Alumnus Extends Track Record of Innovation as Professor of Practice

“Take a job not for what it is in the moment, but what it could be.” Charles P. “Chip” Blankenship has followed this advice throughout his professional career, including his new role as a professor of practice and transformative leader in UVA’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Blankenship brings a track record in innovation to his new role.

“I am thrilled that Chip has made this significant commitment to the future of engineering education at UVA. His insights and expertise will be transformative for us and our students,” said Craig H. Benson, dean of UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, Blankenship holds seven patents on nickel-based superalloys for turbine disk applications. He attributes his research success to extraordinary opportunities in corporate research settings, beginning his career with Martin-Marietta Laboratories in 1985, where he specialized in aluminum alloys and titanium. This formative experience included problem solving in manufacturing and process design for the external fuel tank for NASA’s space shuttle and the B-1 bomber.

The process of discovery pulled Blankenship into a university setting to pursue his research.  “Whenever a company presses hard on a technology, it leaves a lot of fundamental questions behind,” Blankenship said. He earned his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering at UVA in 1992, continuing his work with aluminum alloys under the guidance of Edgar Starke, Jr., now University professor emeritus. After graduation, Blankenship went to work at General Electric, where he conducted research in nickel-based super alloys for aircraft and land-based turbine engines.

Continuously on the hunt for new learning opportunities, Blankenship transitioned to technical leadership, product management and then business leadership roles in GE, which gave him valuable insights into business decisions that he plans to impart to UVA engineers. He shared his eagerness to develop new courses and pedagogies that prepare students for the realities of the business world. “I want our graduates to be exceptionally well-prepared business leaders, grounded in technology and able to make recommendations and decisions within an economic framework,” Blankenship said. 

Blankenship honed his business acumen, building a GE Aviation business in Brazil from the ground up, as GE’s first employee to set foot on the site. The project team developed, certified and produced the engine for the Embraer 70-90 passenger jet family. Additional postings in turbines and aircraft engines followed. “The aero industry offers an opportunity to set an R&D and manufacturing strategy with a 20-year horizon,” Blankenship said. Immediately prior to his appointment UVA Engineering as professor of professional practice, Blankenship served as chief executive officer and director of Arconic, Inc., a company specializing in lightweight metals engineering and manufacturing.

John R. Scully, Charles Henderson Chaired Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and department chair, has appointed Blankenship to lead strategic planning in concert with the School of Engineering, aligned with the University’s newly adopted strategic plan. “Chip brings a wealth of experience, fresh perspectives and sterling insights that will have a tremendous impact on engineering education and the materials science research enterprise. We are delighted to have him join the faculty of the department of materials science and engineering, to help us achieve global leadership in multidisciplinary research that addresses society’s challenges and opportunities,” Scully said.

Blankenship is well known at UVA. With his wife Belinda, Blankenship established a scholarship for UVA students to advance engineering education and support the United States’ manufacturing, research and development, and competitive capability. The award encourages and assists undergraduate students who wish to pursue graduate studies in materials science and engineering.