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Friend of UCR Environmental Research Dies

Former Ford Motor Co. Executive, UCR Benefactor Dies

Helen Petrauskas, Ford’s first female Vice President, helped secure a $10 million gift to establish UCR’s College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology.

(March 13, 2006)

Helen Petrauskas

Helen Petrauskas

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — — The death of Helen Petrauskas, a Ford Motor Co. executive for 30 years and a leader in making cars cleaner and safer, hit particularly hard at UC Riverside, where she helped found the College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT). Petrauskas died of heart disease at age 61.

“Helen Petrauskas was a dedicated advocate for environmental stewardship and shepherded Ford to national leadership in automotive safety,” said founding Director of CE-CERT, Joseph M. Norbeck, a chemical and environmental engineering professor at UCR and the current director of its Environmental Research Institute. “She was also a great supporter of the University of California, Riverside and, through her influence and support, helped found CE-CERT.”

Petrauskas was on the CE-CERT founding advisory committee and was influential in establishing Ford as a founding benefactor by helping secure a $10.4 million gift. The center was established in 1992 as a model for partnerships among industry, government and academia.

Petrauskas began her career at Ford in 1971 as a staff attorney in the Office of General Counsel working on emissions and safety issues, according to a company statement. She received her law degree from Wayne State University that year.

She rose quickly through the ranks of the corporation, as the auto industry dealt with increasingly stricter pollution and safety regulation, becoming Vice President of environmental and safety engineering in 1983. Petrauskas was instrumental in introducing air bags as standard equipment on vehicles in 1990.

“She worked tirelessly behind the scenes to do what had to be done to make the safety case for airbags and help us figure a way to make that happen,” said Diane Steed, who served ad administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from 1983 through 1989.

Norbeck said Petrauskas’ legacy will live on at UCR through the Helen Petrauskas Environmental Library located in the CE-CERT administrative building.

“She will be truly missed,” he added

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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