One of Us: The Person Behind the Professional
Earl joined the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials in 1988. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Agricultural Engineering from Virginia Tech, and he went on to earn his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University.
Earl and his wife Karen met at Virginia Tech and have been married for 35 wonderful years. Earl feels very blessed that he and his wife can still live, work, and play where they met! One of his favorite things about Virginia Tech is that there are “many, many, many outdoor activities readily available just on its doorstep.”
Earl’s mother is Greek and his father is American. Growing up on a dairy farm in Manassas, Virginia, taught him that he needed to go to college and find an easier career path as he’d realized how farming is very hard work farming. Even so, did you know that Earl would still choose to be a farmer, just like his dad, if he were not a professor? Although, he says he would not be a dairy farmer because of that level of work that comes with that type of farming. Earl said that he will, in fact, get back into some easier farming once he retires many years from now.
One of his favorite pastimes is cooking and eating Greek food. Earl shared that during his annual summer trips to Greece, when visiting his extended family, they love to critique his cooking and give him tips for improving. To help burn off all the extra calories from the Greek food he loves so much, Earl enjoys mountain biking and snowboarding. He says these are his favorite extracurricular activities; they help keep him sane and keep his insatiable craving for home cooked food off his waist line.
Receiving a B.S. in engineering led to his current interests in teaching and research. Earl describes himself as a technology and engineering geek and is most in his element learning about and understanding how to apply both new and old technologies. “My passion in this area has led to patented technology that applies machine vision and artificial intelligence to automatically grade and process hardwood lumber.”
When asked about his favorite part of his job, he said “I want to share my experience about what I’ve learned with others, so teaching is my most favorite part of the job. I’ve learned that it is not very effective to just tell students what to do. Instead, I need to inspire curiosity so that students have a desire to learn by making their own discoveries through solving their own problems. My favorite class “Entrepreneurial Wood Design and Innovation” (also known as the Wood Enterprise Institute) creates such a learning environment. This class creates a hands-on laboratory environment where students can practice a scientific problem-solving discipline to tackle any challenge they face.”
The research that Earl enjoys most at the moment is “Parametric Computer-Aided Manufacturing System for Re-Purposing Materials.” Through this project, he is working to create a design and manufacturing system that will facilitate the use of re-purposed materials with uncertain and varying ranges of quality and physical dimensions. “This is my favorite because it has forced me to learn a new way of thinking about how to design products when you don’t exactly know what materials you have available. The idea was inspired by the curiosity of one of my students and of course, there is a lot of new technology involved that must be blended with old technology and this is why I like it.”
The biggest reward that Earl gets from being a professor is when he receives acknowledgment from students that he had a hand in helping them becoming independent thinkers and problem solvers.
Quote from a Colleague:
“Earl’s energy and enthusiasm for teaching brightens up the classroom; his passion, commitment, and a genuine sense of curiosity enable him to help students (and faculty!) to see their projects, experiences, and goals with a new and exciting perspective.” - Jennifer Russell, Assistant Professor, Sustainable Biomaterials Department