Nick R. Schott
Nick R. Schott
Nick Schott of Westford, Mass., has some great UA memories from the 1960s, when Tucson, Ariz., was still only a couple of hundred thousand strong and the UA football team, well, was probably still in rebuilding stage.
Schott credits his success and his current position as emeritus professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, or UMass Lowell, to the camaraderie and training he received at the UA College of Engineering's department of chemical engineering, where he earned both his master's and doctorate under the stewardship of department founder Don White.
Schott was gracious enough to share memories of his UA studies as a chemical engineering grad student with the readers of Arizona Engineer.
How has your UA education benefitted you?
My whole career as a university professor was only possible because of my education, earning a PhD degree at the UA. The doctoral degree was a basic requirement for my position in academia.
I was fortunate to meet up with profesor Don White, who founded the chemical engineering department in 1965. Don was attending a national American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) meeting in San Francisco in the summer of 1965, and interviewed me as a prospective MS graduate student. He offered me a one-quarter teaching assistantship which, with some savings from my first job that year, allowed me to finish my first year of graduate studies at UA.
Earlier that year I had finished my BS/ChE at UC Berkeley, and I was surprised to see fellow Berkeley alum, John Heibel, also start graduate school with me at the UA in the fall of 1965. When I started my teaching career at the predecessor institution to UMass Lowell, the Lowell Technological Institute, the director of job placement, Aristomenes Panos, claimed that the only reason I got into graduate school was that Don White had a quota to take two hippies from Berkeley each year! Don White also became my mentor and I did both my MS and PhD research under his supervision.
Don White had been at Phillips Petroleum in Oklahoma before he founded the UA chemical engineering department. His expertise was in plastics -- specifically, running the high-density polyethylene plant which required downstream processing via single screw extrusion. Don and a fellow professor, James Carley, had actually obtained a small extruder which I used for my doctoral research. My interest and experience in plastics processing helped me find my job as a professor in plastics engineering at UMass Lowell.
What are your favorite memories from your time at UA?
The life as a graduate student was one of my best experiences. My years at UC Berkeley were very traumatic… I always felt that they wanted to flunk you, so I had hardly any time to grow socially. After my first year at the UA, I became confident that I could be successful in graduate school, and this allowed me to get a social life.
Most of the UA football games were in the evening because of the daytime heat. This allowed students to socialize and barbecue before the game, go to the game, and then party after the game, in moderation of course. The football team was not very good at the time (two yards and a cloud of dust), but the games were interesting and enjoyable.
Still, studies were very hard. A group of us graduate students (Bill Arens, John Heibel, Joe Flanagan, Mike Cise, Mike Gregg, Ken Simpson, Tony Durando, Dick Mead, Eric Nuttal, Leon Borduin, Richard Cerutti and others) would do homework until about midnight, and then we would go for a beer and shoot a game of pool; bars did not close until 2 p.m. As graduate students we were addicted bridge players, and had a game going every lunch hour. We also never had enough money, and would complain to Dr. White and the faculty. His advice to us was to put our cars on blocks, live frugally, and study harder.
The climate in Tucson was wonderful, from spring into late fall. I discovered tubing -- floating down the Gila River on an inner tube from a truck tire, which was a great hobby. I also got a very small motorcycle to ride around in the desert areas. My future wife, Jean Walker, and I loved camping on Mount Lemmon. We also would camp in Mexico, which was very safe in the 1960s. One also has to remember that in the late sixties Tucson’s population was less than 300,000 and it was easier to get around.
Tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to learn.
My first language was German but in the early 1950s I was totally immersed in all English classes so that I had mastered English by the time I finished high school. Mastering English was the easy part. As part of the PhD requirement, I had to show proficiency in two foreign languages. I passed German with flying colors and diligently took French lessons. I could tell that I was not the greatest linguist when I heard a lot of snickers behind my back whenever the professor would call on me to read or translate. My salvation was that the computer language Fortran was accepted to satisfy my second language requirement. In our travels my wife’s Spanish and French come in handy while I cover the German-speaking countries.
What are your reasons for supporting UA financially?
I have great loyalty to the University of Arizona and the chemical engineering department. The department was a close-knit family and we had some exceptional professors. Besides Don White, I fondly remember professors Edward Freeh, Alan Randolph, Dick Edwards, Ray Richardson, Bill Cosart, Dick Williams and Tom Rehm. They all encouraged students, instilled professionalism, and celebrated students’ achievements by marking the milestones of MS or doctoral exams.
Tell us about your hobbies and pastimes.
I was an avid camper in my younger days. My wife and I did a lot of camping in my last years as a graduate student. This continued until our children were well into their teenage years. In 1981-82, I took a one year sabbatical at the UA. My wife thought I had lots of spare time and she volunteered me to be the den leader for my son’s Cub Scout troop. We again went camping both on Mount Lemmon with the scout jamboree and also at the Boy Scout site near the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Later on I graduated from a tent to a camper trailer, and also acquired several canoes for recreation at our local lakes. As I've matured, I found that I need a better bed, so that lately I only camp at Holiday Inn or better!
While at the UA I also joined the ski club which organized trips to ski areas in Colorado and Utah. It was also a way to meet girls. I became an average skier and continued downhill skiing until 1986 when I broke my leg. My wife and I still do cross country skiing, but leave the downhill to the younger crowd.
What are your hopes for the future of UA?
The UA was chartered as a land grant college. As such, its mission is to support the state, regional and local economy and social development. I believe the UA has to live up to that charter and help the state grow its economy and provide leadership and skilled graduates for the local economy. In particular, engineering has to seek out the new areas that provide solutions to problems that we face in technology, the environment and in social issues.
Describe something remarkable or noteworthy that you have experienced since graduating.
I was lucky to spend my entire professional career of 39 years in one job as a professor. The time-scale compression in new technologies and a worldwide economy have shifted our lifestyles so much that Americans are no longer assured of being leaders in technology, economics, medicine or our standard of living. I believe that our only salvation is to better educate our workforce and invest in our neglected infrastructure to stay competitive in the 21st century.
What else would you like our readers to know?
I have lived the American dream. I was welcomed as a refugee to America in 1952. The American system gave me the opportunity to further my education, live in freedom, free of oppression, and do it with a good standard of living. For me, the key to this good life was my education and the moral values which were instilled in me with the American culture in my youth. It’s all true, and I hope it doesn't
Calling UA Engineering Alumni!
Where has life taken you since graduation? We’d like to know and so would your former engineering classmates.
Please email us and include the following information:
• Name and year you graduated
• Major and degree (BS, MS, PhD, etc.)
• Details of your activities
Don’t forget to include a digital picture of your family, latest project at work, or that boat or hot rod you just finished building in your garage. Vacation photos are great, too. We’ll publish your news and photos online and in the next print edition.
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