It’s not a personal affinity for leather breeches that drives Wood to strap on his black overalls and red bandana; it’s a passion for connecting engineering undergrads to transformative study abroad programming. Since 1996, Wood has been a vocal proponent of international study for students in the Cockrell School of Engineering, where he teaches in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. And for the past five years, he’s led a popular Introduction to Engineering Design and Graphics Maymester to Vienna and Freiburg through the International Office.
“I wasn’t able to study abroad when I was in school,” Wood says, “but I’d say now I’m its biggest advocate. Companies that are going to hire these students are international, so study abroad gives them a real step up. These students aren’t just reading about Rembrandts—they’re looking at Rembrandts.”
For his dedication to his students both on campus and overseas, Wood recently received the Outstanding Faculty in Mechanical Engineering Award from the Student Engineering Council. Each year, more than 100 students across all engineering disciplines nominate their favorite professors for the honor.
“The students nominate professors who show a passion for teaching and demonstrate that, for them, it isn’t just a job,” says UT senior Ramon Sandigan, a member of the council. “The students recognize what it means to have good professors who care deeply about preparing them for life after graduation.”
And Wood does just that—take it from Sara Beirne, an engineering sophomore who went on his Maymester to Vienna in 2013.
“He’s the kind of professor who is cracking jokes after every couple of sentences,” Beirne says of Wood. “He has this way of explaining things in ways we can understand, and we’re not intimidated to ask questions if we’re unsure about something. That’s how it was in Vienna, and that’s how it was in the seminar leading up to the trip.”
In Wood’s Introduction to Engineering Design and Graphics course, students explore the basics of engineering design and how it has shaped both the products we use and the environment we live in. During the four-week program abroad, Wood plans multiple opportunities for students to get up close and personal with influential international technology, from tours of auto-assembly plants and champagne distilleries to visits to CERN's Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.
“We’ve actually been a good luck charm for them,” laughs Wood, referencing the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN. “After each of our last four visits, they’ve made huge discoveries. They found the god particle right after we left last year. Needless to say, they never turn us down now!”
What many students find especially remarkable about Wood is that he doesn’t let his relationships with them fall by the wayside once they return to the U.S., a practice that perhaps stems from his many years as an academic advisor. After the course ends, he works to organize group reunions in the fall and continues to post on the class Facebook page.
While he’s no stranger to awards—his achievements include The Eyes of Texas Award and the James W. Vick Texas Excellence Award for Academic Advising—Wood says he’s always excited to be recognized for his professorial acumen.
“It tickles me the most that I’m 63 years old, and I must be able to relate to 18- to 20-year-olds or they would’ve picked someone else,” he says. “It keeps me excited about what I’m getting to do.”
Wood will receive the Outstanding Faculty Award in Mechanical Engineering at the first-annual Cockrell School of Engineering Distinguished Awards Banquet on April 10.
By Jordan Schraeder
Top, Wood and his class in front of monitoring computers at CERN. Inset, Wood shows off his lederhosen.
Photos courtesy Billy Wood.