Matt O’Keefe: memorable mentor

Walk into Straumanis-James Hall and the building’s relaxed atmosphere may be the first thing you notice. The building is home to the Materials Research Center and its director, Matt O’Keefe, MetE’85.

O’Keefe, who is known for his friendliness and accessibility, will tell you he didn’t set the building’s tone — that he’s just trying to maintain what Bill James (professor emeritus of chemistry and a namesake of the building) created when he started the MRC back in 1964. James, who turned 90 in September, still has an office down the hall from O’Keefe’s.

But O’Keefe’s influence is undeniable. He’s been a popular professor at S&T since 1999, receiving several teaching awards along the way. He has a genuine concern for his students’ success, both in his department and in the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity, where he serves as faculty advisor.

Rick Szevery, MetE’02, a senior engineer with ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor, is grateful for O’Keefe’s mentorship.

“Dr. O’Keefe’s conversational teaching style and quirky sense of humor made his classes very enjoyable and memorable,” Szevery says. “He organized the course information in a way that made it easier to comprehend than in my other courses. And he was always positive and helpful. I really valued his advice and our conversations.”

O’Keefe was born and reared in Rolla, the son of the late Thomas J. O’Keefe, Curators’ Professor emeritus of metallurgical engineering. The younger O’Keefe took graduate courses while working for AT&T Bell Laboratories in Allentown, Pa., and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign while working for the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Although he’s laid back, he’s no pushover and is honest with students. “Students don’t always appreciate or like what I have to say,” he says. “But sometimes it’s what they need to hear.”

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