Why did you choose chemical engineering, and in particular, why did you choose to teach at LSU?
At my high school, guidance counselling was not a well-developed art like it is now, and when I sat down with my guidance counselor, he suggested I be a chemist because I liked chemistry, or an engineer because I was good at math, so I agreed, and that's how I signed up for Chemical Engineering.
As for teaching at LSU, it's an interesting thing - I worked for thirty years in industry before coming here, and all that time, I thought I might want to get into teaching at some point. While I was there, I ran the training department for a while and did some instructing. I finally decided that I'd done everything I wanted to do at the research laboratories, so I thought "let's go try to teach." I first tried to teach high school, but I wasn't always up for handling all the discipline issues that were involved in high school, and even though there were some great people doing good work there, I decided that it wasn't working for me. At that time, the Department advertised for someone to come work in the Unit Operations laboratory, and within two weeks of leaving high school, I was teaching here.
What is your favorite thing about being a chemical engineer, especially at LSU?
Working with the students, definitely. I like trying to figure things out with them, trying to share with them that this whole discipline is about thinking and trying to figure these problems out. In fact, I sometimes try to create problems where I'm not exactly sure what's going to happen, and so I get to be challenged at the same time the students do, and they get to watch the critical thinking process go on. The process of asking all the questions and figuring out all the information is invigorating. It feels natural. Also, the students keep me young, and I enjoy the time I get to spend with them in the lab. We're all learning things, since I keep up with the journals and try to develop problems based on current things I read in there, all using the equipment we have available, so it's almost as though I get to do research on the experiment. But the student interaction, definitely, is my favorite part.
What are your hobbies?
There are three prevalent ones: I play music - I was in a band for fifteen years, now I play just at church - keyboards and horns, and at church an electronic wind instrument, which is a synthesizer, but played by wind instead of keys. Also, I play chess, and I'm a moderator on a chess server, so I stay involved in the chess community. The third is that I run - last year, Dr. Benton and I ran the Baton Rouge marathon, and we both finished it. I also read a lot, but I don't ever pick up fiction, always technical things, and often things out of my field, which are very interesting.
What do you think beginning ChE students or prospective ChE students should know about the major and the field? Any advice or tips?
I think they should know that it's hard. There probably isn't a harder degree on campus. It's demanding and requires some breadth of thinking abilities beyond simply cranking out math - you have to be a problem solver, too, or at least interested in problem solving. I don't want to scare people off, but the idea is that if you don't like solving problems, it's going to be an uphill challenge. Something I learned later in my career was the idea of "motivated ability," that if you like doing something, you do well at it and you'll be happy with it. One of the things I tell prospective students when they come here is to not have a monolithic view of what chemical engineers do, because we can do anything, and we do do anything. We're involved in almost every inventive and creative field around, whether it's growing food, making electronics, pharmaceuticals - there's not a thing we don't get involved in, so it's not like all we do is run distillation columns. And if you decide not to do chemical engineering, we send people off to be doctors, lawyers, anything, so it will prepare you for anything, and you can't ask for a better four-year diploma, and it's a fantastic field; it's the best preparation for business life that I can think of. Also, if you don't like going to class, you probably won't do well. So it's a daunting field, but a fantastic field.