John Pearce, Engineering

Photo by Jay B Sauceda

For a professor of literature, being soulful and philosophical might be an easier feat. But John Pearce manages it even while teaching the intricacies of electrical engineering.

Over his more than 35 years in the profession, Pearce has demanded that students learn the finer points of technical areas like electronic circuits and electromagnetic field theory. “Double-E,” as he calls the subject, is math-heavy, and Pearce packs as much material as possible into his lectures.

He knows electrical engineering is a difficult major, especially when his students are surrounded by peers whose studies may be less rigorous. But he says engineers have a responsibility to know their subject through and through — not just for tests and grades, but for the good of society.

“We have to be extremely careful about what we do,” Pearce says, “because if we’re sloppy, people get hurt.”

The message registers.

“Many good professors taught me how to have the brain of an engineer,” one former student says. “Dr. Pearce was the only one who showed me how to have the soul of an engineer: the beauty of service, design, and reaching beyond yourself.”

There are pains to being a professor at a great university. The pressure to produce new research. The drudgery of grading. In his office in the Cockrell School, Pearce keeps a 3×5 card with the acronym ITTK, for “I Teach The Kids.” It keeps him focused on his primary task.

The university’s “What starts here changes the world” slogan is not just an ad line, as far as John Pearce is concerned. “It’s stone serious,” he says. “At universities, that’s what we do. We teach students how to apply powerful technological tools to improve life for everybody. That’s the coolest thing I can think of.”


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