Civil Engineering Alumnus Toney Cummins Honored as Top Innovator

Researcher with U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center holds five patents

Toney Cummins

Civil engineering alumnus Toney Cummins (BSCvE 86), a scientist in the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory, was recently recognized as one of the Army’s top 20 innovators.

He was also honored for efforts that contributed significantly to the Army being selected as a recipient of the 2012 Top 100 Global Innovators Award.

“I was quite surprised when I saw an email on the selection announcement,” said Cummins, who has worked in a variety of areas within GSL since 1982. Providing technical guidance and oversight to new and emerging research programs, he holds five patents on advanced materials solutions for force protection applications. Cummins has an additional four patent applications pending.

Cummins said the Engineer Research and Development Center, or ERDC, is a wonderful place to work.

“I consider myself to be very fortunate to be a part of an organization where leadership is so committed to the researchers, providing the resources we need, such as new staff with such innovative and creative contributions to solve critical problems for our country,” he said.

“When you couple the soldier’s need for the products we develop, the commitment we receive from industry in transitioning ideas to reality and the support we get from the Army in providing solutions, I can’t think of a better place to work. My job is focused on developing force protection technologies. Nothing is more satisfying to me than to know that what we do here is saving lives.”

Described as someone who is able to think through the box, not just outside the box, Cummins’ recognition is well-deserved, an ERDC official said.

“(He) is a great example of the dedicated innovators we have here at ERDC,” said Jeffery P. Holland, the center’s director. “They are passionate about what they do, and about serving their nation and its military. Am I proud that their work has been recognized with such a prestigious award? Most certainly, but even more so, I am proud of them.”

Sam DeLeeuw, chair and professor emeritus of civil engineering, and Kenneth Stead, assistant professor emeritus of civil engineering, were among Cummins’ favorite professors.

“Dr. Stead helped me develop practical problem-solving skills, down-to-earth things that no textbook can convey,” he said. “Dr. DeLeeuw was a master at provoking creative thought. He helped me to think beyond the obvious, really outside the box.”

Cummins is quick to acknowledge his engineering education as essential to his career path and success.

“The lessons I learned were in applying engineering principles to practical and sometimes innovative solutions,” Cummins said. “We had small classes and worked together as a team. As a co-op student working at what later became the Engineer Research and Development Center, that pairing put me in environments that allowed me to apply classroom knowledge to engineering problems.”

“I was once told by the CEO of a major R&D think tank that I had the rare ability to think through the box,” Cummins said. “I feel that this statement is a great illustration of the skill set I developed through the teaching methodology at Ole Miss.

“The unique teaching approach of the faculty in the School of Engineering was instrumental in my recent honor, as it taught me how to be grounded in the science, yet creative in the application of this knowledge, that is, thinking through the box.”

Thomson Reuters considered 436 Army inventors for the award, looking at patents from across the spectrum of the Army’s science and technology enterprise. The 2012 Global Innovators Award selectees represent companies and organizations from eight countries, including diverse industries such as computer hardware, semiconductor and electronic components and telecommunications, along with colleges and universities. Notable companies include Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Toyota, Ford, General Electric, Chevron, Dow, Dupont, Siemens and Exxon.

The ERDC is the premier research and development facility for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with more than 2,500 employees, $1.2 billion in facilities and an annual research program exceeding $2 billion. It conducts research in both military and civil works mission areas for the Department of Defense and the nation.