Professor Charles Thompson Retires

A retirement party will take place on April 1

World War II veteran. International spy. Criminal attorney.

Throughout the years, Charles W.N. Thompson’s career has swung in many different directions. And now he’s ready to get off the swing.

Charles ThompsonAfter nearly 50 years at Northwestern Engineering, Thompson is retiring from his position as a professor of industrial engineering and management sciences. During his time at Northwestern, Thompson contributed greatly to his field and the University through research, teaching, mentorship, and by promoting diversity.

Thompson received his PhD from Northwestern in 1968 and accepted a faculty position at the University shortly thereafter. Prior to entering academia, he experienced a varied career. He served as an Air Force engineer in World War II and the Korean War. Once his military commitment ended, he continued living on the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio as a civilian consultant. Then he attended graduate school, followed by law school, and, at some point, even worked as a spy.

According to his colleagues, Thompson has never shied away from trying something new. While at Northwestern, he became a pioneer in the “field of research methods,” the process of improving organizations and systems by observing and surveying them as opposed to running experiments on them. He also taught all levels of students — from undergraduate to graduate. 

Thompson also developed new courses for his students in order to keep up with the evolving field of industrial engineering. His popular courses include Methods, Standards, and Work Design (IEMS 210), which teaches students about the foundations of industrial engineering practices, and Systems Project Management (IEMS 392), which challenges students to apply project management methods to outside systems.

In addition to his academic accomplishments, Thompson is known for his commitment to promoting women in science and engineering. When he joined Northwestern in the late ’60s, women were scarce among both faculty and PhD students, which was characteristic of the times but troubling to Thompson. He spent his career working to improve those numbers. Half of the PhD candidates to graduate from his laboratory were women. At one point, a National Science Foundation researcher remarked that Thompson was among the top engineering professors in the country in terms of the number of female PhDs he produced.

To celebrate Thompson’s career and accomplishments, a retirement party will take place at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 1 in Cohen Commons. Attendees should RSVP to Jo Ann Yablonka at