Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Dr. Gary McDonald, UC Foundation Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering, started at UTC in August 1985 (37 years ago). He’s seen a few changes in the college. Read on to hear his journey and more.
What did you want to be when you were small?
GM: I enjoyed math and science courses when in elementary, junior and senior high school. I really didn’t know what engineering was until I spoke with the freshman engineering coordinator at Tennessee Tech, where I earned all three of my degrees. He convinced me to switch from math to engineering before my first quarter of classes at Tennessee Tech.
Tell us about your family.
GM: I am a first-generation college student and only child. My Dad was born and raised in Nashville. My mom was born in Evansville, IN, but her family moved back and she was also raised in Nashville. My Dad was in World War 2 as a radio operator in a B-17 bomber stationed in the Pacific Theater. After the war, he went to work for Monroe, Inc., a company making and servicing large mechanical (later smaller electronic) calculators and posting machines for businesses. He was the Middle Tennessee repairman for those systems for over 35 years. My mother was a house-wife, until I went to school, then became an office worker at Genesco, a shoe manufacturer in Nashville. My wife, Shirley, grew up on a farm near Athens, TN. She went to UT Knoxville for her BA degree in Urban Studies, worked at Volunteer Energy Cooperative (VEC) in Decatur TN for 19 years working in customer service and marketing. She earned an MBA degree from UTC during that time. In a mid-life change, she quit VEC and went back to UTC to earn a M.Ed. degree (with licensure) and has been a middle school math (and more recently STEM) teacher at Ringgold Middle School for the past 20 years. Our daughter, Emily, went to W.A. Smith Elementary, Hunter Middle and Ooltewah High School. She then went to Tennessee Tech earning a BS in Secondary Education and MA in Curriculum and Instruction. Emily was one of only a very small number of elected female Tennessee Tech Student Government (SGA) Presidents during her last year at Tech, after serving as a Senator for Tech’s College of Education since her freshman year. She has been a teacher of math at Red Bank High School for the past 7 years. A couple of years ago, she was nominated and selected for Hamilton County Teacher of the Year (high school division).
How did you get into the field of engineering?
GM: After taking an Introduction to Engineering course at Tennessee Tech as a freshman, I decided on Mechanical Engineering mainly based on the faculty I met that I could relate with, and I also knew some other friends from Tennessee Tech that were majoring in ME.
What was it that peaked your interest and made you go further in the field?
GM: I kept on going to get my MS in ME initially since the employment market was very slow that year, even for ME majors. After earning the MS degree with thesis, I stayed at Tennessee Tech for the Ph.D. and became a teaching instructor along with taking more graduate courses and doing research culminating in the dissertation. By the time I finished the Ph.D., I had independently taught 10 different quarter classes as a Ph.D. student.
What was your first paying job?
GM: Besides getting paid for cutting my older neighbor’s lawn, I guess it was when I was paid as a second quarter master’s degree graduate student to teach Statics for the first time in January 1978. I was given two days’ notice to prepare and start teaching.
Who was one of your favorite teachers in school and why?
GM: I really don’t have just one teacher. I remember all my math teachers the most. In middle school, it started with my algebra 1 teacher, Miss White. Later, Mr. Austell, Mrs. Holmes, Mr. Carter and Mr. Binkley taught me geometry, algebra 2, advanced math and trig (now called precalculus), and high school calculus. I am also thankful for both Dr. and Mrs. Briggs teaching me all the Calculus courses at Tennessee Tech.
What is your favorite thing about your career?
GM: I suppose teaching the variety of courses over the years. I have taught 9 different undergraduate courses, 2 lab courses, along with recently assisting in our ME senior design sequence.
What is your favorite game or sport to watch and/or play?
GM: To watch, I guess football (high school, College and sometimes the NFL). To attempt to play, I guess tennis (in my younger days) and I tried golf, but wasn’t very good at it. I spent most of the time amongst the trees looking for my golf ball, than on the fairway and greens.
What are your hobbies?
GM: It really isn’t a hobby, but I spent a lot of time as a youth as both a Cub Scout and Boy Scout. I did earn the rank of Eagle Scout (with Eagle bronze, silver and gold palms) by earning 36 merit badges. I also was selected to go to the 1969 National Jamboree in Idaho and the 1971 World Jamboree in Japan (both about 3 weeks in each of those summers) representing Middle Tennessee. I also played the alto saxophone in the late elementary, junior high and early high school concert bands (about 5 years total).
What’s one of your favorite restaurants?
GM: I have several depending on what type of food we are hungry for. O’ Charley’s, Olive Garden, Five Guys, Shane’s BBQ/Rib Shack, China Rose, Lupis and Marcos for pizza, used to be Mojo Burrito (recently went out of business), but now go to Mr. Burrito and along with several other places.
What are a couple of the changes you’ve seen over the years at CECS?
GM: The main changes are the growth of CECS and the addition of the original SimCenter in Computational Engineering. When I started at UTC, it was called the School of Engineering. There was one undergraduate engineering degree (BSE with several engineering concentrations) and one undergraduate computer science degree. At last count, we have 5 undergraduate engineering program degrees (including Computer Engineering), 1 undergraduate computer science degree (with various concentrations), and 3 undergraduate engineering technology degrees in CECS. Also, engineering, computer science, and engineering management, all support separate master’s degrees, along with select areas contributing to the Ph.D. in computational sciences.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
GM: I have been very fortunate over the years to receive several College awards in teaching and advising and University awards for service and advising. I enjoyed being a NASA/ASEE Faculty Fellow for four summers (1987, 1988, 1990 and 1991) at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville AL. It was during the shuttle program and I work on projects in their propulsion branch involving performance aspects of the Space Shuttle Main Engines.
For what are you most grateful today?
GM: To still be somewhat healthy for my age, to have great family, and able to still contribute to the ME Department and to the College/University, when needed.
What advice would you give to someone in their 20s?
GM: Find out what interests you. Work hard in pursuing that interest to be the best that you can be. Develop both patience and perseverance. Quit talking and listen to others to help make good decisions. Be happy and healthy in your life’s choices. Have a balance in life, don’t let one aspect of life overwhelm the other aspects that can result in negligence and disappointment.