Faculty Profile: Thom Hodgson

From a very early age Thom Hodgson wanted to be engineer. “I always thought I would be an automotive engineer and I ended up doing exactly that,” said Thom. Well, not only that.

Thom’s love for engineering and a recommendation from his sister about a new program called science engineering led him to the University of Michigan. While at Michigan, he read an article on skydiving in Popular Mechanics and it struck a chord. He would eventually meet a group of guys who loved skydiving and after a full half hour of training, which included jumping off the porch of a farmhouse, Thom jumped out of his first airplane. By the time he graduated Thom had made 15 more jumps, one of which ended with a broken leg.

Having gone through ROTC in college, Thom’s next stop was the US Army as a transportation officer, in which he accumulated another 110 jumps, bringing his total up to 127, all freefalls.

After the Army, Thom headed back to the University of Michigan to continue his education and his skydiving. He and another student began teaching skydiving and it was this decision that would later have a profound effect on his career.

“We were training people in three hours how to make a parachute jump,” said Thom. “So there were two things. One is WHAT did you need to teach them and the second thing is HOW do you teach them. You had to be able to look someone in the eyes and ask, “Do you understand what I am saying?” You had to be able to read that person to see if they understood, not listen to what they said.” These principles formed the way Thom looked at teaching. “I still look into my students’ eyes for that flash of understanding,” he said.

It was during this time that he discovered and fell in love with industrial engineering. “Many of the required courses for my MBA in quantitative methods were in industrial engineering and they were the ones I really enjoyed,” said Thom. Upon completion of his MBA Thom took a position at the Ford Motor Company and became the automotive engineer he always thought he would become.

After a year and a half at Ford, Thom decided to return to the University of Michigan to pursue a PhD. Sadly it was during this period that his time of jumping out of planes came to an abrupt end as his 450th jump resulted in a broken back.

Upon receiving his PhD., Thom was faced with several offers from both industry and academia. He chose to take a teaching position in the Industrial and Sytems Engineering Department at the University of Florida where he remained for 13 years before arriving at NC State as the new department head of the Industrial Engineering Department.

When Thom took over the department, it was ranked 36th in the nation but he saw that there were good people and potential in the department. He, along with the faculty and staff, made significant changes to streamline the undergraduate program and enhance the graduate program. In 1991, the year after he stepped down as department head, the department was ranked 12th.

In 2001, Thom was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. He has also held many positions at NC State including director of the Integrated Manufacturing Systems Engineering Institute (1995-2011); co-director of the Operations Research Program (2009-2013); and director of Graduate Programs for Engineering-On-Line (2009-2013). He was also elected to the in 2001. These days he has returned to his true calling, teaching as an ISE Professor.