How a Secret Phone Call Launched One Career—And Now Dozens More

Hideo Ikawa
Hideo Ikawa (MS '64, PhD '73).

Hideo Ikawa never imagined attending graduate school at Caltech. When his wife, Yoshiko, secretly called the Registrar's Office, he was already 28 years old.

Born in Japan and orphaned shortly after World War II, Ikawa had studied engineering in high school in Japan. When he heard about a Korean War GI Bill program that offered an opportunity to attain a college education, he left school to enlist in the U.S. Army in Tokyo. After basic training in California, he was assigned to serve in Korea and Japan. Five years later, newly married in Japan and discharged stateside, he came to the Northrop Institute of Technology in Inglewood to earn a BS in aeronautical engineering, a childhood dream. After graduation he began work at General Dynamics–Pomona. His wife, Yoshiko, decided that he should pursue an advanced degree. She set her mind on Caltech, Ikawa remembers.

"I said, 'Oh, no, that's impossible!' I never thought I'd make it to Caltech with my background, but that was her choice. She obtained the application form."

His next stroke of good fortune came in the person of aeronautics professor Ernest Sechler. Then director of the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories at Caltech (GALCIT), Sechler was responsible for admissions. According to his colleague Hans Liepmann, he "had an unbelievably intuitive understanding of the potential of an incoming student."

Hideo Ikawa
Hideo and Yoshiko Ikawa attending Caltech's 1973 commencement.

Sechler not only admitted Ikawa, but also provided partial funding. He gave all of the self-supporting GALCIT master's students their third-quarter tuition free, saying that he wanted them to concentrate on their studies, free of financial worry. Ikawa says, "That really helped and also motivated us. 'Gee, this is some different kind of school!' Caltech is a private institution, and for a private institution to give you free tuition is remarkable. So that motivated me to study hard."

Reflecting on that assistance and their Caltech years, the Ikawas began giving back. Now Hideo has pledged to fund GALCIT's first new endowed graduate fellowship in 30 years, in memory of Yoshiko.

The new fellowship is much needed—in fact, GALCIT has launched an initiative to secure funding for 10 named graduate fellowships endowed by alumni and friends. The fellowships will help top scholars develop their talents and work on the great projects of their day, as Ikawa did.

After earning his master's degree in 1964, Ikawa helped develop the Saturn S-II stage, the first hydrogen-powered rocket booster for the Apollo/Saturn V project, at Rockwell International. "Once the program passed the third flight-test program, the missions started to get routine and I wanted more challenge."

Yoshiko urged him to return to GALCIT for a PhD in 1968. He studied experimental fluid dynamics under professors Toshi Kubota and Lester Lees. "Kubota was very strict but also friendly. I had to work almost day and night. Every day, we'd go to Chandler to have a coffee break and shoot the breeze, discuss each individual's research and how we were progressing. We had a very good time." Ikawa remains grateful for the help he received from his hypersonic group colleagues and the GALCIT faculty—especially professors Roshko, Sechler, Lees, and Kubota—as he earned his PhD.

Upon graduation in 1973, he returned to Rockwell International and participated in the Space Shuttle program and advanced spacecraft development programs. He joined Northrop Grumman in 1987, retiring in 2001 due to Yoshiko's health. He remembers 2003 as his saddest year—it was the year of the Space Shuttle Columbia accident and the year that Yoshiko passed away.

He wishes that Yoshiko could have participated when the new fellowship was announced this year at a Reunion Weekend GALCIT luncheon. "I'm sure," he says, "that she is very happy for the day's occasion."


Derek Rinderknecht (PhD '08), Hideo Ikawa, graduate student Hesham Azizgolshani, and John Meier (PhD '11).

Ikawa continues to keep up with hypersonic group colleagues and meet current students. On a recent visit, he chatted with students Nick Parziale and Joe Jewell, who use the T5 Hypervelocity Shock Tunnel to simulate hypersonic forces and heat acting on objects flying through our atmosphere—from hypersonic aircraft to disintegrating meteorites. In GALCIT's Center for Bioinspired Engineering, Ikawa met John Meier (PhD '11), student Hesham Azizgolshani, and senior research scientist Derek Rinderknecht, who are developing microimpedance pumps—valveless systems that can safely transport fragile molecules like blood cells and proteins through medical devices.

GALCIT looks different than it did when he studied there, Ikawa says—there are new labs, computers everywhere, and dramatic upgrades in experimental equipment. But the students haven't changed. "The students when I was there and the students now—they all work hard, they have a goal."

Thanks to Yoshiko's confidence and occasional direct action, Hideo came to Caltech and surpassed his goals. Now, students far into the future will have those opportunities, too, supported by the Yoshiko and Hideo Ikawa Graduate Fellowship.

A Wealth of Options

 People who would like to make gifts often instinctively reach for the checkbook, unaware of the variety of giving methods available to them. In fact, they can combine methods to maximize tax benefits, financial security, and the pleasure of seeing the best possible gift outcome.

Caltech's supporters write checks and donate securities, give personal property and real estate, and name Caltech as a beneficiary of their estates, life-insurance policies, retirement plans, trusts, annuities, and funds. It takes some thought for donors to plan the approach ideally suited to their financial situation and philanthropic objectives, but Caltech's gift-planning experts can help, and the effort pays off.

For example, to fund a new fellowship, Hideo Ikawa is using a combination of outright contributions during his lifetime and a bequest of his home. He and his advisor are working with Caltech to design a gift that simultaneously offers him financial flexibility and the opportunity to see his gift at work. When it is fully endowed, the fellowship will support student after student. The outright component will help students immediately, giving Ikawa opportunities to meet some of the students who benefit from his generosity.