Engineering

In Memoriam: Dr. Melvin R. Ramey, Mentor and Role Model

Professor Emeritus Mel Ramey sits for a portrait in his home in Davis, Ca. Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

DAVIS, Calif., June 28, 2017 — Dr. Melvin R. “Mel” Ramey, a beloved civil engineering professor who also served as a UC Davis assistant track coach and the university’s faculty athletics representative, passed away on Monday at the age of 78.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Ramey lettered in both track and field and basketball while earning his undergraduate degree from Penn State, where he graduated in 1960. He later earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in civil engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in 1965 and 1967, respectively, then became the second African-American member of the UC Davis faculty in 1967.

Ramey enjoyed a decorated career in the College of Engineering, serving as chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and associate dean for the college’s graduate studies program. He also had a productive research program in the areas of structural design, structural testing, fiber reinforced concrete, and biomechanics. Ramey captured numerous academic awards during his career, including the Magnar Ronning Award for Teaching Excellence (1984-85), Black Engineer of the Year (1993), and the UC Davis Engineering Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award (2002). Ramey also received a Civil and Environmental Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015 from Carnegie Mellon.

However, those close to the Aggie athletics program perhaps best knew Ramey for his contributions to track and field. The former Nittany Lion long and triple jumper never lost his affinity for his sport and hoped to use the campus’s track to continue working out on his own. Instead, then head track and field coach John Pappa invited him to become an assistant coach for the two horizontal jumps. Ramey happily accepted the position and guided dozens of Aggie student-athletes for a quarter century. One of his pupils, Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Famer Teri Serrano, won the 1982 national title in the long jump and set a school record that still stands 35 years later.

Balancing his academic appointment and his coaching duties came naturally for Ramey, who saw similarities in the two capacities.

“I characterize myself as a person that’s a glass-half-full person, so I always look at the things we can do, and not the things we can’t do,” he told fellow CEE professor and chair Karl Romstad in a 2005 interview. “I try to have my students understand that they are very capable and they could make these things happen. I did that with my athletes. Teaching and coaching were almost identical. It was the idea of setting an environment where they could succeed. As soon as I could transfer the understanding that it was for them to be successful, not for me to make them successful, then they would start being successful.”

Later in his UC Davis career, Ramey moved into a different role with the Aggies, replacing fellow engineering professor Jerry Henderson as the university’s faculty athletics representative to the NCAA. He served as FAR from 1997 until his retirement in 2004, representing the campus at various NCAA events and continuing — if not embodying — the athletics department’s commitment to academic integrity. Ramey also stood as an advocate for Title IX, both during its initial implementation in the 1970s and in his tenure as FAR.

Although his academic expertise was in structural engineering, Ramey combined his background in science with his passion for athletics in becoming a leading authority in biomechanics, particularly in the horizontal jumps. Employing such technology as force platforms and high-speed videography, he published analyses of the physics of athletes. Ramey even presented his research to such organizations as USA Track & Field and conducted academic clinics at the Olympic Trials.

More recently, appreciation for Ramey’s career took two forms on the UC Davis campus. His colleagues and students established the Melvin R. Ramey Fund for Student Success, and further had the lobby of the campus’s new Student Community Center named for Ramey.

Melvin’s wife, Felicienne, served the Sacramento State College of Business Administration as a professor, department chair and dean. His daughter, Daina Ramey Berry, is a renowned professor and author; while son, David, is an airline pilot.

The Ramey family created a page at CaringBridge.org earlier this year for friends and family to stay updated and to provide prayers and support. A memorial service will take place at 2:30 p.m on Saturday, July 15 at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church at 640 Hawthorn Lane in Davis. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for donations to the Melvin R. Ramey Fund for Student Success.

Original story by Mark Honbo: Dr. Melvin R. Ramey, Mentor And Role Model: Longtime engineering professor aided athletics as a track coach and faculty rep.