dr. Thornton's forty years of experience with the firm have included involvement in the design and construction of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects in the U.S. and overseas, ranging from hospitals, arenas and high-rise buildings, to airports, transportation facilities and special projects. Representative projects include the New York Hospital, New York; Chicago Stadium (Bulls and Blackhawks arena) and Comiskey Park in Chicago; the Nashville Arena in Nashville; the United Airlines Terminal at O'Hare Airport in Chicago; Terminal 1 at JFK Airport in New York; the 95-story Petronas Twin Towers of Kuala Lumpur City Centre, the world's tallest buildings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; the 50-story Americas Tower in New York; the 65-story One Liberty Place in Philadelphia; and the 50-story Chifley Tower in Sydney, Australia.

Dr. Thornton has always had a vision for making the world a better place through his own dedication and contributions, from the arduous tasks associated with providing the structural engineering design for the tallest buildings in the world to the commitment and dedication necessary to found a mentoring program that now includes 1,200 high school students in seventeen cities throughout the United States. As an active member of the academic community, he understands the importance of giving back to the industry that he loves so much and laying the foundations for the next generation of engineering and construction professionals. He understands the positive impact of outreach programs on all those involved, and he always includes "heart" along with his unfaltering diligence and perseverance in achieving these goals. This commitment to improving the lives of those around him, particularly children who are from economically disadvantaged areas, is what sets Dr. Thornton apart from others in the engineering world. He has recognized an overwhelming need for skilled workers in the construction and design industry in the years ahead, and he has provided a viable answer to this problem. As a result, he has helped many students in economically disadvantaged communities and provided them with creative and challenging ways of pursuing their dreams.

The ACE Mentor Program was founded by Dr. Thornton in 1995 as an innovative way of attracting young people, particularly minorities, women and the less privileged into colleges and engineering programs to increase the flow of students into the engineering and educational system. It is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to enlighten and motivate high school students toward careers in architecture, construction and engineering. The program relies on mentors, professionals from leading design and construction firms, to volunteer their time and energy to introduce students to a broad range of people, projects and career possibilities within the construction industry. Dr. Thornton is not just the Chairman of ACE; he is responsible for the development of a comprehensive model for creating new chapters and to a greater extent is responsible for the overwhelming success of the program. But more than that, he is the champion and the driving force behind ACE's amazing expansion, and as a result of his perseverance, there are 1,200 students and mentors from 300 architectural, construction and engineering firms in seventeen cities participating in the program this year. Some promising statistics include the fact that more than $310,000 in college scholarships has already been awarded to participants of the ACE program and 93 percent of ACE graduates go on to college. As Dr. Thornton always says, "With ACE everyone wins; the graduates of the program, the colleges, mentors, the mentor's firms all benefit from the program and the increase of students into the construction and design industry."

Another project that Dr. Thornton is actively involved with is the Salvadori Center in New York City. He is the President of the non-profit organization that educates over 2,000 middle school students each year in mathematics and science, by utilizing architectural and engineering principles. As the President of the Salvadori Center, he volunteers his time, efforts and engineering experiences to foster a creative and effective educational environment for these school students. The center is aimed at middle school students in economically disadvantaged areas of New York City, and relies heavily upon hands-on activities with structures to teach lessons that increase the students' knowledge of math, science and the humanities. In addition to direct classroom interaction, the center also provides "virtual" mentors through the Internet, offers workshops, publishes educational materials and offers training for teachers. Under Dr. Thornton's leadership since 1995, the Salvadori Center is carrying out a program to include children in other disadvantaged regions of the country. Similar to ACE, this has become a crusade for Dr. Thornton; he leads by example and creates an interest in learning that directly benefits the children and the construction and design industry future.

Charles Thornton's charisma and energy is contagious. He does not just talk about the need for engineering education at all levels. Through his leadership and active involvement, he enthusiastically pursues this end and teaches by his own example. He is committed to giving back by teaching and mentoring with the non-profit organizations that he is involved with. His dedication and understanding of the evolving needs of the engineering profession and his desire to remove any existing barriers to a child's education led to the development of ACE and his involvement with the Salvadori Center.

One of his endorsers had this to say about him:

I have found Charlie's remarkable can-do attitude, his willingness to take risks to make this world a better place for our children, to be contagious. As he once said to me, "What? You haven't made a mistake this week? Sounds like you haven't been taking on enough challenges."

Dr. Thornton exemplifies the creative and effective innovation essential to improving avenues for both engineering and higher education. In all of his "projects," Charles H. Thornton is leading the way by making a marked difference in people's lives, while addressing the critical shortage of design and construction professionals predicted for the future. He is a catalyst who applies his talents, education, drive and abilities toward achieving goals that benefit all those involved; this is the secret of his success. Because Charles Thornton is willing to take necessary risks to ensure that the world is a better place for our children, we all benefit from the fruits of his labor.

The Medal was presented to Charles H. Thornton by Michael J. Skelly, Chair of the Hoover Medal Board of Award, during the Honorary Members' Luncheon of the American Society of Civil Engineers at its 150th Anniversary Conference in Washington, D. C., on November 6, 2002.

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