Ralph and Barbara Stephens

Iowa City, Iowa

Ralph and Barbara (1985 B.F.A.) Stephens came to The University of Iowa in 1965 when Ralph was hired as an assistant professor in the College of Engineering.

During his 46 years at the UI, Ralph’s teaching and research work in mechanical systems, materials fatigue, and fracture mechanics kept life busy, but interesting. “In all my years here, I’ve never felt like I needed a break—except when I was writing,” laughs Ralph. He’s also thoroughly enjoyed his interactions with students both in the classroom and in the lab.

The couple has three children: Susan; Robert, who earned a mechanical engineering degree from the UI in 1985; and Kristen, and as they grew, Barb found time to enroll in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in art and art history, graduating alongside son Robert in 1985.

In 1988, Ralph was on campus outside Danforth Chapel before his daughter’s wedding when he had a sudden realization: The University of Iowa and the state of Iowa had become his true home. “I looked around campus and thought about what a great experience I’d had so far,” says Ralph. “Barb and I realized how much we loved the UI, my colleagues, and what an incredible journey we’d made.”

“Not long after that, we started thinking about making a bequest to the UI,” says Barb.

Fast forward to present day, and Ralph is in phased retirement—though he still keeps close tabs on the college, teaching two classes in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering each fall. The couple also have seven grandchildren to keep up with.

Meanwhile, Barb and Ralph had been thinking about their planned gifts to the UI, and had another important realization: they wanted to give now. “We saw an immediate need within my department,” says Ralph. “And now we’ll be able to see the difference we’ve made.”

Ultimately, the couple made two contributions to The University of Iowa Foundation. The first was an outright gift of $250,000 to support the Professor Ralph and Barbara Stephens Experimental Engineering Lab, to be housed in the Seamans Center for the Engineering Arts and Sciences. The gift has already contributed to a new class offering, and funds will be used to equip the lab, support a temporary student lab position, and endow annual funding.

The second gift will establish the Professor Ralph I. and Barbara G. Stephens Women’s Basketball Scholarship. The couple gave $50,000 to start the fund, and the remaining $150,000 will come to the UI Foundation through a bequest in their estate plans. Ralph and Barb are avid Hawkeye fans and started following the UI women more closely after Barb began volunteering at Game Time, a summer women’s basketball league in North Liberty. “I think the girls are a lot of fun to watch,” says Barb. “They really work together, and we’re happy to support the UI team.”

This isn’t the first time the couple have included the UI in their planned giving. Several years ago, they established a $100,000 scholarship for the School of Art and Art History in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Barbara’s alma mater. They also created an additional $250,000 scholarship fund for the College of Engineering.

“We feel good about this, and so proud,” says Barb.

Ralph agrees. “My greatest accomplishments were gained at Iowa,” he says. “This is a great way to give back to our wonderful University, and I hope other faculty will consider doing the same.”

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