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2008 Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award: Tom Huston

It may say "adjunct" before his name, but Tom Huston has made a full-time commitment to the College of Engineering and its students.

Date: 5/13/2008 12:00:00 AM
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Photos By: Dottie Stover

UC ingot   The word "adjunct" creates one impression in most people’s minds as far as workload at a university.

The schedule kept by Thomas Huston in the UC College of Engineering would be another idea altogether.

Tom Huston
Tom Huston

Huston, a 2008 winner of UC’s Outstanding Adjunct Award, holds an eye-opening distinction – over his 27 years of teaching within the college, Huston has taught more courses and a wider variety of topics than any other member of the college’s faculty.

UC College of Engineering Dean Carlo Montemagno says that Huston has handled virtually all of the college’s Engineering Fundamental courses, all the basic courses in Mechanical Engineering and the former Industrial Engineering program, and the Graphics Fundamental course that is required for all first-year engineering students.

Montemagno estimates that typically comes up to at least five courses per quarter, or 15 per year. But, adds Montemagno, "all these data points fail to convey one extremely important fact about Tom Huston – he is an authentically kind, gentle and caring individual."

Huston views his teaching assignments to be opportunities. He runs his own engineering consulting practice, and likes to consider each teaching assignment a chance to reinforce in his own mind the fundamentals that guide the profession.

"I always joke that once I forget a particular topic they have to offer me the opportunity to teach it again," laughs Huston.

But the key to his involvement at such a level for so many years is the rewarding aspect that comes with helping young students learn valuable lessons.

"The one thing I like the most in teaching is the interaction with the people and that, from a job aspect, I have a lot of freedom," says Huston. "I have to get the class from point A to point B, and how to do that is left up to me."

Recent Industrial Engineering graduate Nick Mullen considers Huston to be the teacher he learned the most from throughout his entire educational career. The irony is that Mullen almost didn’t pass the first course he took from Huston, during his freshman year.

But it was a later class in Operations Research with Huston that convinced Mullen that the rigors that come with pursuing an engineering degree were worth it. Mullen came to appreciate how Huston would use real-life examples, often from his own practice, in class, and how they reinforced the lesson.

"Amidst all the distractions that come along with being a college student, it seemed easy to want to be a part of learning when Tom Huston was at the front of the classroom," Mullen says.

Adds Huston: "One of the nice things about the consulting practice is it gives me the opportunity to bring real-life experiences into the classroom. The process that is described in the text book can be expanded upon."

Urmila Ghia, another member of the College of Engineering faculty and herself a multiple winner of past faculty awards, feels that Huston has made an invaluable contribution to thousands of students over the years.

"I am so glad that UC has instituted an award for Outstanding Adjunct Faculty," Ghia says. "Tom… has helped shape the career development of so many undergraduate students that is was only fitting to have an award at UC to honor Tom’s contributions. He truly lives our guiding principle, ‘Placing Students at the Center.’ "

As his dedication suggests, Huston is a Bearcat through-and-through. He began his college studies at the UC College of Engineering in 1975, and eventually earned both his master’s in Mechanical Engineering and his doctorate in Industrial Engineering from the college.

He began teaching in his first year of graduate school, and discovered that he enjoyed the experience. His enthusiasm and dedication has only grown each succeeding year.

The end result is that he has been a key figure in the education of UC Engineering students for a cumulative total of approximately 1,100 credit hours.

Bob Maxwell, a 1992 graduate of the college, considers Huston the teacher that made the greatest impression upon him. Not only was he an excellent teacher, Maxwell recalls, but he also says Huston stands out as the faculty member most generous in giving his time.

Just this year, Maxwell says, he was looking for professional advice for one of his own clients.

"It has been over 15 years since I have been in contact with (Huston)," Maxwell says, "but… he responded immediately to my needs. I can’t put into words how much of a class act that is to me."