Turner named inaugural James McKelvey Professor of Engineering Education

Jay Turner has been named the James McKelvey Professor of Engineering Education

Beth Miller 
Jay Turner delivers an address at his installation ceremony as the James McKelvey Professor of Engineering Education in the James McKelvey School of Engineering. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)
Jay Turner delivers an address at his installation ceremony as the James McKelvey Professor of Engineering Education in the James McKelvey School of Engineering. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

Jay Turner, an internationally renowned environmental researcher, has been named the inaugural James McKelvey Professor of Engineering Education at the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. He was installed Jan. 30 in Whitaker Auditorium in Uncas A. Whitaker Hall.

Turner, a professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering, assesses air pollution sources and human exposures to drive interventions locally, nationally and internationally. In addition, he is vice dean for education and director of the Division of Engineering Education, launched in 2021 to facilitate a world-class, well-rounded engineering education for students that stems from excellence in instruction and the science of teaching and learning.

The professorship is named for Jim McKelvey Jr., who earned degrees in computer science and economics at Washington University in 1987 and is a serial entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded multiple startups, including Square, now Block Inc. He is a Washington University trustee, an independent director of the St. Louis Federal Reserve and a partner with FinTop, a venture capital firm he co-founded in 2017 that focuses on financial technology companies.

Participating in the professorship installation ceremony for Jay Turner (second from right) are (from left) Chancellor Andrew D. Martin, Jim McKelvey and Dean Aaron F. Bobick. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

In 2019, McKelvey made an unprecedented investment in the Washington University engineering school, which was renamed the James McKelvey School of Engineering. The commitment funds endowed scholarships and professorships, as well as the dean’s highest priorities for advancing the school and its impact on lives and communities in St. Louis and around the world. McKelvey also has provided support for facilities, such as James M. McKelvey, Sr. Hall, named for his father, James M. McKelvey Sr., who was dean of the school from 1964-1991. He died in late 2019.

“We are fortunate to have a professor of Jay Turner’s caliber at Washington University,” said Chancellor Andrew D. Martin. “Each day, he paves the way for innovation by inspiring, educating and leading our future scientists and engineers as they pursue their personal and professional goals. Professor Turner embodies our WashU mission in so many ways.

“I’m deeply grateful for Jim McKelvey Jr. and his unwavering support of the university. This esteemed professorship is another example of his commitment to advancing knowledge and solutions. Jim’s vision, loyalty and generosity allow us to reach new heights of excellence in teaching, research and innovation.” 

“When Jim McKelvey made the commitment to the engineering school, he did it with education, fundamental research and innovation in mind,” said Aaron F. Bobick, dean and the James M. McKelvey Professor. “Naming Jay Turner the inaugural James McKelvey Professor of Engineering Education is another step forward in that goal to provide a world-class education to our students that will prepare them for careers in research or innovation. We are grateful for the McKelvey family’s continued support of our school.”

Turner’s current research is centered domestically in St. Louis and Louisville, Ky., and internationally in South Africa, Mongolia and Central Asia. For example, through a partnership with UNICEF Mongolia, Turner and collaborators are conducting air quality measurements to quantify air pollutant spatiotemporal variability in Bayankhongor and to assess children’s exposures to PM2.5 in kindergartens, maternity wards and pediatric hospitals in Bayankhongor and Ulaanbaatar. He also leads a U.S. State Department-funded project to enhance air quality research and education at Central Asian universities. In addition to his faculty role in McKelvey Engineering, Turner is an air quality fellow supporting the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Turner has received numerous awards and recognition for his research and teaching. He is a five-time recipient of the school’s Professor of the Year Award, conferred by the school’s graduating class; received the inaugural Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2013; and received the university’s Distinguished Faculty Award in 2003. Turner is past president of the American Association for Aerosol Research. In 2021, he completed six years of service on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board (SAB) including chairing two SAB panels and chairing the SAB’s Science and Technological Achievement Awards Committee.

Jay Turner with his wife, Sandra Wilkie, and son, Benjamin Turner. (Photo: Sid Hastings/Washington University)

Turner joined the engineering faculty in 1994 after earning a doctorate in chemical engineering from McKelvey Engineering in 1993. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1987 and was a DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Fellow at the University of Duisburg, Germany. He has been an air quality specialist at the Federal Highway Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation. He has taken sabbaticals at the University of California, Davis; Sonoma Technology Inc.; and at the Harvard School of Public Health.

A member of an extended family with strong ties to Washington University, McKelvey Jr. also co-founded LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization that helps companies find skilled workers for the growing number of tech jobs and provides free coding courses for those seeking a technology career; Third Degree Glass Factory; Mira Publishing, which he started as an undergraduate student; and founded Invisibly, which works in the ad tech and media industries. He is author of “The Innovation Stack”; “The Birth of Banking” graphic novel; and “The Art of Fire.”

In 2012, the engineering school presented McKelvey Jr. with its Alumni Achievement Award to recognize his groundbreaking entrepreneurship. In 2017, the university recognized him with the Robert S. Brookings Award, which honors individuals for their extraordinary dedication and generosity to Washington University. In addition to currently serving as a university trustee, he also has served as a member of the Alumni Board of Governors.

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