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Dr. Duane S. Ellifritt: A love of teaching, an iconic sculpture and a nationally recognized expert

2013 Metal Construction Hall of Fame

Hof   Ellifritt  Duane

Dr. Duane Ellifritt grew up in a little hill country town in West Virginia with a population of 366. "My parents never went beyond eighth grade in school," he says. "I didn't know any college graduates, except my high school teachers. There was no guidance counselor in my school."

But because of hard work, his own initiative and the fact that he was good at math, Ellifritt was able to attend college with some financial help from an uncle. He graduated from Hunting, W.V.-based Marshall College (now Marshall University) with a Bachelor of Engineering Science in 1957, and went on to work immediately for Middletown, Ohio-based Armco Steel's Metal Products Division, where he spent the next 10 years working in metal building design and computer analysis. "Computers were just starting to get popular," Ellifritt says. "We worked not only in cold-formed metal, but also heavy structural frames. We were making metal buildings, which incorporated both kinds of steel."

Education importance

In spite of his humble beginnings, education has proved to be an integral part of Ellifritt's career and legacy. While at Armco, he went to night school at the University of Cincinnati and earned a Masters Degree in Structural Engineering in 1967. He earned a Ph.D. from West Virginia University in 1970. His dissertation involved steel deck research.

Not wanting to hoard this accumulated technical acumen, Ellifritt has found great success teaching students. He taught at Oklahoma State University from 1970 to 1975, and taught steel design at the University of Florida from 1984 to 2000. He taught a course in steel design at the University of Western Australia (SI units) in 1992, and also did some research on cold-formed purlins with a UWA professor. He is currently a Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida.

Why did Ellifritt feel the yearning to teach? "It's rewarding to see students do well in their studies, then go on to be successful in design firms or companies," he says. "Then several years later at an alumnus meeting, it's good to see them successful and know that you've had a little hand in it."

"Having worked for, about, and with the cold-formed steel industry for 56 years, I am pleased to see its acceptance in all forms of construction,including residential."

Although retired from teaching for 13 years, Ellifritt says he loved being able to impart some knowledge of his own that he picked up from working in the steel industry. "Teachers who come out of industry have an advantage because they know how to get things done, rather than by reading a textbook," he says.

A tool Ellifritt invented to assist students has attained iconic status. In 1986, he created a steel teaching sculpture containing numerous structural steel connections to help instruct his students in steel construction design at the University of Florida.

"I got frustrated in 1985," Ellifritt says. "I was teaching steel and when we taught connections, many students had a hard time visualizing a 3-D connection. You can show them two or three views of it, but to show them the whole thing in their mind, they had trouble doing that. I was trying to think of ways that I could help them with that.

Field trips were good, but there's not always a field trip available when you want one. Contractors are not always happy about your coming onto a job site with a bunch of students. My best solution was to create a sculpture on campus with all the different connections and members commonly used, shown in full scale. I designed the sculpture. It was fabricated in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and erected in October 1986." It has since been adopted and promoted by the American Institute of Steel Construction, and reproduced at nearly 200 universities in the United States and other countries.

Information sharing

Ellifritt hasn't just shared his insight, talent and experience with college students; the whole industry has benefitted from it. He is a nationally recognized expert in the design of light steel buildings and has lectured on related subjects in several countries.

Ellifritt was director of engineering and research for the Metal Building Manufacturers Association (MBMA) for nine years, where he oversaw MBMA-sponsored research at several universities. He lobbied on behalf of metal buildings at building code hearings all over the country.

He became a member of the AISI Committee on Specifications for the Design of Cold-Formed Members in 1976 and a member of the AISC Committee on Specifications in 1981. In 1991, Ellifritt was sponsored by the Australian Institute of Steel Construction to give lectures to engineering groups in cities around the country, including Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, Tasmania, and also Christchurch and Auckland in New Zealand. In 2001, he co-authored "Cold-Formed Steel Structures to the AISI Specifications."