Faculty Profile: Harvey West

Discover how associate research professor Harvey West turned his love for “breaking things” into a satisfying career

Dr. Harvey West just knew from the start that he wanted to be an engineer. Fueled by his passion for math and science, he came to Raleigh from nearby Greensboro to seek a degree at NC State. “It was the only university I applied to,” recalled Dr. West.

He started out in nuclear engineering but after taking an intro to materials science class switched his major to materials science. “There was that ‘AHA!’ moment during class where I just knew this is what I wanted to do,” said Dr. West. “I wanted to study metals and composites.” In 1979, he received his undergraduate degree and began working on his Master’s. Upon his graduation in 1982, he started his career with a local engineering firm, S&ME.

But after a year Dr. West decided to pursue his passion for teaching and returned to NC State to get his doctorate degree, which he received in 1989. He became a lecturer in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering before moving on to Materials Analytical Services where he worked until 1997. That is when Dr. Tom Culbreth, ISE professor, a long-time friend and clogging mate, asked Dr. West if he would like to start a furniture testing lab at NC State.

In the beginning, the testing lab was set up in a small, windowless room in a building on Hillsborough Street. This was not exactly the most ideal situation. So in 2007, when they asked Dr. West if he’d like to bring the lab back onto campus, he did not hesitate.

The testing lab, which has come a long way since its start in 1997, performs a wide variety of tests against BIFMA safety and performance standards. It is one of the few facilities that still performs these services for furniture companies all over the country. Students in the ISE Department played a role in building the custom machines that test the furniture.

One of the biggest reasons Harvey loves working in the ISE department is the diversity and variety of projects. Another reason he loves it here? “I get to break things for a living,” he states, laughing.

Outside of testing furniture, analyzing materials and breaking things, Dr. West enjoys another one of his lifelong passions, creating music. “My grandfather owned a music store and tried to teach me how to play the trumpet when I was in elementary school,” recalled Dr. West. “It didn’t go so well.” But at the age of 16, he borrowed a banjo from his grandfather’s store and hasn’t put it down since.

Dr. West plays at the Busy Bee Cafe in downtown Raleigh some Monday nights. He also plays with his band, The Couchtones, which includes ISE Lab Manager Dan Leonard. In case you haven’t had the chance to hear the group, which combines bluegrass and Irish dance tunes, you may be able to catch them playing in his lab in Daniels Hall. While Dr. West enjoys almost any genre of music, he is most inspired by the great bluegrass bands such as the New Grass Revival, the Seldom Scene, and Hot Rize.