Saying Goodbye Is Hard to Do
After 47 years at Purdue University, Professor R. Neal
Houze will retire in May 2016.
“I’m going to miss teaching and being involved with
the entire group of students,” he says. The students are
going to miss him too.
Michael H. Ott (BSChE ‘74), President and CEO of
Polyciences, Inc., remembers what an important role
Houze played in his life. “At some point in my third
year in ChE, after experiencing a particularly difficult
semester, I considered quitting,” Ott says. “Professor
Houze was a young, vibrant new professor who had
just joined the Co-Op Program. He was impressive to
me. His advice gave me the fuel to keep going.”
Students have been at the heart of Houze’s tenure
since he started at the University in 1969. A BS
from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1960, a
brief experience at ExxonMobil, a PhD from the
University of Houston, 1968; and a postdoc in the
Netherlands brought him to Purdue with a unique
set of experiences, which led to his being recruited to
lead the ChE Co-Op Program. He did so on top of his
regular teaching and research duties.
There were 60 ChE Co-Op students in 1969 when
Professor Houze was asked to get involved with the
program. By the time he agreed to lead the College-level Co-Op Program in 1982, there were 200 ChE
Co-Op students. Along the way, he was promoted to
associate professor in 1972, and his role evolved to ChE
Co-Op Program Coordinator and his increasing Co-Op
duties meant he had to give up his research program.
In 1984, he was named the University’s Co-Op Director.
He stayed there for 20 years until 2002 when he returned
full time to Chemical Engineering where, in addition to
teaching, he again led the School's Co-Op Program. He
stepped down from the Co-Op position in 2007.
Jeffery A. McGee (BSChE ‘79), Special Projects Leader at
Shepherd Chemical Company, credits Houze with his
career and introducing him to his wife. After returning
home for summer break because of a shortage of Co-Op
positions, McGee received a call from Houze asking if he
wanted to go interview with Emery Industries. “When
I arrived for the interview, I learned that a position was
available for me if I wanted it; I was working three days
later. Houze had obviously done a lot more than simply
arrange an interview for me.” To top it off McGee says,
“While co-oping in Cincinnati, I met my future wife.
Thirty-six years later, we are still married.”
McGee and Ott aren’t alone in their praise for Houze. He is
a two-time recipient of the A.A. Potter Best Teacher Award
in the College of Engineering and received the Alvah K.
Borman Award from the Cooperative Education Division
of the American Society for Engineering Education.
Students consistently praise him for a unique approach
to teaching that encourages them to own their learning
and develop their engineering judgment. “I try to help
students see the relevance and practical applications
of what they are studying, and understand there’s no
one right answer but a whole spectrum of answers
and their judgment is important," says Houze.
In retirement, Professor Houze plans to travel with
his wife and devote more attention to woodworking
and outdoor pursuits. He still plans to have time for
chemical engineers and may come back to teach as
by Kay Hagen
Prof. R. Neal Houze was honored with the A.A. Potter Best Teacher
Award for the College of Engineering in 2015. This is the second
time he has received the student-selected award.