The Spark of Electrical Engineering
Electrical Engineering professor Tim Healy has spent five decades watching SCU engineering grow. And he's excited to see what comes next.
Tim Healy is a live wire. Ideas swarm in his brain like extra electrons in his outer valence band, and for five decades he’s brought that spark and connection to the SCU electrical engineering faculty. Respected, revered, and treasured by students and colleagues alike—with an impish smile, bright blue eyes, and inquisitive and thoughtful nature—Healy is the go-to guy for everything from deep discussions on the future of engineering to pedagogical advice or recipes for dinner. If he’s not in the classroom, lab, or outside assisting students with an experiment, he’s in his office with the door open, welcoming you to stop in for a chat. Engineering Dean Godfrey Mungal says, “While Tim Healy may be among the oldest of the faculty, he is one of the youngest at heart, as demonstrated by his creation of the Latimer Energy Laboratory in 2012 and his enthusiastic adoption of active learning methods.”
Heidi Williams, director of communications for the School of Engineering, recently interviewed Healy about his half century at SCU. Following is an excerpt, but you can read the entire interview on the engineering website.
HW: Where did you grow up, what was your childhood like, and was anyone in your family an engineer?
TH: I grew up in Bellingham, Washington—born during a lightning storm, I’m told, I don’t recall it, myself. My parents were both lawyers, educated at the University of Washington. My uncle, who turned out to be something of a figurehead for me, wasn’t an engineer exactly, he was a contractor, so he built buildings. I really had a lot of respect for him. And because of him, because of his contracting work, I started out at the University of Washington as a civil engineering student. The first day of class my father died ... I kind of blew off the first year and I more or less flunked out of the freshman year at the University of Washington.
I got drafted into the Navy. I went in during the Korean War and the Navy sent me to electronics school. I spent nine months’ wonderful duty on Treasure Island in San Francisco and they taught me all about electronics, and then I wandered around the Western Pacific on an aircraft carrier for 14 months and loved it. When I got out I decided to go back to school and study electrical engineering.
What was your outlook on engineering education when you first started teaching?
[Laughing] I don’t think I had an outlook. That developed only later on. I just liked to teach. I think it’s a natural thing for me. I don’t know why, but I enjoy teaching. I think I was just born to teach.
What gets you out of bed and excited to get into the classroom each morning?
I like explaining stuff and I love finding new ways to explain something. That is my science. That’s my research. Discovering—seeking different ways to present something that I’ve maybe talked about for 40 years and all of a sudden found a new way to look at it, a new perspective; that’s what I really love.
Today, I’ve got to work on a set of problems for a tutorial I’ve written for one of my classes. I can’t wait to get started on it—it’s a ball! When I find a new way of looking at things or when a new idea just pops into my head—a new way to look at something—I get charged up.
After 50 years of teaching, you are one of the most innovative educators I know. You hear something new—a new pedagogy, active learning or whatever, and you’re the first one to want to try it. Have you always been that way? Where does that come from?
I have no idea. I am pretty comfortable with life. I can accept things pretty well. So, I don’t fear things too much and it makes it easier then to poke around and try something new because it isn’t too much of a threat. Every once in a while when I go to a bookstore, I like to pick up a book that I don’t want to read, or that doesn’t hit me right. Just to read it and see what it does, see where it goes. I just take off on that. And I like doing that when I teach; I like to find another way to say something, or another way to do it, or a different perspective on it—an analogy or something like that that’s fun.
What are your hopes for SCU Engineering in the next 50 years?
I’m highly confident that we will continue the growth of the last fifty years. The Teacher-Scholar model will persist. I’m hopeful and optimistic that we will not lose our interest in teaching—that it will always be a paramount thing. That when we hire people, we will not hire people we don’t think will be effective teachers. That’s very important for me.
I’m greatly intrigued by the STEM idea. I just don’t know where it’s going to go. But we are living in an increasingly complex world. The marriage of biology and engineering, which has been going on for some time, is just going to get stronger and stronger and stronger. And those problems are going to be really difficult. They’re going to be biological, they’re going to be physical, electrical; they’re going to be ethical. They’re going to involve mechanics. And this idea of convergence that we’ve talked about on our campus—not that disciplines converge, not that physics and chemistry become one thing, but that people with physics expertise and with chemistry expertise and with engineering expertise converge together to create teams that are effective in facing real, complex problems—I think that’s an exciting future. My guess is Santa Clara University will go in that direction. And to the extent that we do, I think that if we are able to bring our relatively unusual Jesuit viewpoint and our philosophy of living in the world effectively together with the idea of convergence, I think we can make a contribution that is, if not unique, perhaps unusual.
Anything else you would want to share?
It’s been fun! It sure beats working for a living.
May 5, 2017
Photo by Joanne Lee