When Michael Patterson arrived at Purdue University as an incoming freshman, he had no idea his first night on campus would have such a lasting impact on his life. Nearly 50 years later, that significant experience has greatly influenced his support of the Purdue Memorial Union renovation.
Patterson earned his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary engineering (now called engineering education) in 1980, focusing on mechanical engineering and construction management. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in terms of engineering or even architecture,” he says of his decision to pursue a technical field. “But I knew I wanted to design, build, and operate things.”
Growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, Patterson had exhibited strong proficiency in math and science—skills that ultimately defined his academic and career trajectories. A fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers with three patents to his name, Patterson retired from Intel in 2018 as a senior principal engineer and now calls the state of Washington his home.
Patterson has fond memories of his undergraduate days in West Lafayette, from joining Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity to taking unique courses, including one that examined the physics of sailing. “Our professor had a love of sailing, and a number of us students were into it as well,” Patterson says. “We all talked about the engineering aspects of how and why sailboats move through the water, so that was certainly something I enjoyed.”
Beyond the classroom, one of Patterson’s most memorable moments involved his late mother, Kathie Beeken. “My first night at Purdue, Mom and I had moved me into my rented room at a house on Oak Street. She wanted to know if I wanted to spend the evening with her or go explore,” Patterson says.
Choosing to venture across campus, he hugged his mother goodbye, made plans to meet her for breakfast, and went to join a high school friend who was also attending Purdue. After discovering his classmate had already left, Patterson took what he calls a “lonely walk back to his room,” deciding to cut through the lower level of the Union.
“To my surprise—and rarely admitted joy—there was my mom, sitting there having a Coke,” he says. “We had a fine evening talking about life challenges and opportunities, and in some ways it was the best first night of college one could hope for.”
Several decades later, Patterson learned about the University’s plans to renovate the Union. He chose to support the West Terrace Breezeway, located near the exact spot where he and his mother had visited that memorable night. The area will be called Kathie’s Porch in her honor, a personal touch Patterson finds fitting, given his mother’s love of porches and cool breezes—plus her strong support of academia.
“My mother was always a huge supporter of education, and she made some of her own gifts toward scholarships and promoting education at other universities,” Patterson says. “She instilled that in all of her children.”
Higher education has clearly played a defining role in Patterson’s life. In addition to his Purdue degree, he earned a master’s in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and both a master’s and a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Vermont. Beyond his long tenure with Intel, he enjoyed career success with General Dynamics and IBM.
Patterson previously supported a bench in front of the Lambert Fieldhouse at Purdue; he sees his most recent gift for the Union as a way to enhance campus life for generations to come. “I hope Kathie’s Porch becomes a place where students can sit and relax so they have somewhere to go outside of their usual haunts for a while,” he says. //