12:44 PM

Former Professor R. Bowen Loftin Reminisces on UHD's Early Days

loftin-bio-bgR. Bowen Loftin served as a physics professor in UHD's early days, and is more widely known as the former president of Texas A&M University. Loftin returned to his first academic post Wednesday for a 40th Anniversary event.

Dressed in his signature suit and bow tie, Loftin seized the moment to reminisce on his experiences as a young professor at a budding university in the late 1970's.

Loftin, who earned his doctorate from Rice University in 1974, was working as a researcher when his director notified him that their project would be cut short due to a denial of refunding. With his wife six months pregnant with their first child, Loftin felt immense pressure to find a job quickly. However, professorships were few and far between at the time.

In a stroke of luck, Loftin was contacted by a dean at UHD, who had just lost a professor two weeks before the start of the spring term. He needed a lecturer, "someone to do full-time work for part-time pay," Loftin said. The young professor jumped at the opportunity.

At Wednesday's presentation, Loftin reminisced on those first years, from battling mice in the faculty offices to heated debates on the limited availability of chalk in the classrooms. On days when his wife needed the only family car, Loftin rode the bus; he recalled many times when a student recognized him at the bus stop and offered him a ride down Main Street.

"There was a true sense of family here," Loftin said. "We had limited resources, and many of us were still trying to find our way, but we were always in it together."

Loftin was invited back to UHD and became a tenured professor in 1977, the same year he joined the Faculty Senate. He quickly became a sought-after professor, known by students for spending hours in his office to make himself available for individual conversations with his pupils.

"I realized the importance of individualized attention early on," Loftin said."I became aware of the real difference I could make by talking to students one-on-one, outside the classroom of 40 to 50 people."

Loftin began to contemplate ways in which he could use new technology to recreate this tailored learning experience for students on a larger scale. He soon launched research that resulted in the development of simulation software, later used in training at NASA facilities. To this day, Loftin is a frequent consultant to industry and government in the areas of modeling and simulation, advanced training technologies and scientific data visualization. He is the author or co-author of more than 100 technical publications.

"UHD gave me a unique platform, a purpose, and a problem to solve," said Loftin. "It was an amazing stepping stone for me and for technology. It all began right here."

Loftin, who now serves as the chancellor at University of Missouri, went on to tout UHD's accomplishments in the last 40 years. Of note to him is the University's dedication to educating the people of Houston, developing human capital that may otherwise go untapped.

"UHD has held onto its true strength," he said. "There is not and has never been a racial majority here. That rich diversity is so special in an institution of higher education. It's something like I have never seen before or since my time here."