Paying it Forward: The Huff Family Scholarship Fund

Written by Jane Halpern on |
Engineering Hall

When you ask Bill Huff what motivated him to give back to UW-Platteville, he likes to answer the question with a story. “As a veteran discharged in 1955, I was aware that education was a license for a better life,” Huff said.

He enrolled in the Wisconsin State College and Institute of Technology, a school students today would still be able to recognize through annual traditions like the lighting of the M. “My freshman year was very easy for me, so I was offered a job at Deere's in Dubuque, Iowa. It was my intent to work full time and carry 21 units in my second year,” Huff said.

But Huff’s ambitious plan backfired. “I was failing miserably after three weeks, so Professor Spradling told me to quit work and stay in school. Thank God for that advice,” he said.

Huff’s graduation with a degree in mining engineering set him on a pathway to success. After working for a time as an engineer for Kaiser Steel Corporation and North American Rockwell, he launched the successful real estate investment company Huff Properties in 1962, investing in both commercial and residential properties across three counties in California. But Huff never forgot the experience of trying to make ends meet as an undergraduate. “We struggled to survive during those years and wanted to help those less fortunate,” he said.

Enter the Huff Family Foundation. Founded in 2003, the Foundation allows Huff to give back in profound ways to a wide range of projects and causes, including Cal Poly Pomona (both his sons’ alma mater), where he has funded three scholarships in civil engineering, industrial engineering, and music since 2004. Within his home town of Upland, California, Huff supports the YMCA (where he has served on the board of directors for 25 years and, in 2017, opened the Huff Family Aquatic Center) as well as the San Antonio Regional Hospital (where the Emergency Room and Patient Rooms bear his name).

Within Huff’s philanthropic endeavors, one organization remains particularly close to his heart: UW-Platteville. He has supported the university in multiple ways: by contributing to multiple causes, including individual $1K scholarships to students from Dubuque Senior and Lancaster high schools attending UW-Platteville; by sponsoring the construction of the new Engineering Hall on campus, where a classroom now bears his name; and by creating the Huff Family Scholarship Fund, which gives industrial, civil, and mechanical engineering and business administration majors the boost they need to stay in school and focus on their challenging curriculum.

One of those students, Alicia Simon, reported that “obtaining this scholarship has allowed me to be more involved in campus organizations” during her time at UW-Platteville. She isn’t kidding: the senior from Dickeyville, Wisconsin, is not only the events coordinator for the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers and treasurer for Alpha Pi Mu, but is also a member of five different intramural clubs: softball, volleyball, football, soccer, and dodgeball. The benefits of that kind of extracurricular involvement are hard to overstate: besides honing her time management skills, Simon is developing the kinds of leadership and communications abilities that will serve her well throughout her career.

Simon is learning to network, too. She said she enjoys UW-Platteville because the small class size for industrial engineering majors “allows me to create great connections and friendships with fellow students.” Hunter Nix, a civil engineering major from Cassville, Wisconsin, agrees: “Receiving the scholarship relieved some of the financial stress that most college students endure. This allowed me to focus more on my academics and enjoy my time while at UW-Platteville.” Nix has made the most of his undergraduate experience by becoming active in both Chi Epsilon and the campus chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers, an important bridge between his undergraduate experience and the professional world.

Recipients of the Huff Family Scholarship Fund have found that the freedom from financial worry enables them to pursue bigger dreams. Josh Zauche, a freshman from Platteville, decided to take on a challenging academic combination. The Dodgeball Club member is majoring in mechanical engineering while minoring in business administration; he eventually hopes to use skills from both disciplines in a career as a kitchen appliance designer.

“I enjoy the imagination that is involved with problem solving,” Zauche said of his major. “It’s fun to bounce ideas off of my classmates when it comes to group projects.” Zauche’s experience working as part of a team both in the classroom and on the dodgeball court is strong preparation for the intense cross-disciplinary collaboration involved in new product development. Besides allowing him to take on an ambitious course load, Zauche said the Huff Scholarship “has allowed me to put more focus and effort on my work here at school and has helped ease my mind when it comes to paying for tuition.”

Tyler Graney is also making the most of his time at UW-Platteville; the freshman is already an active member in both Pioneer Performance Engineering and the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Formula 1 team. “Spending up to 20 hours in the machine shops on campus each weekend doesn’t leave much time for relaxing,” said Graney, who nonetheless is keeping his eye on an ambitious career goal. “The best-case scenario is that I will get a chance to work in the motorsports industry as a vehicle dynamics engineer. I hope to gain enough experience in the next few years to stand out and end up working with race teams in the US.”  With the technical skills he’s gained from spending hours building and refining engines, Graney will be well-positioned to pursue his dream.

Seniors Simons and Nix have also made strong plans for their futures. After graduation, Simons will begin work in the quality engineering development program at John Deere Waterloo Works, while Nix will be joining MSA in Dubuque as a municipal engineer.  “I like the fact that I have the opportunity to positively impact peoples’ lives each day,” said Hunter Nix, when asked what he looks forward to in his career. It’s a fitting tribute to Nix’s benefactor, Bill Huff, who has truly found a way to turn his career’s many successes into a lasting gift: one which, on UW-Platteville’s campus, continues to positively impact the lives of Pioneers every day.