Profile in Giving: Les Cromwell

Profile in Giving: Les Cromwell

Founding engineering professor forged a path for student success

Irina and the late Leslie Cromwell.

Irina and the late Leslie Cromwell.

President's Associates

The following individuals have given annual gifts of at least $1,000. We salute their investment and invite you to join in supporting Cal State L.A. by making a gift online or calling (323) 343-4866.

  • Anthony Phili Acosta ’74
  • James A. Bell ’97
  • Ruth M. Bell ’93
  • Ann Elizabeth Bradley ’76, ’78 & Dana Champion ’99
  • Mr. & Mrs. Robert Bridenbecker ’66
  • Warren ’71 and Susan Bryant
  • Kyle C. Button
  • Monica Chew ’04
  • William J. Dermody ’71, ’74
  • Jaffe Dickerson
  • Verdel la Cour Flores ’74
  • Ramon Garcia ’71
  • Art M. ’80 & Lillian ’96 Gastelum
  • The Gillett Family
  • Eva Grant ’66, ’72
  • Ernest E. Guerra ’80
  • Robert Hoffman
  • Harry S. Hong
  • Lillian Y. Kawasaki ’72, ’80
  • Victor King
  • Dal H. Lee
  • Ethan B. Lipton ’76, ’83 & Janet Lent
  • William ’82 & Kathy Lewis
  • Fred Lopez ’83
  • Gary J. Matus ’69
  • David ’67, ’76 & Rosemary ’70 McNutt
  • Louis R. Negrete ’57
  • Nancy Nguyen ’97
  • Sheryl Okuno ’87
  • Charles H. ’53, ’60 and Dorothy ’70 Palmer
  • George A. Pardon
  • Pamela Angerer Payne ’81, ’91, ’95
  • Thomas N. Peterson
  • Marilyn E. Plummer ’71
  • Peter Quan
  • Philip J. Quigley ’67
  • Jorge Ramirez ’04
  • Chris Rapp ’76
  • Collette Rocha
  • Timothy Wayne Rogers ’82
  • Anthony R. Ross & Laverne White
  • A. Sami Siddiqui ’76
  • Albert Tattoni ’60
  • Linda Trevillian
  • Gilbert Vasquez ’64
  • Geraldine Rene Webb ’73
  • Elizabeth Wheeler ’81
  • Patricia Louise Wohlford ’68
  • Tony Wong ’69, ’74
  • Wilbert Woo ’70, ’77
  • Zeus Xioco ’03
  • William Jih—Shen Yang ’58
  • Donald J. Zuk ’61

In his first years on campus, the late Leslie Cromwell sat on a wooden crate
and worked off a desk made of a piece of plywood across two trestles.

It was the 1950s, that was what was available in the fledgling engineering
program—and student advising had to get done, Cromwell recounted in the 1987
book, Being Here: An Autobiography of California State University, Los
As many of his colleagues, friends and family recounted, Cromwell
was devoted to helping students achieve access to higher education and the
professional opportunities that are born from learning. Cromwell, an emeritus
dean and professor of electrical engineering—and the first assistant professor
in the Department of Engineering—died in June after a brief illness.

“He was always a leader in everything he did,” said Cromwell’s wife, Irina.
His leadership, she said, extended beyond campus to include founding a choral
group, participating in theatrics and local politics. “And, of course, at
State L.A
. he started all sorts of things. He spent his lifetime there, and it
meant a lot to him.”

In his 30 years of working on campus, Cromwell not only helped to father the
University’s engineering program, but he forever changed the landscape of the
field—and the campus. He helped bring a new generation of engineers, who learned
in an environment that emphasized mentoring and student-centered, hands-on
education, into the conversation.

“Our main achievement is that we have put professional engineering education
within the grasp of many low-income and disadvantaged students who would not
have had the chance otherwise,” Cromwell said in Being Here.

Cromwell came to Cal State L.A. by way of the University of California, Los
Angeles. He was a faculty member at the university when he was told of the
unique opportunity to help build across town an engineering program from the
ground up. A year later, Cromwell had designed the new program’s curriculum
and began what would be decades of service to the University, students and
community. The other professors who made up the founding quartet were Bill
Eggers, Bill Plumtree and Harold Storch.  

“The early days were hard work and challenging, but it was truly an exciting
environment,” Cromwell recalled in an interview after his retirement in 1980.

During his tenure on campus, Cromwell served many roles. Among them were
professor, dean of the then School of Engineering, acting chair of the
engineering department, and director of the cooperative education program. He
also published curriculum biomedical and medical instrumentation textbooks still
in use today, and was honored by the campus community as one of its Outstanding
Professors in 1968.

“People really liked working with Les because he seemed to genuinely care
about people,” said Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering Martin S.
Roden. Roden also served as Cromwell’s associate dean of the School of
Engineering. “He always took other’s opinion into account,” Roden continued. “He
was humble, and gave a lot of credit to others.”

In fact, many note, it was Cromwell’s compassionate and thoughtful leadership
that laid the groundwork for the successes of the nationally recognized college
today. In his first years of leadership as the head of the engineering division
(1955-1964), for instance, Cromwell saw enrollment grow from 25 students to more
than 1,000, Roden noted in an obituary published in the University’s
. Today, the
College of Engineering, Computer Science, and
enrolls close to 2,000 students and it’s recognized as having a
nationally competitive, top-tiered undergraduate engineering program. Last
year, the
engineering program was ranked No. 36 in the U.S. News & World Report’s
“America’s Best Colleges” issue.

Even after retirement, Cromwell maintained his commitment to the campus and
its mission by donating time, counsel and financial support when possible. To
commemorate the 50th anniversary of the College, the Cromwells established a charitable gift annuity in support of the College.

“Dean Cromwell is the exception,” Roden wrote in the obituary. “He receives
universal praise for all of his contributions to the development of our