In Memoriam: Dr. Robert Kern
Milwaukee School of Engineering is mourning the loss of MSOE Regent Robert Kern. Dr. Kern passed away on Nov. 8, 2022 at the age of 96. He served MSOE as a member of the Board of Regents since 1992. He holds an Honorary Doctor of Engineering from the university and is a member of MSOE’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
“Words cannot express how honored we are to have known Bob Kern and to have learned from and been inspired by him,” said Dr. John Walz, MSOE president. “Dr. Kern’s entrepreneurial values have been instilled in MSOE and live on in the MSOE Mindset due to the support he provided the university and the example he set throughout his lifetime. His and Patricia’s dedication has been transformational for our university, enabling us to offer our students world-class experiences both in and out of the classroom.”
Bob and his wife Patricia Kern founded Generac Power Systems in Waukesha, Wisconsin in 1959 out of their garage with five employees and grew it into a 2,000-person operation with a number of facilities in Wisconsin, the Midwest and overseas. The company produces generators for industrial and consumer markets. When the company was sold, they established the Kern Family Foundation. Bob was the retired chairman and CEO, and he and Patricia served on the company’s board of trustees.
The Kerns led the Kern Family Foundation for many years and are longtime supporters of MSOE and its scholarship programs. They were firm believers in fostering citizens of good character and supporting the well-being and development of students as a whole.
The Kern Family Foundation focuses on initiatives that have long-term systemic impact. The foundation helped establish Project Lead The Way, the nation’s leading science, technology, engineering and math K-12 curriculum, now in over 6,500 schools and reaching over one million students across the U.S. annually. The foundation also encourages engineering students to develop an entrepreneurial mindset through the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network (KEEN) at nearly 20 private engineering schools (including MSOE).
Thanks to the Kerns’ generosity, MSOE was able to build the Kern Center, which opened in 2004. The Kern Center is MSOE’s health, wellness, fitness and recreation facility. It houses several athletic courts and arenas, workout areas and is home to Athletics Department, testing services, and Wellness Center, which includes counseling and health services. The Kerns also supported the construction of Pamela and Hermann Viets Field, an athletic field constructed on top of an in-ground parking facility. The Kern Center and Viets Field are home to several of MSOE’s varsity, club and intramural sports teams and campus recreation.
Recently, MSOE was able to completely renovate and expand one of its residence halls with support from the Kern Family Foundation. The facility was transformed into a living-learning community and reopened in fall 2021 as Hermann Viets Tower. The living-learning community encourages academic success and gives students with similar academic, social and personal interests the opportunity to live together, collaborate and share experiences.
The Kerns were instrumental in the establishment of MSOE’s MBA in Education Leadership program and the Bachelor of Science in BioMolecular Engineering and its affiliated laboratories. They also supported the development of the CREATE Institute. The CREATE Institute supports development of the MSOE Mindset in undergraduates. The mindset is an assimilation of the Servant-Leader Mindset, the Entrepreneurial Mindset, and MSOE’s new strategic plan, mission, vision, values and commitments. The MSOE Mindset identifies graduates as leaders of character; responsible professionals; passionate learners; and value creators.