Edward A. Nowatzki, PhD, PE, D.GE, F.ASCE, passed away on May 4, 2015, in Tuscon, AZ. In his long and fruitful career, which spanned over 45 years, he touched the lives of thousands of students and engineering practitioners as a professor and as an engineering consultant.
Dr. Nowatzki grew up in New York City and earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Manhattan College. He completed his master’s and PhD at the University of Arizona, Tucson. His first position was at Grumman Aerospace Corporation. An aircraft engineering defense contractor might seem an unusual place for a civil engineer with a specialization in geotechnical engineering; Dr. Nowatzki’s research there was also very unusual: he was working on the geotechnical engineering aspects of the design of the first lunar lander. He later wrote, “I consider myself very fortunate to have been a part of that historic event….” He wrote an article about his experiences on this project for GeoPrac.net.
Dr. Nowatzki served as an associate professor at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly) – Pomona and then at the University of Arizona, Tucson. He served as professor and department chair at Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo, and then returned the University of Arizona as an advisor to the vice provost and as professor. At the same time, he worked in the private sector as a consulting and principal engineer; a colleague, Jay S. Natale, PhD, PE, remembers him as able to move “seamlessly” between the private sector and academia, writing, “He loved teaching, but he also loved the challenges of real-life geotechnical practice — and he was exceptionally good at both.”
Dr. Nowatzki was a recognized expert in the areas of soil nailing, soil nail wall systems, and soil-tire interactions. Over the course of his career, he published more than 100 technical papers and reports, including an authoritative book on off-road vehicle mobility. In 2013, he published a memoir, I Can Hold My Own.
Throughout his career, Dr. Nowatzki was involved in a number of professional organizations, including ASCE. He served as president of the Southern Arizona Branch in 1980-81 and also the Arizona Section in 1986-87. He was active in the Geotechnical Engineering Division – the predecessor of the Geo-Institute – and served on the Division’s Publications and Soil Dynamics Committees. He also served as an advisor for student Chapters of ASCE. In 1988, the ASCE Southern Branch named him Civil Engineer of the Year and awarded him a Commendation for Professional Contributions. He was elected a Fellow of ASCE in 1990. In 1999, he received the John C. Park Outstanding Civil Engineer Award from the Arizona Section. In 2007, he was named Engineer of the Year by the Arizona Society of Professional Engineers. He was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year four times by the students at the University of Arizona. In 1992, he received the James M. Robbins Excellence in Teaching Award from the Chi Epsilon National Honor Society. In 2005, he received the Centennial Professor Award from the University of Arizona’s Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, one of only four such awards.