Engineering Building West renamed after award-winning MU alumnus

Robert Naka attended MU after spending nine months in a Japanese internment camp during World War II.
The recently installed building sign for F. Robert and Patricia Naka Hall, previously known as Engineering West.

Engineering Building West is now officially F. Robert and Patricia Naka Hall, named after the late MU engineering graduate F. Robert Naka and his wife Patricia. They donated $1.5 million toward the renovation of Lafferre Hall.

Naka spent nine months in a Japanese internment camp in California during World War II.

“It was very depressing to be labeled as a distrusted, unwanted American in the only country I ever knew,” Naka told the National Academy of Engineering, which wrote a tribute to him after his death in 2013.

After he was released from the internment camp, he began studying electrical engineering at MU in 1943.

“I believe he was the only Japanese-American on campus during World War II,” Naka’s son David Naka told The Maneater. “But he told me he was treated fairly.”

According to NAE’s memorial tribute, Robert Naka said he was “just another kid on campus.”

“I made good grades and was very popular,” Robert Naka told NAE. “The experience made me whole again for which I have been very grateful to the American Friends Service Committee.”

Robert Naka committed $1.5 million to MU in 2013 but passed away before completing the required paperwork. David Naka led the family in honoring his father’s vow and completing the gift to MU.

David Naka said he hopes his father’s story will help others, specifically minorities, receive opportunities on campus and encourage MU to avoid prejudices.

After completing his undergraduate education at MU, Robert Naka went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a doctoral degree from Harvard University.

Following his education, Naka served as the 20th chief scientist of the United States Air Force, deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office, fellow of the Explorers Club and a member of several organizations including the NASA Space Program Advisory Council, the United States Air Force Scientific Advisory Board and the National Academy of Engineering.

He was considered by many in the engineering community as the father of stealth technology, according to a release from the MU News Bureau about the building’s renaming. His work during the Cold War contributed to military aircraft being able to avoid radar detection while flying.

Naka received multiple honors during his time at MU: He has been recognized as a founding member of the Engineering Dean’s Advisory Committee, honored with the Distinguished Service in Engineering Award at the Missouri Honor Awards, received a Faculty Alumni Award and was presented with an honorary doctorate of science by MU in 2008, according to the Board of Curators proposal.

Naka dedicated much of his time to MU as a student and an alumnus. He served on the Engineering Campaign Leadership Team and was a life member of Mizzou Alumni Association. He was recognized as a member of the Shamrock Society, Legacy Society and Jefferson Club, according to the curators’ proposal.

David Naka said Robert Naka left a legacy that impacted his family and colleagues.

“Your parents affect you profoundly even during times of disagreement,” David Naka said.

Edited by Claire Mitzel |

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