Dr. Ben Caldwell: A New Face

 

The clock ticked to five minutes past the beginning of the first class of the semester and the professor was still nowhere to be found. The students grew restless and began to count down the minutes until they could depart. At fifteen minutes after the scheduled class time, most students were planning on leaving. Finally, one student had had enough. He packed up his bags and prepared to leave.  No one in the class knew the impatient student, and assumed he must be new.  Imagine their surprise when they realized their mistake.  The student in question turned around. “Hi, I’m Dr. Caldwell. I will be your professor this semester.”

 

Dr. Caldwell, a new member of the LeTourneau faculty, is no ordinary professor. In fact, he is not much older than many of his students, as he received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson University in 2007 and his Ph.D. in 2011. He is very approachable and relates well to his students. Recently, one of his students challenged him to a game of tennis, with a semester’s worth of cold drinks on the line. Naturally, Dr. Caldwell prevailed 6-1 6-3.

At some point in the near future, Dr. Caldwell will likely take part in an even higher stakes competition. Since faculty and staff are allowed to participate in intramural sports, floors are already lining up to convince him to join their team. Who will win his services remains to be seen.

Although he is willing to have some fun with his students, Dr. Caldwell takes his teaching very seriously. He is currently teaching three classes, and he is interested in researching maintenance-based design, which is designing a product with future maintenance in mind. By being mindful of maintenance during the design process, it is possible that the amount of time spent, necessary skill level, and/or amount of tools used by the person performing maintenance can be reduced. Dr. Caldwell hopes to expand his research in this area over the next few years and possibly even grow it into a senior design team.

When he is teaching classes, Dr. Caldwell uses real world examples to teach his students key principles. For instance, in one class he will ask his students whether it is easier to carry a pizza box close to their body or with their arms fully extended. When students answer that it is easier to hold an object close to their body, he uses this to illustrate moments, a key engineering principle.

Ultimately, Dr. Caldwell wants his students to uses their minds not only in class, but also in everyday life. When he was at Clemson, Dr. Caldwell made full use of his engineering mind. At Clemson, there was a set of glass doors with identical handles on both sides (instead of a “push-type” handle on one side and a “pull-type” handle on the other). Every time he walked through the doors. Dr. Caldwell found himself subconsciously checking the signs on the doors to figure out whether to push or pull. Figuring that many other people probably did the same thing, on April 1st he printed out some signs and placed the “push” over the “pull” and the “pull” over the “push.” He then watched in delight as people yanked on the doors and tried to figure out how someone had switched the hinges.

A critical mind is a good thing to have, whether you are doing your homework, designing better products, or pranking your naive peers. It sounds like Dr. Caldwell will be a great fit for students here at LeTourneau.

Written by Ian Willard

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