Ralph Flori: A jack-of-all-trades

Ralph FloriI didn’t go to college expecting to teach,” says Ralph Flori, PetE’79, MS PetE’81 and PhD PetE’87. “I wanted to be an engineer. My passion growing up was working with tools, building and creating things, and taking things apart.” Flori took his interest in how things work, his experience working in his dad’s heating and air conditioning business, and came to UMR. Today he is assistant dean of engineering for pre-college and undergraduate programs for the UMR School of Engineering, providing statewide leadership for Project Lead the Way. He also continues to teach as an associate professor of interdisciplinary engineering.


I don’t see myself as great at anything, but I’m pretty good at a lot of different things. I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. Teaching now in the new interdisciplinary engineering department at UMR is a great fit for me.
As a kid, I once shot an arrow up into the air to see what would happen. I thought I was far away from houses, but as soon as I released it, I saw it arcing toward trouble. It stuck in the roof of my neighbor’s house. Not a good feeling.
You don’t teach material. You teach students. I enjoy taking difficult concepts and helping students get it.
Teaching is almost like acting in live theater. The actors get energy from the audience. Teachers and students both should bring energy to the classroom. So in class there should be energy, creative sparks, fun, humor, questions, answers, dialogue, and ultimately, learning.
The world is crying out for engineering. UMR was founded as a regional school of mines but its graduates have circled the world building businesses and developing new technologies. I want UMR to continue to be a world leader in engineering education and scholarship. There are courses taught here better than (or at least equal to) anyplace in the world. We have so many excellent teachers.
Unfortunately many young people do not understand engineering very well. They know what business people do, what lawyers do, what doctors do, but not engineers. This is a little odd, I think, because young people love iPods, cell phones, computers, Internet chat, game systems, cars, TVs, etc., but do not understand the technologies that make these work. They don’t realize that they could be the ones involved in creating tomorrow’s technologies. What’s cooler than that?
I worry because the need to continue to innovate has never been greater. Innovation births new technologies and businesses that are major drivers in our economy. If new ideas dry up, then our economy falters.
What encourages me is meeting young people and teachers in schools. One can read reports which often paint a bleak picture, but when I meet individual students who are smart, motivated, enthusiastic, and watch them doing challenging work, I am encouraged. When I see our stellar UMR students, I am encouraged.

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