College of Technology Dean Robert “Bob” English, ’75, GR ’80, reflects on a career of helping Sycamores thrive and achieve their dreams.
A simple formula gave Robert English, Ph.D., many detailed layers of opportunity. The early directive from his parents to him and his four siblings was brief and straightforward: Go to college, work hard and serve others.
A handful of decades later, English’s pursuit of those goals led to him being a life-long “student” at Indiana State, one who also happens to be the retiring dean of the College of Technology.
“One thing I have learned in the classroom and I try to communicate it to other faculty members and chairpersons is that for most students, they want to know that you care for them,” English said. “If you can demonstrate that you care for students, they will pay a whole lot more attention once they believe that you are really there to help them. Then you can have a different set of conversations. That is so important for student success — getting to know them and getting to know what their challenges are.”
English’s journey as a student following his own high school graduation in 1971 included roughly a 24-hour break before he embarked on the first step of military service. “I graduated from high school and about three days later, I found myself in basic training for the Indiana Air National Guard,” English said. “Because of my military training, I was not able to enroll in the College of Technology at ISU until 1972.”
His bachelor’s degree in electronics and a master’s in industrial professional technology prepared English for a career stretch that lasted several years at Zenith Radio Corporation. He moved from production engineer to production engineering manager before returning to the place that had been “the place to go” since the day English had started high school.
After working for Zenith for seven years, English returned to higher education and his alma mater. Starting in an assistant professor position in 1982, English later served as associate professor and then professor.
The experience gave him a chance to interact with students and fellow faculty members and apply those in-class lessons later as an administrator. The teaching environment impressed upon English the importance of striking a balance between guiding students toward achievement and giving them the space to become better problem solvers.
“You want them to learn, and you want them to want to learn,” English said. “You give students the resources needed, but you also give them the individual responsibility (of learning).”
English acknowledges his wife, Marlene, and her impact on his professional and personal life. “She is one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” he said. “She is hard working, fun, a woman of character and loyal. She is my inspiration. They say that behind every good man is a good woman. For me, there is a great woman leading an average man.”
As English later transitioned into an administrative role, his efforts and the efforts of other administrators to bolster student and faculty resources during the last several years have included: The university receiving a $9.7 million software grant from Siemens PLM Software that helped students gain practical occupational experience by creating and marketing their own products in a business environment.
Hurco Companies donated $500,000 worth of software to State, which has served as an educational tool for students in three disciplines: mechanical engineering technology, automation and control engineering technology and manufacturing engineering technology.
Resources have also been re-invested in the College of Technology, as over a four-year period, $300,000 has been put toward 3-D printers, dynamotors and additional Hurco equipment used in the college’s labs. “All of those partnerships were about having better laboratories so when our students go out into the workforce, they have experience with better technology,” English said.
The distribution of resources has gone hand-in-hand with enrollment expansion in the College of Technology, which has grown to 2,400 students compared to 1,132 students seven years ago. The four-year graduation rate by students has also risen seven percent.
English’s daily motivation to be part of propelling the college to new heights has been built during multiple generations. All of English’s siblings went to State, and six of that group’s grandchildren followed the same path.
Sycamores have not been the only ones learning during English’s career. Part of English’s duties when he was the associate vice president of academic affairs from 2003 to 2011 included overseeing the International Affairs Center. Traveling abroad during both work trips and personal family vacations served a few different purposes.
“International Affairs includes how the university deals with other universities,” English said. “I learned a lot in that position, because it allowed me to travel to a number of different countries. It was eye opening, and I feel like I am a much better person because of it. You may not learn the language of a particular region, but you learn how to communicate with people from different countries.”
Going to China a handful of years ago presented English with a culinary hurdle as he evaluated the many food options available. But breaking bread turned out to be a great way to communicate and make friends.
The trip took English and the rest of the travel party to the province of Liaoning, where they were able to discuss current developments with the local governor. The group included business executives from Indiana.
“One of the foundry owners from Indiana noticed their company name and information on a sewer (cover) plate,” English said.
One point of contention was the owner said the company does not do any business in China. Seeing that slice of Indiana in the Liaoning province was another memorable moment for English far from home.
A considerable portion of English’s travel and family time has also revolved around baseball. Similar to many other parents who have had children participate in amateur athletics, English received an education about baseball at ballparks.
“Seeing kids learn discipline, learning to work as a team and communicate with other people is very important in life,” English said. “Sports have always been an important part of the development for kids and grandkids in our family.”
Seeing the strategy within baseball on a pitch-by-pitch basis or from one game to another has given English another example of the importance of being able to adapt to constantly changing situations. “Once you understand the fundamentals of baseball, you can analyze what is taking place on the field,” English said. “You learn a lot about human behavior and the way people think.”
That formula has been useful for English whether he has been in the Indiana Air National Guard or he has been dealing with the duties of several positions at State over a span of 35 years. The development of the Internet for business use and the ever-expanding role of social media are a couple of examples where English and his peers had to adjust.
“I had to adapt to communicate in an appealing way,” English said. “We do a lot more (communicating) with social media now.”
The College of Technology has developed six new academic programs and has two more in process. A Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) was approved on June 8 at the Indiana Commission of Higher Education. The new degree program will have three concentrations: mechanical, industrial and civil.
“There is a tremendous need for a Jack-of-all trades engineer who can get his or her hands dirty on the shop floor,” English said. “This is critical to the success of the manufacturing industry.”
Student competitions and student retreats also are part of career readiness. When English ponders what Indiana State means to him … it is about life readiness.
“ISU has been a primary part of life,” English said. “It has allowed me to have a wonderful life and meet all kinds of different people! I want to thank the faculty, staff and students of the College of Technology for their friendship through all of these years. I am a better person because they were in my life. The best compliment you can give a person is that you really enjoy spending time with them. I have truly enjoyed spending my time — my life — with them.”