CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I often find myself marveling at the wonderful opportunities provided to me in my career as an engineering professor. It was a choice I made somewhat late in my career, but one that seemed obvious to everyone, except me. Since my graduation I had not missed a single semester at the university, either teaching or collaborating on research, even when I was being paid somewhere else. Thus, when I finally decided to be a professor, it seemed anti-climatic, to all but me.
What was the attraction? It turns out that there isn't anything more exciting, at least for me, than working with young people who have a thirst to learn and who aren't satisfied with the way things are. For me, and for a lot of our charges, access to a world-class research institution presents an unparalleled opportunity that begs to be explored.
Some of the brightest and most eager minds in the world pass through these halls on their way to their future careers. The chance to work side-by-side with them helps to keep me feeling young. I hope it gives them at least some direction to their professional development and an enhanced perspective of the nature of engineering and the expectations that society places on their success.
Another year has started, and with it comes the normal burden that accompanies the learning process, all of which is amplified by the needs of ongoing research and development. Some faces have come back to finish their degrees. Others who have graduated have returned in pursuit of an even higher level of competency. This year will, if we track the many years that have come before, result in new developments, discoveries and even newer insights into what we can do to bring value to our students, sponsors and the local economy.
There is also a group of new faces that have joined the ranks. Each comes with a different background and aspirations, all having an apparent endless supply of energy and curiosity. Most have an air of wonder, and all a fear of the unknown. The veteran students and faculty will mentor them and gain from the shared relationships. In all of this, the university will grow in experience and combined knowledge, and society in general will reap the rewards from these labors.
I look forward to the start of school each year and to the life-changing experiences we will share. Few, at least initially, understand the dynamics of a university research environment, but few go untouched by the power of raw intellectual energy that is put to solving a problem when the players haven't been told that it can't be solved.
I want to take a moment to thank the many people at this university who have allowed my presence to contribute in some small way to the magic that occurs at institutions like this one. More specifically I want to thank the taxpayers and the parents who have sent their children to this school. Those of us who work in this environment respect the trust that has been placed on us and the valuable role we can play in helping our young citizens reach toward their future potential. You clearly helped to make the career of one of your former youngsters, and I am proud to have hailed from this state and have had the fortunate opportunity to serve its young people in return. Thank you.
Smith is professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the Center for Industrial Research Applications at WVU.