TSI employees with Ben Liu

One company, two chairs

TSI Incorporated endows second chair to honor alumnus and support faculty innovation

Thirty-seven years is a long time to run a company. But that’s what College of Science and Engineering (CSE) alumnus Leroy “Mike” Fingerson (BME 1954, M.S. ‘55, Ph.D. ‘61) did—and he did it well. The longtime TSI Inc. founder and CEO grew his small, private enterprise in Shoreview, Minn., into a trusted leader of precision instruments—that measure everything from fluid dynamics to biohazards. The company has hundreds of employees, plus field offices in Europe and Asia.

But, Fingerson never forgot where he came from—regularly turning to his alma mater to tap faculty researchers for help and advice. As Fingerson’s company grew, so too did its partnerships with the innovative engineers and scientists at the University of Minnesota.

It is no surprise that upon retirement, he was honored with a gift that would ensure his legacy as well as the University’s ability to draw top talent. The Leroy Fingerson/TSI Incorporated Chair in the Department of Mechanical Engineering was established in 1998 with a $1 million endowment.

Two decades later, the new leaders at TSI Inc. generously have contributed another $2 million toward a second endowed chair at the University. This time, the gift was in recognition of Benjamin Liu (Ph.D. '60), another innovative CSE alumnus, retired University of Minnesota Regents Professor, and founder of MSP Corporation, a neighboring Shoreview-based company.

A win-win for all

The Benjamin Y.H. Liu-TSI Applied Technology Chair in Mechanical Engineering, like TSI’s first gift, will support a faculty member whose research demonstrates the potential for commercialization.

“We have had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Liu and his company, MSP Corporation, for many years,” said Tom Kennedy, TSI's current president. “Ben and the MSP team developed new and innovative products that solve commercial, scientific, and medical problems related to aerosols and particles. In 2016, our two companies came together officially and, since then, we have had many opportunities to learn and benefit from Dr. Liu's accomplishments and leadership.”

Shanghai-born Liu joined the University of Minnesota faculty soon after receiving his Ph.D. from the U in 1960. In his 40+ years of service, he established his alma mater as a prominent center for the study of aerosols and particles.

“I came to the University of Minnesota because the mechanical engineering department had a good reputation,” Liu said.

“I stayed on the faculty for a long time,” he added, “because I felt I could help make the department better and stronger in two new areas: one related to solar energy utilization and the other on aerosol and fine particle studies.”

Liu’s many accomplishments include serving as director of the Particle Technology Laboratory, authoring or co-authoring more than 400 publications, being inducted into National Academy of Engineering, and being named Alumni Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering as well as Regents Professor.

In 2002, Liu retired from the University and became president of MSP Corporation, which he founded with his wife, Helen, also a University of Minnesota graduate. He continued his aerosol research, filing over 100 new patents and creating new products for aerosol sampling and measurement. Additionally, he developed devices for testing medical inhalers used in treating asthma and other diseases.

A gift that keeps on giving

There are more than 70 endowed chairs and professorships in CSE. These faculty positions, which help attract and retain prized scholars and researchers, are supported by the annual payout from donor-funded endowments. Each endowment may cover the faculty salary, research and travel stipends or other associated costs, and continues in perpetuity.

At the University of Minnesota, a minimum of $2 million is required to establish an endowed chair and a minimum of $1 million is needed for an endowed professorship. Both may be funded through a gift paid in one lump sum or over a period of up to five years, or through a bequest commitment.

David Pui (M.S. ’73, Ph.D.’76), Distinguished McKnight University Professor and current director of the U’s Particle Technology Laboratory, holds the Leroy Fingerson/TSI Incorporated Chair. The Benjamin Y.H. Liu-TSI Applied Technology Chair in Mechanical Engineering will be named next year.

“It is a great honor for us to be able to endow a second chair at the University of Minnesota. The U of M is inseparable from our history,” said Kennedy.

“Since alumnus Leroy Fingerson co-founded our company back in 1961,” he explained, “we have collaborated with the University and Department of Mechanical Engineering on countless projects [including the annual TSI Fingerson Lecture]. This new chair further reinforces our long-standing relationship.”

As for Liu, the endowed position that bears his name offers an enduring way to advance discoveries that benefit society.

“We are fortunate to see technology being developed in creative and innovative ways for useful purposes,” he said. “The trend is likely to continue. I would like to see the Applied Technology Chair helping to establish the University as a center of excellence for such an endeavor.”

Learn more about endowed chairs and professorships on the CSE website.

If you’d like to support faculty in the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering, visit our CSE Giving website.