By the time Dr. Phillip “Rocky” Simmons (ChemE 6T4, MASc 6T5, PhD 6T8, Honorary Doctorate 1T2) left U of T Engineering, his parents were in serious debt. Simmons has never forgotten that financial obligation, that sacrifice and the education that bought it. And he’s never taken it for granted.
That’s why he and his company, Eco-Tec Ltd., are longtime donors to the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry. Together, they fund a scholarship in chemical (environmental) engineering, sponsor student-driven research, and donate money to be applied at the discretion of the Department’s Chair.
“I think when you have the privilege to go to a first-class university, it’s your duty to give back,” he says.
Simmons, President and CEO of Eco-Tec, helped build the Pickering-based company into a globally recognized manufacturer of water purification, gas processing and chemical recovery systems for industrial operations. The company’s success is based on the commercialization of an ion exchange system he helped develop while completing his PhD.
Today, Simmons is enormously proud of Eco-Tec’s roots as a spin-off of the university. While he says there are other great engineering programs in Canada, he can’t help but be biased towards U of T Engineering, describing the boundless success of its graduates as “mind-boggling.” Which helps explain why Eco-Tec hires so many of them.
Simmons, who serves as Chair of the Board of Advisors of ChemE, likes to use his visits to the university to interact as much as possible with students.
“I’m 71, but when I meet students I feel 30. I find them so inspiring – they aren’t jaundiced about the world,” he says.
Their enthusiasm gives him hope for their future involvement in the community, involvement that extends beyond their professional lives.
Speaking at the June 2012 Convocation where he received an honorary doctorate, Simmons drove that point home to his audience of newly minted engineers.
“Engineers have a social obligation to look after society. It’s just part of being an engineer.”