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Unforgettable — Peter G. Hoadley

Posted by on Wednesday, September 22, 2010 in Fall 2010, Unforgettable.

I grew up surrounded by engineers. My father and one uncle were civil engineers. Another uncle was a mining engineer, and another was a road builder. It wasn’t much of a surprise in 1959 when I enrolled as an engineering student at Vanderbilt.

I still remember when then-Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Peter G. Hoadley arrived at the School of Engineering. It was my junior year, and he represented a new wave of faculty with outstanding talent. Professor Hoadley was well-liked and respected for his academic credentials and ability.

It was not only a privilege, but also a delight to have someone as highly regarded as Pete as my instructor. I took structural engineering courses under him. He was a superbly talented teacher, and I found his lectures engaging. Pete’s teaching turned the light bulb on for me and ignited my interest in structural engineering.

Knowledgeable, insightful, accomplished and athletic, Pete continually amazed me with his technical background and teaching. He was very approachable and helpful with explanations when we had difficulty understanding a particular concept. It wasn’t unusual to find him on campus playing a pickup game of basketball at Memorial Gym. We were practically contemporaries and at times, he seemed more like an older brother than a faculty member.

Through his encouragement, I went to graduate school and earned my master of science degree in civil engineering from the University of Illinois in 1965. After spending three years in the Army, I returned to Vanderbilt to earn my Ph.D. Pete was on my dissertation committee.

In 1970, I began my professional engineering career in Houston where many of my projects involved the planning and design of highways, bridges, airports and aviation facilities. Not surprisingly, I was able to apply techniques learned from Pete Hoadley. His teaching enabled me to thoroughly understand design challenges and solve them with structural analysis. I may have inherited a passion for engineering, but Pete provided me with a solid, technical background that I still use today.

Pete was a cross-generational teacher, and my connection with him evolved when my sister, Ann Johnson Nielson, BE’68, and later, my nephew, Blake Jones, BE’96, took courses under him. With much affection, they would recall their positive experiences with Professor Hoadley to me. He was described as the same wonderful teacher and mentor that I remembered. I have received the same comments from other younger engineering students from Houston who studied under Professor Hoadley.

At one time or the other, we meet individuals whose relationship with us positively impacts our lives. I believe that if one has had an opportunity, there is also an obligation to pay it forward. Pete Hoadley was one of the best teachers I had during my engineering education, and he continued to meet this high standard of teaching for succeeding generations of Vanderbilt civil engineers.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to establish a graduate award at the School of Engineering. I decided to name my graduate award in Pete Hoadley’s honor because he represents the best of faculty at the Vanderbilt School of Engineering. This award is a tribute to him and his contribution to engineering education. It helps me repay the School of Engineering for the value that I received from my Vanderbilt engineering education. The Peter G. Hoadley Graduate Award is also a way to provide a deserving graduate student in civil engineering with the same opportunity that I had. In Pete’s honor, I’m paying it forward.

—as told to Becky Green