History Legacy: Fred Cooper

Fred Cooper is a proud Purdue Electrical Engineering alumnus and one of the two visionaries (along with Ed Barnette) who founded the Black Society of Engineers.  In the late 1960s, four out of five black freshmen in Purdue’s engineering school were dropping out. The BSE was born to stop that trend and enhance black engineering student success.  Fred, who attended Purdue on a full football scholarship, was a 3-year starter for the Boilermakers and was elected defensive captain his senior year.  He served as BSE president for two years (1972-74) and graduated in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering.

“There were about 15 of us who started the society,” Cooper says. “Our No. 1 objective was to make sure everyone who enrolled in the engineering program graduated. It wasn’t ’if’ you were having problems in class, it was ’which ones.’ People were often afraid to ask for help, so we set up study sessions in the evenings for students to get help and study together.”

After successfully meeting the challenges of his obligations to Purdue’s rigorous engineering curriculum and its Big Ten football program, he was picked by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round of the NFL draft. Fred recalls the satisfaction that came from managing his hard work in class and on the team, but also from helping his fellow engineering students.

After Barnette and Cooper graduated, new chapter officers of the Black Society of Engineers included six young men recruited from Chicago. Edward Coleman, Brian Harris, Tony Harris, Stanley Kirtley (deceased), John Logan Jr. (deceased), and George Smith would later become known as the “Chicago Six” and the founders of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE).

After graduating from Purdue, Fred spent 2 years in professional football. After initially getting drafted by the Detroit Lions, he spent a year playing for the Hamilton Tigercats in the Canadian football league. Fred started his corporate career with the Bell System in Chicago. During his 25 year tenure with the Bell System he held various functional positions throughout the company including positions in engineering, product marketing, project management, manufacturing planning, technical sales support, international market development, and product management.  He also had P&L responsibility for Lucent Technologies’ $100M base station software development business. Currently, Fred works as a commercial real estate consultant at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices where he helps clients meet their Return On Investment (ROI) objectives by investing in commercial real estate. His areas of expertise are sales and buyer representation, as well as landlord and tenant representation. His services are focused on the multi-family, office, retail, and industrial asset classes.

Fred has continued to be a beacon of encouragement to students that they can play big time intercollegiate athletics and succeed in engineering.