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Unforgettable – K. Arthur Overholser

Posted by on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 in Fall 2011, Unforgettable.

K. Arthur Overholser
K. Arthur Overholser, BE’65, Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering

When I was asked to write about Dean Overholser, I knew I could not adequately describe or know all his qualifications and accomplishments. I was greatly honored to be asked, although I think one of his Ph.D. students would be more qualified to write about this longtime professor and dean than me.

What I can do is describe how he influenced me when I was a young, disillusioned chemical engineering major. Professor Overholser was a gifted classroom teacher and was able to transfer his passion for his profession to me. This passion continues to serve me well as a practicing chemical engineer.

When I arrived at the Vanderbilt School of Engineering, I was certain that I wanted to be a chemical engineer. I was disappointed that I would not be able to take my first chemical engineering course until the second semester of my sophomore year. Taking it, I found the area of stoichiometry to be practical and so much fun. When I experienced more advanced chemical engineering courses, I did not appreciate their less practical aspects—these were courses that delved more deeply into the theoretical aspects of the curriculum. I began to wonder if chemical engineering really was for me.

In one such class, Dr. Overholser used a theoretical text for transport phenomena written by professors at the University of Wisconsin, where he obtained his Ph.D. He was a superb teacher and made this material interesting. I started to enjoy the course and found the homework to be fun. I also greatly appreciated how he had a genuine interest in helping his students. I perceived that he was passionate about his work, and that he had a great desire to continue his professional growth. I developed significant respect for him.

In retrospect, I realize that the transport phenomena class I took from Dr. Overholser in my junior year truly rekindled my interest in chemical engineering. The interest became a passion that I largely attribute to him and his teaching. Later in my work experience as a chemical engineer, I discovered that it was quite valuable to have a theoretical understanding of chemical engineering. Many of my peers received more practical training and are at a disadvantage when they encounter situations that they have not previously encountered.

I also took a chemical engineering lab from Dr. Overholser. Unlike the transport phenomena course, I never enjoyed the lab and really despised the long laboratory reports. He expected professional documents, and he encouraged me to meet his expectations. Dr. Overholser was tough, but he was fair.

When I began working in industry, I learned quickly how written communication is tremendously important. An engineer can have great ideas or work, but ideas will never get implemented or noticed if they are not communicated to those who make the decisions. I was a young engineer in an oil refinery and an advanced engineer told me that it was rare for engineers to be able to communicate as concisely and effectively as I did. I can thank Dr. Overholser for pushing me to write those painful reports—I learned to communicate professionally from him and those documents.

I have stayed in contact with Dr. Overholser since graduation, and I consider him a friend. Today, as a member of the School of Engineering Alumni Council, I continue to be in touch with Dr. Overholser. The longer I know him, the more I respect and admire him.

One thing I have also discovered through our friendship: he is much too modest, and he understates his impact. He has made a difference in the education, lives and careers of many students—now engineers—which is why he’s truly unforgettable.

Thank you, Dr. Overholser, for all you are and all you’ve done.

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