The time Ernie Haight spent at Nebraska studying toward a master’s degree in mathematics in the early 1950s was among the most meaningful experiences of his life.
“He regarded the education he received at the University of Nebraska to be the foundation for all that he was able to accomplish in his professional life,” said the Haights’ son Mark Haight about his father’s experience.
Over the years, Ernie Haight demonstrated his appreciation by giving more than $114,000 to the Department of Mathematics. Then, following his death in 2018, he provided a $208,000 estate gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation to support the Department of Mathematics Emeritus Faculty Fund. The department will use the annual income from the Haight gift to fund one or more graduate student internships in industry or a research lab.
Ernie Haight grew up in Holland, Michigan, during the Great Depression. After high school, he served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He then attended Hope College, in his hometown, where he also met his wife, Kathy. When searching for a graduate school, Ernie was drawn to Nebraska because of a graduate teaching assistantship offer. So, the couple moved to Lincoln in 1951, and Kathy taught for the Lincoln Public Schools.
After Ernie graduated in 1953, he worked for McDonnell Douglas Aircraft in Los Angeles. From there, the family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where Ernie worked for Remington Rand/Univac. Finally, in 1964, the family moved to Orlando, Florida, where Ernie devoted the remainder of his career to the Martin Marietta Corporation, developing real-time software and firmware for weapons and communications systems.
Jim Lewis, chair of the UNL mathematics department from 1988 to 2003, enjoyed the Haights’ annual return visits to Nebraska. For many years, until Kathy’s health began to fail, Ernie and Kathy would come to see friends and always attend a football game. Ernie had great admiration for coach Tom Osborne and Chancellor Martin Massengale. In turn, each would generously give of his time and meet with the Haights during their visits.
In addition to going to football games, Ernie and Kathy attended several volleyball matches with Jim and Doris Lewis. Ernie really enjoyed watching Nebraska volleyball, Lewis said, and appreciated the commitment to excellence that was continuously exemplified by the coaching staff.
For their 1991 visit, Ernie and Kathy were joined by Mark Haight, and they had a chance to visit with three of Ernie’s former professors: Lloyd Jackson, Bill Leavitt, and Ed Halfar. These three professors, together with former department Chair Miguel Basoco and Professor George Seifert, greatly influenced Ernie during his graduate education. The stories that were told in the Haight household regarding these men were numerous and nearly reverential, as these professors set an extremely high standard that stayed with Ernie throughout his entire professional career, Mark said.
“We had various conversations, and the first thing that became very clear was that Ernie had such a positive memory of his professors,” agreed Lewis, Aaron Douglas Professor of mathematics, who is both UNL’s director of the Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education and of STEM education research initiatives in the Office of Research and Economic Development.
According to Mark, “One of Ernie’s biggest concerns regarding the position of the United States in the contemporary world was its seemingly increasing inability to produce employees who were capable of designing and producing products that actually worked.”
Not only did Ernie remember his time as a graduate student with great fondness, it also was a time of great stress. It was therefore his desire to provide assistance to graduate students in the field of math, in particular students who have some type of working internship in the real world.
“Graduate students, more and more, are an important part of the technical and scientific workforce, where data science and mathematics skills are needed,” Lewis said. “To honor Ernie, his gift will support a non-academic internship and open doors to non-academic employment for graduate students in the Department of Mathematics.”